Teen founders launch Hallway, a homework helper for high-school students

Hallway, a startup created by high-school students for high-school students, is launching to the public today with seed funding from Fortify.vc.

The founders view their technology as the next logical step in education, and this summer, they’ve been testing the private beta at schools across the Greater Washington region.

Hallway is a website where students submit questions about subjects, such as algebra or political science, that their peers can answer. The site uses a Reddit-style system to rate the most useful questions and answers, which then rise to the top.

The idea for the website originated when 17-year-old cofounder Sean McElrath created Facebook groups so students could chat about specific assignments. In just one of these groups, membership soared to more than 300 students and a single question garnered hundreds of responses.

McElrath said teenage founders have a competitive edge. “Every day we get to talk to students and get their feedback on how they’re using and what they like and don’t like about Hallway,” he told me. “That kind of perspective is rare in business and we don’t take it for granted.”

This summer, McElrath and his team shared office space at the Fort, a co-working spot in D.C. that is manned by Fortify.vc, an early stage investment fund. The Fort requires you to be 18 or older to have a key, so each morning, they would pop open their laptops and wait for the adults to arrive.

“Most of our days over the summer started with the team coding in the building’s stairwell,” said McElrath.

The rising seniors behind Hallway (McElrath, Cyrus Malekpour, Michael Chan, Darren Bolduc, Dennis Lysenko, and Allison Chou) met at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a selective public magnet school in Alexandra, Va.

To recruit this all-star team of “hackers, hustlers, and designers”, McElrath said he started an after-school club for students with business ideas, known as Invent Team. At the club, they connected with alumni and the wider entrepreneurial community in D.C., including mentor (and now cofounder) Evan Burfield, chairman of StartupDC, and Jonathon Perrelli, founding partner and seed-stage investor at Fortify.vc.

Read more about DC’s budding startup scene.

Hallway isn’t the first ed-tech startup to focus on community-building and homework help for students. Lore, a competitor, recently launched its own educational social network, and Edmodo recently pulled in $25 million in funding to bring social media to classrooms. However, the vast majority of competing sites begin by targeting college students — K-12 is merely an afterthought.

Hallway is available for free and connects with Facebook’s Open Graph, so students can answer questions posed by teens across the world.