Image: Nomad

Brian Forrester’s office doesn’t scream “team.” His desk sits in a small room on the third floor of downtown’s Fifth Avenue Building, pressed up against the wall right next to a towering water heater, which, he says, makes “funny noises sometimes.” 

But these humble quarters are home to BuddyUp, Forrester’s fledgling social networking company, which aspires to be the first “social-academic media” and help students succeed at college—especially those who struggle to make friends. BuddyUp lets students find others with the same classes, majors, and interests—to form study groups, or just become more connected.

The concept came to Forrester in 2012 after he failed a Portland State statistics class. Toying with the idea of dropping out entirely, he decided instead to retake the class. “There has to be a better way,” he recalls thinking. So on the first day of the new class, he stood up and introduced himself to everyone, described his plight, and then sent a sheet of paper around the class and invited anyone interested to form a study group. To his surprise, nearly all of the students obliged. So he went home and created a crude website for everyone who signed up, and he and his classmates used it to schedule study sessions as needed. “I went from an F to an A,” Forrester says. “It’s the first A in a math class I’ve ever had.”

This improvisation became BuddyUp, which has become his full-time job—or, in the way of tech start-ups, more like a full-life job. Last fall, Forrester launched a beta test of his site, which functions something like Facebook, and gained a thousand users. His employee base grew from one to six, while securing a larger office on SW 11th Avenue and raising $100,000 in funding. He’s brokered partnerships with Oregon State University and Portland State to implement this tool, and is in talks with Stanford. This month, the company launches its mobile app. 

Forrester has his sights on Apple- and Google-level success, of course, but beyond that he hopes to give more students the sociable advantage that got him through college.

“Everything I’ve done successfuly is because I was willing to ask for help and engage people around me,” says Forrester. “That’s why I want to give people a better way to leverage the power of the community.”