Accelerator graduate, MU student launches own tech company

Aug. 28, 2018

Marshall University student Janzen McKinney began with an idea, one he jotted down in a small notebook in which he keeps his ah-ha ideas.

In a digital age chock full of tech-savvy Generation Zers, why not transform the full-frontal embrace of social media and the internet into higher pursuits, as in higher education pursuits? McKinney’s idea for a web and mobile platform to connect students of all ages began to take shape and Studyrange was born.



“There’s no efficient way to communicate with classmates online,” McKinney said. “This generation prefers things to be online, so there needs to be a network out there that allows students to connect. Think of it as an educational network compared to other social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. The world views Facebook as the social network and LinkedIn as the business network. Why not make Studyrange the educational network?”

Studyrange is now in the production and beta-testing phase. After its official launch later this year, the digital platform will link classmates online with one another and with students and academic resources around the globe.

Say you’re struggling in an organic chemistry class as mid-term exams approach. Several classmates seem to have a firm grasp of the material. Studyrange can help connect you to the brainiacs to form a study group.

Perhaps you overslept Monday morning (yet again) and missed an important economics lecture. Studyrange can connect you with fellow students…you know, the ones who took copious notes while you snoozed.

But Studyrange offers much more than that. “Consider it a worldwide web for academic pursuits,” McKinney said. “It isn’t just a place for students to study and get work done online. It’s also designed to focus on school and student networking. There is a lot you can do with a platform like this. I plan to introduce a lot of great things as the company progresses.”

Students will be able to connect via video and audio chat, similar to communication platforms Skype and Zoom. They also will have access to many different features such as the ability to work on group papers, presentations, and spreadsheet projects, instant messaging, note storage, interactive whiteboards and much more.

In addition, the platform will feature a link to Khan Academy, an online library of educational videos on almost any subject.

The interesting part of all of this? Users can use these features simultaneously during a call, providing the ultimate online studying experience.

The best business ideas simply become dreams deferred if entrepreneurs are unable to secure financing. This is an obstacle McKinney overcame in April when a small group of private investors decided to back his business venture.

“The funding means everything,” McKinney said. “These investors have given me the opportunity to pursue this venture, to create something, to motivate students here and around the world.”  

McKinney is a graduate of the Robert C. Byrd Institute’s Business Accelerator, which he credits with providing the early stage support he needed to launch his business. “RCBI’s Business Accelerator was beneficial to me in several ways, in particularly helping me connect with the right people around Huntington to take care of basic legal matters,” McKinney said. “The accelerator also helped me connect with local investors from the Tri-State area. Although Studyrange did not get its initial funding from that particular event, it did generate a lot of interest and eventually led to my company closing its first round of funding from independent investors.”

McKinney has garnered the attention of several prominent state leaders, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert. 

“I received a call out of the blue one day and on the line was Senator Manchin,” McKinney said, “The Senator heard about me and Studyrange from one of his representatives, who saw me give a presentation at RCBI, and so he decided to call and commend me for my forward thinking in education and for my courage to start a full-size tech company at
this stage in my life.”

Gilbert said he, too, sees great potential in McKinney’s Studyrange. “I am proud that Marshall University attracts outstanding leaders and entrepreneurs like Janzen McKinney. We are excited about his product and look forward to following his success.”

In addition to Marshall University, McKinney plans to bring educational institutions – in West Virginia and around the country – on board as time progresses. He expects a combination of word-of-mouth and some creative marketing strategies to make Studyrange the ideal online studying and student/school network.

Meanwhile the newly 21 year old, a Beckley native and Economics and Finance double major at Marshall, plans to pursue his MBA after graduation. Will Studyrange become his lifelong career? Possibly.

“I’ll take this company wherever it takes me,” McKinney said. “I have received a lot of excellent feedback from some pretty powerful people. I have no doubt that Studyrange will revolutionize the way the world views education and become something truly extraordinary.”