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StudentsHelp.org Featured in Los Altos Town Crier
Original Article posted below
Updated: Thursday, January 27, 2000 09:48 AM

Students solve computer woes - free of charge

By Linda Taaffe

Town Crier Staff Writer

Before you give that malfunctioning computer a swift kick in the screen and a blow to its drive, you might want to contact Los Altos Hills residents Neilesh Patel and Dan Brown.

The two St. Francis High School seniors have been helping people get out of computer glitches since last summer when they launched StudentsHelp.org Consulting, an online, for-free computer assistance service.

The teens respond to about 300 e-mail questions a week regarding computer technical problems - including finding lost files, restarting crashed hard drives, downloading files and helping consumers choose a new computer, Patel said.

Despite the range of questions, Patel said the two have yet to receive a problem that they couldn't solve.

"Sometimes we don't get the problem on the first shot, but we give as many options as we can. That always gets us closer to figuring out what's wrong," he said.

Brown said Patel and he realized there was a huge void for free computer help for the average computer user last year while considering starting a for-profit consulting business.

"There wasn't anything out there," Brown said. "People were getting charged $30 at Fry's just for someone to open and look at their computer for one thing that we could fix in two minutes."

Since the two wanted to do something with the computer knowledge that they had gained during summer internships at NASA and Modus Media International, and they weren't in need of money, they launched the for-free service.

"Computers had been our hobby for about 10 years, and we wanted to continue our interest in computers somehow," Patel said. "We're really in it to get more experience and to see how a small company is run." They initially started out doing general consulting, but their business quickly mushroomed. The two 17-year-olds have added building computers and Web sites for nonprofit groups in the area to their list of business operations. They provide similar services to for-profit groups for a $100 fee. Their Web site has grown, too, to include Y2K solutions and links to other sites with computer information.

More than 6,100 people have accessed the site since December. The staff now includes nine volunteers who offer their expertise from sites throughout the United States.

Patel said the additional help has enabled them to respond to e-mails within 24 hours.

Patel said he and Brown check on their e-mail about three times a day and divvy it out to volunteers who specialize in specific computer problems. They spend about 10 hours a week responding, Brown said. Brown said the business took off so fast, that he never knew what to expect.

"It's surprised me a lot how seriously we come across, especially in this area," he said.

The two recently developed a Web site with live footage of the Cannes Film Festival for a nonprofit group in San Jose. They have also been asked to develop a Web site for an art fund-raising event in Saratoga.

Both students plan to study engineering or computer science. Both said they hope to continue operating their service throughout college.

If you have technical questions or want more information about StudentsHelp.org, go to www.studentshelp.org or e-mail info@studentshelp.org.

Copyright 1999. Select Communications Inc., Los Altos, California. All rights reserved.
Republished with permission of the Los Altos Town Crier.

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