Startup with a Side of Curing Cancer

When you visit Hub LA, you’re likely to spot Neeraj Kapoor scribbling unintelligible math equations on our whiteboard walls. Neeraj and his business partner Stephen Chen founded Learn to Be, an online tutoring service that offers 24-hour, completely free services. I caught up with Neeraj to learn a little more about the work he’s doing and who else from the community he’s been working with on his various projects.


What is Learn to Be? How did you come up with the idea for it?

Learn To Be a 501c.3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing 100% free, 1-on-1 online tutoring to students everywhere. My co-founder, Stephen Chen, and I came up with the idea about 4 years ago.

Learn To Be revolves around two main programming areas:

i. Providing a 100% free, on-demand service for students who readily have access to the internet. This is for students who are grappling with a homework problem and can’t seem to solve it or need a refresher for an upcoming exam. We have 600 volunteer tutors scattered nationwide that respond to these on-demand requests based on their availability throughout the week.

ii. Partnering with schools that are in underserved communities. We target students who don’t access to the internet at home and provide ether with our online tutoring up to 3 times a week. We work with school administrators to isolate key deficiencies in these students so we can help them catch up and thrive in school.

To date, we’ve hosted over 23,000 tutoring sessions for over 13,000 hours of academic service given by our tutors. And all this with a 100% volunteer staff!

What are the math problems you do on the whiteboards?

You may see me writing math equations from time to time on some of the whiteboards at the hub. Aside from wanting to look cool, I’m actually doing some work for my PhD. I’m a candidate at UCLA in physics. Specifically, I do cancer research.

We use really, really small (nano) particles that are injected into cancerous tumors. We then turn on an alternating magnetic field and these small particles start jiggling around, creating heat inside the tumor, all in an effort to melt the tumor away! It’s really quite amazing stuff.

Neeraj (far right, in the black shirt), working with several Hub LA members, including Derek Davis (left) and Charles Zivko (third from left).

Neeraj (far right, in the black shirt), working with several Hub LA members, including Derek Davis (left) and Charles Zivko (second from left).

Who have you worked with from Hub LA – either on your project, theirs, or a completely separate enterprise?

I’ve been fortunate to meet quite a few amazing people at the Hub and also to have brought in some of my friends who really believe in the Hub’s mission.

I work, of course, with my co-founder of Learn To Be, Stephen Chen on all things LTB. He’s also working on a super neat mobile app called Petnostics, and it just launched in the app store! In his own words: “Petnostics is dedicated to helping pet owners love their best friend. Through the use of our simple yet powerful products, we allow pet owners to easily check and monitor the health of their furry friend. Our first product allows pet owners to check their pet’s urine with their smartphone.”

I met Nevin Kamath [a consultant and professor at USC Marshall School of Business] through a [Hub LA group] Facebook post and he’s brilliant. He’s helped Learn To Be focus on what it needs in order to really scale our operation.

Charles Zivko I’ve known for the past couple of years. He’s a web programming guru who put together the current Learn To Be website. He’s also working on his own music startup right now. You should seek him out and talk to him about it if you haven’t already. It’s pretty awesome.

I’ve known Matt Stokke for many years now. He’s a really good friend who just graduated from law school. He and I have been collaborating on a startup that he is working on called The First Text. I’ve been helping him out with some basic web design using wordpress.

And finally, Derek [Davis, co-founder of The First Text with Matt Stokke] I just met through Matt. He’s an awesome guy working with Matt on their startup. He’s helped me with all things related to Learn To Be’s finances.

As a small non-profit, we’re always looking to poll the talents of everyone we can get our hands on! And what better place to do that than the Hub? From Nevin consulting us on scalability issues, to Charles providing technology insights to Matt offering legal support to Derek providing financial advice, we’ve been able to accomplish so much simply by having a team of people working in close vicinity to one another. It’s been really, really awesome having this sort of collaboration opportunities.

To learn more about Learn to Be and how to volunteer, visit their website or come find Neeraj in the space and chat with him about the incredible work he’s doing!

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