Rostam Zafari is a junior at Emory University majoring in social entrepreneurship and creative writing. Passionate about education (both of his parents are professors), the 20 year old may not be old enough to order a beer at a Braves game. However, he’s old enough to serve as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at The New School, the independent Atlanta high school he attended, and to launch a nationwide platform this May to bring personalized education to high school students.
Zafari’s commitment to education was made clear when he was awarded the Cyrus Prize, a $100K genius grant for young Iranian innovators, for a project that started in a freshman biology class. (That’s right, enough money to pay for about two years of his education at a private university.) He promptly donated it all back to The New School.
The side project that won him the second-ever Cyrus Prize — the first was awarded the co-founder of Dropbox— was Rapid Ebola Detection Strips (REDS), a faster and cheaper method of diagnosing the Ebola Virus. Zafari and a fellow Emory student came up with REDS after their biology professor challenged them to design something to help the Ebola crisis. They crowdfunded $14.5K in three weeks to produce a prototype and the test is now patent-pending.
But Zafari soon turned his innovative brain back to his first passion — education. In 2015, he also founded Mystro, a tutoring app that connects top college students with high school students that need academic help.
“As Emory students, we saw that many of our talented friends were taking $8 an hour jobs stirring coffee or shelving books in the library. We realized that college students are well-suited for teaching high school students, and by doing so, they could earn more money and make a bigger impact,” says Zafari.
Zafari and co-founder and fellow Emory student Mehul Bhagat raised a small angel round for Mystro and have bootstrapped the platform since. Now, they plan to launch an online nationwide version of the platform this May to allow students and tutors outside of big cities to connect.
They are actively recruiting tutors across the country — all Mystro tutors must be in the top 5% of their class academically. For each $50 tutoring session, the tutor makes $40 and Mystro takes in $10.
Zafari says the strength of Mystro lies in the ultra-personalization of its technology. “Students aren’t standardized, yet most tutoring programs take a one size fits all approach. We match high school students with college tutors who share their passions and can relate to their learning needs.”
For example, the app asks questions about a students personal interests. So it not only matches them with a tutor who can help them with Spanish or math, but shares their love for hiking, reading, or cooking, and can relate on a personal level.
At The New School, Zafari encourages the students he teaches to go after their ideas, undeterred by age.
“Being young is a secret weapon that many people forget,” says Zafari. Being young means people want to be in your corner and help you. It means you remind people of when they were young.”