At Turtle, creating an app ‘by students and for students’

The founders of Turtle can tell you the exact day their company was founded: December 11, 2014.

That’s when the three forward-thinking students at the University of California’s prestigious Berkeley campus—Mohamed El Sewedy, Almustafa Elhillo, and Ehab El Maghraby—were sitting around on a couch cramming for finals.

“We started thinking to ourselves that studying together is so much more efficient, but there wasn’t an easy way to facilitate it,” says El Sewedy. “So we decided that we could solve that problem ourselves.”

As they interviewed students about ways to put together study groups, they started hearing about other issues.

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“We really felt like we were onto something,” says Elhillo. “Three days later, when we figured out that there were so many other problems that we could solve, we kept getting more and more excited about the app.”

That was the beginning of Turtle, whose founders are all 21 or younger. The app, now in beta testing at Berkeley, is about much more than studying. Sure, you can meet up with other students in your classes. But you can also access all your course materials, keep up to date on campus events, and connect with anyone on campus.

“Say you’re in a lecture class with 600 or 700 students,” explains Elhillo. “It’s in a big room of people, and you don’t know anybody. On our classes portal, there’s a list of everyone in the class. You can chat with anyone in the class, finding people with similar interests or with courses in the area same as you.”

The founders call it a “private social network” for university students. They’ll be able to communicate directly with their professors, rent an apartment near campus, find a part-time job, or even find the perfect internship.

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“Looking for internships is such a tedious process,” says Elhillo. “But what if it were part of a platform where you could just swipe through a list of what’s available? You could even apply directly for an internship right on the app.”

The app is free for students, faculty, and administrators at the university, but there will be a fee for companies and people in community to benefit from the university’s network. That means there will be a charge if you want to rent that room in your apartment building, find a student to walk your dog, or locate the perfect candidate for a job.

Right now the network is limited to Berkeley, but by the fall, the team hopes to be on at least eight campuses around the country.

It’s been a labor of love for the three founders, who are members at WeWork Berkeley. Take El Sewedy, for example. He’s taken the semester off to dedicate himself full-time to Turtle.

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“I knew that I needed to invest more of my time and effort into the app,” says El Sewedy. “It was tough to get the idea past my parents, but I eventually convinced them it was a good idea.”

Elhillo describes Turtle as an app ”by students and for students.”

“Being students, we have a unique insight into it,” he says. “We are the target audience, and we are exactly the people we are trying to serve. We know exactly what tools we need to make it a success, and to make it more efficient and more fun. We are the right people to make this app.”

And the vision for Turtle goes well beyond the college campus.

“Going forward, Turtle can be a platform for any type of community,” Elhillo says. “It could be workplaces, high school, or any community with a large group of people who want to stay connected. The possibilities are huge.”

Photos: Sarah Gerber

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