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By Brittany Smythe
BSBA Marketing ’11

Notehall team

D. J. Stephan (left) and Sean Conway await an
offer from the Shark Tank panel of investors.
Photo courtesy ABC.

Just three short years ago, entrepreneurs Sean Conway (BSBA Marketing and Entrepreneurship ’07) and Justin Miller began the idea of an online marketplace to help students succeed in their academic endeavors. With the addition of start-up creators D. J. Stephan and Fadi Chalfoun, has now become a nationwide tool college students seek for a better understanding of course materials.

The venture started with an initial investment of $70,000, and is now expecting to reach nearly $1 million in revenues by 2010. The four UA graduates who worked on the project for the past three years have seen their venture develop and soar to new levels of success this month. Within just a few weeks, was featured in The Wall Street Journal, outlining their creative funding ideas and the measures they took to reach their entrepreneurial goals. This included submitting the venture idea to DreamIt Ventures and attending a summer boot camp program to match Notehall with potential investors.

After finding success in the DreamIt summer program, Conway has continued to lead his team toward expanding opportunities. Recently, both Conway and Stephan appeared on the ABC television show Shark Tank hoping to increase the number of investors in their business [view video]. Their pitch started a bidding war among the panel of investors, and they secured $90,000 in return for a 25 percent equity stake. Although their determination and enthusiasm has been rewarded, Stephan says, “The team has very high aspirations, but we realize we have a long ways to go. The media attention has been a great catalyst for our growth, but we are not letting it distract us.”

The website, where students can
buy and sell class documentation.

Also this month, Conway and his partners were named finalists in BusinessWeek’s Best Young Entrepreneurs of 2009. Conway notes that professors at Eller have been supportive of the venture. Adjunct instructor of marketing Vic Piscitello currently serves on Notehall’s Advisory Board and the Notehall team feels lucky to have his input. Says Conway, “I attribute a lot of my success with Notehall to the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program and all faculty within the program.”

At the same time, Stephan recognizes that, “The UA students have done more to help Notehall than they can possibly imagine. If they had not embraced our idea so quickly, then we would not be scaling up as quickly as we are now, and would not have received the media exposure that has put us on the map.”  

There are currently 20 participating universities and colleges nationwide, including Drexel University, Purdue University, Penn State University, and the UA. Thirty other colleges plan to utilize the service by the end of this December, and Notehall plans to continue to increase capacity in the next few years. With a strong emphasis on value for the customer, Conway says, “We are always looking for motivated people to share in the vision of Notehall.”

Although the coverage and growth have been a boon, Conway says his greatest joy in the venture came five days after they launched, “which was when the first student purchased the $24.99 package! That student, who neither Justin nor I knew, had the confidence to invest his money in Notehall.”

Watch the Notehall team on Shark Tank: view video now.