ProctorFree COO Mike Murphy Talks EdTech, Charlotte-Lake Norman Startup Communities

Charlotte education technology company ProctorFree launched in 2012 and by the spring of 2013 had received a grant from the NC Idea Fund. The platform works as a replacement for in-person proctors for college exams using machine learning to detect cheating.

So how does it work?

Users “smile for the webcam” to establish their identity before logging in to take their exams.

“During the exam, we do continuous identity verification to make sure that it’s still them and they’re still engaged with the exam,” co-founder and chief operating officer Mike Murphy said. ProctorFree monitors facial behaviors such as averting of the eyes, as well as computer behaviors such as plugging in an additional monitor, opening up new browsers and copying and pasting text into the exam. The information gathered in stored in the cloud and sent directly to the institution giving the exam.

“We try to show them the needle in the haystack and we try to show them trends to save them the time and effort of reviewing everything,” Murphy said. “We see pretty clear trends when people are engaging in nefarious behavior.”

Some competitor online proctors take over a test-takers desktop while others include a stranger watching the test taker via webcam for the entire length of the assessment. ProctorFree touts itself as an on-demand, cheaper alternative to these kinds of online proctor services.

One online review recommends ProctorFree largely because the service does not include anything he saw as an overt invasion of personal space.

“I used a different exam proctor service before and it was a little creepy,” one reviewer wrote. “Your algorithms make a student feel much better than a stranger watching you take a test for over an hour. Just to know you’re being watched the whole time by someone you don’t know makes it harder to take a test.”

The ProctorFree team includes 32 full- and part time employees, all working out of the Charlotte area.

Murphy’s co-founder and the company’s chief learning officer, Velvet Nelson came to ProctorFree from a long career working in higher education. Murphy, on the other hand, was a Department of Defense contractor with the U.S. Army. He came to the edtech startup world after meeting Chris and Jon Boggiano, prominent Charlotte angel investors and entrepreneurs and Army veterans themselves. Murphy worked with the Boggiano brothers at Everblue Training, an institute that offers certifications and professional training.

“That was a really interesting experience, going to a different industry and then also being a part of a startup,” Murphy said. “I really didn’t even know what a startup was then.”

Today, he’s pretty entrenched in the startup community in Charlotte and the surrounding areas.

ProctorFree went through HQ Charlotte’s RevTech Labs program in their early days, and now work out of a coworking space in Lake Norman, which is currently being rebranded as Launch Lake Norman.

“I’m very grateful for moving here in general. I think it’s a region and a community that I’ll have roots in for the rest of my life,” Murphy said. North-of-Charlotte ventures such as Launch Lake Norman are great for entrepreneurs in the area who cannot always make it out to the growing number of events uptown, he said.

“I’m so thankful to Packard Place and RevTech Labs, Dan Roselli and even StartCharlotte,” Murphy said. “You have this idea [for a company] long term and simply having a place to go to talk about it, being forced to get up and pitch helped us mature.”