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Samyr Qureshi struggled in school.

“At a young age, I was told that I wouldn’t be on a good academic track,” he explained.

An immigrant from the United Arab Emirates, Samyr was challenged at seven years old to not only adapt to a new culture, but also to overcome the challenge of mastering a new curriculum. Samyr credits the personalized attention he received from a special tutor – his mother – who inspired him to persevere. By the time Samyr graduated from high school, he had already earned an associate degree through dual enrollment. During that time, he served as student body president of the college and followed in his mother’s footsteps to become a tutor. “I really enjoyed learning more about student leadership and how it meshes well with peer tutoring.”

A common theme throughout his life, tutoring is what would eventually lead the University of Florida (UF) graduate to launch his own venture. In 2016, Samyr and his team beat more than 300 others to win $25,000 in the Big Idea Business Plan Competition hosted by UF’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center. They applied the funds to further develop their winning idea: a mobile app for peer-to-peer tutoring, mentorship and job opportunities.

“At UF, my best friends were always complaining about how difficult it was to find help in upper-level engineering and math courses – the courses tutoring centers on campus don’t really cover because demand is never high enough or budgetary constraints are limiting,” said Samyr, who relocated the company after graduation from UF’s Gator Hatchery to Tampa, where it’s a member of the Tampa Bay Wave accelerator and co-working space.

Built upon a sharing economy model, Knack enables top-performing students to assist their peers and hone their skills while making money to help with college expenses. Samyr and his co-founders believe in the value of face-to-face interaction, which is why they developed the initial version of Knack as an online-to-offline model in which transactions are made on the platform and tutoring takes place in person. After creating a personal profile, students search for the class in which they’re struggling, browse a list of tutors with related skills and request a session with the tutor of their choice.

“I think it’s really awesome to see our users hit that ‘aha’ moment with the product when they achieve the grade they wanted or connect with someone who was really able to help,” said Samyr. “And, on the flip side, it’s amazing to see tutors build lifelong skills and a business on our platform.”

Now offering opportunities for corporate partnership, Knack recently expanded to allow businesses to connect with support tutors to identify rising talent for internships and postgraduate employment opportunities. Often considered ideal employees, peer-to-peer tutors exhibit subject-matter expertise and excellent interpersonal skills. Indeed, “Knack Tutors” have been hired by major companies, including Facebook, Amazon and IBM. Businesses can also underwrite tutoring in specific subjects to build the local workforce.

“A lot of folks believe that we’re just a tutoring company,” added Samyr, but Knack is so much more, evidenced by its ability to secure $1.5 million in seed capital and an additional $125,000 from ETS and VilCap Investments.

Despite formal education as a pre-law student, Samyr has learned to become CEO of a successful technology startup. With previous stints for Gartner and Apple under his belt, the Inc.com “Top 30 Entrepreneur to Watch” prefers a role in which no two days are the same. “One day, the sky could be falling and the next day you’re at the top of a roller coaster ­­– that’s the life of a founder.”

The same scrappiness and resilience that propelled Samyr through his early years as an American immigrant have kept him on track through the ups and downs of building a startup.

“A valuable lesson learned is that if you really want to make something happen, you can figure it out and there are enough resources out there to do it.”

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