Student-designed web platform to be introduced to Marshall community


Photo courtesy of The Robert C. Byrd Institute

Janzen McKinney launches Study Range to connect students from social media and professional media on one collective platform.

Janzen McKinney always knew he wanted to run a company and build a business from the ground up, and it was in the West Virginia town of Beckley that he began writing down his ideas in a notebook to save for the future.

From his hometown bedroom to an apartment in Huntington where 21-year-old McKinney lives attending Marshall University, the notebook remains; it now houses more than 400 potential ideas the young entrepreneur hopes to pursue one day.

In 2017, McKinney carefully chose a single idea from the list: a company called Studyrange. This online platform will work to connect pieces from both social and professional media into an educational medium where students can interact with one another and will be introduced to Marshall students by the turn of the year.

“I thought the most interesting idea to focus on first would be a tech company, sort of like a social media platform,” McKinney said. “I think with the way the education and education-tech industries are looking right now, it’s a growing industry, so I picked this one out of the notebook and went with it.”

McKinney said Studyrange will fill the void of an educational social network in the generation of tech-savvy students and hopefully improve the way they learn.

“People view Facebook as a social network, they view Linked-In as a professional business network, and there needs to be an educational network that connects these students for the benefit of their educational experience and what their purpose is,” McKinney said. “Studyrange is developed and designed for students, student school networking, and studying purposes.”

McKinney said he originally hoped to build Studyrange completely solo, but realized help from professionals in the business world would be to his advantage.

“I was teaching myself code, every day, all summer, because I planned on doing it all myself,” McKinney said. “I realized this was a pretty complicated project, so I started going about the process of getting a professional development team on board.”

McKinney, at the time a junior at Marshall, enrolled in a three-month long Business Accelerator program through the Robert C. Byrd Institute in Huntington.

The program gives participants with early stage companies or ideas access to mentors and support from business leaders, and for McKinney, it helped him through the nuts and bolts of building Studyrange.

“I went through the RCBI Business Accelerator in hopes of getting in contact with potential investors, getting some interest in the company and eventually hiring a development team,” McKinney said.

Jamie Cope, director of innovation and entrepreneurship and deputy director at the Robert C. Byrd Institute, said the program gives start-up businesses the opportunity to make new contacts.

“We have the ability to connect people with resources all over the state,” Cope said. “Whether it’s business coaching or investment or just some general guidance, we can plug those people in to who the right partners are and how they can get their business up and running faster.”

Cope said he believes Studyrange has the ability to expand to international levels.

“I think it has the potential to branch out all over the country or the world for that matter,” Cope said. “There’s no one thing that will make an idea successful and there’s a thousand things that could stop it, but if things go Janzen’s way and he sticks with it, I think it will have a big impact on education.”

Studyrange will differ from typical social media in that it will feature academic resources and access to libraries of research, but will be similar in that users will have a profile, a timeline and have the ability to post or share articles and ideas.

For group projects or presentations, the platform will feature a video-chat option similar to Skype; students will also be able to group chat and direct message friends and classmates.

“There’s a lot you can do with a platform like this, but right now we are just focusing on getting it started,” McKinney said.

Marshall President Jerry Gilbert said McKinney’s work with Studyrange is what higher education is all about.

“We are very proud of Janzen and his novel work on Studyrange,” Gilbert said. “Students at Marshall, like Janzen, are challenged every day to develop these skills which will lead to successful careers in many different areas.”

After version 1.0 is introduced to Huntington, McKinney said he hopes to continue developing the company and begin focusing on other schools like Concord University, West Virginia Tech and West Virginia University.

“Eventually I’d like to get to schools out of state,” McKinney said. “But I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected].