Tech-savvy students enter the entrepreneurial world

Every day 20,000 new apps are submitted to the Android and iTunes stores. Come 2017, it is projected that the app industry will be worth 77 billion dollars, with 238 billion downloads. Smartphones have forever changed the way we socialize, and app-developers are capitalizing on that.

In recent years, the major trend of mobile based apps has been to emulate real life social interactions on a digital platform. Two groups of MSU students, however, want to break that trend. Students in Bozeman are developing two new apps with the intention to move socialization back to the real world. Both will be released in the next six months, with the first coming as soon as this month.

POLO

Polo: The Social Calendar, is the first of the two apps to be released. Launching late this September, CEO Waylon Roberts and five other MSU students anticipate their app will be a success among busy college students across the nation.

“[Polo] is about actual social interaction” said Elias Horat, MSU architecture major and marketing director for Polo. Instead of creating a new way to interact digitally, Polo aims to create software to enable interaction in the real world.

The idea for the app came to Roberts and his colleagues when they were discussing how difficult it was to meet up in the short timeslots students find throughout their days. From there the group of friends, consisting mostly of computer science students, began casual brainstorming sessions to grow their rough idea into the app that Polo is today.

With intentions of solving the scheduling crisis Horat and his associates face, Polo shows individuals which of their friends are available at a given time. The app does this by having users input the times they are unavailable in a given week, and then shares that availability with selected contacts. If a user opens up the app and has an overlapping availability with a friend they can send out a Marco, which is essentially a rendezvous request. When a user receives a Marco, they can either respond with a Polo, which acts as a confirmation, or choose not to respond at all.

While Polo shares vacancies with friends, it does not require users to submit additional information about where they will be during that time. “Polo shares when you are busy with your friends without letting them know exactly what you are doing.”

“On most days I only have 20 minutes or so to grab lunch,” explained Horat, “and trying to find out which of my friends are free, then actually meet up with them is nearly impossible. With Polo, instead of texting a bunch of friends and asking them if they want to eat lunch, I just look at my [Polo] calendar, immediately see who is free, and send them a Marco.”

Looking to the future, the team plans to expand their app beyond individual use. Upon launch, the app allows users to subscribe to public groups to receive notifications regarding scheduling conflicts, but Horat explained they won’t stop there. Users will be able to create private groups of their friends and use them to compare availability among many users, in a future update users will be able to join public groups to be notified about upcoming events from their favorite groups.

Beyond larger scale scheduling, Polo intends to explore connections in the food and beverage businesses. Upon login, users would have the option to view local deals and promotions, and then base their meetup location on those offerings. Even further, Horat expressed interest in providing exclusive discounts for Polo users at various establishments.

The students behind Polo haven’t done it all on their own, however. Horat conveyed appreciation on behalf on the entire team to the Blackstone Launchpad, an on-campus resource. Located in the SUB, the Blackstone Launchpad serves as “an entrepreneur resource for students, alumni, and faculty offering coaching, ideation, and venture creation support.”

Horat encouraged interested users to find them on Facebook at: Facebook.com/poloapp, as well on Instagram at “polo_social”.

 

ShareLift

With guidance provided by the Blackstone Launchpad and its director Les Craig, MSU students Sam Kern and Aidan Weltner are nearly finished developing their app, ShareLift, that eases the process of carpooling for skiers and snowboarders.

Working as a team of eight, led by Craig, the Launchpad reviews numerous ideas each day, including ShareLift.

“[Craig] always has a new strategy, a new idea or a new perspective,” Kern stated. “For anyone who is interested at all in entrepreneurship, starting your own company or product, you should check them out because it’s such an amazing free resource,” Kern continued.

“It’s Uber meets couch surfing, for skiers” said Kern as he briefly described the app. ShareLift connects users who are looking for transportation to go skiing or snowboarding to persons who are driving up to the mountain already. “The drivers are skiers, they’re going skiing anyways,” continued Kern, “Our goal is to make it cheaper to use ShareLift than to drive alone.”

Upon opening the app, users will immediately be shown a list of people who are driving to a given ski area, and the time that driver is leaving. Once a user looking for a ride finds the option that works best for them they can then request a pickup. Although there is a cost for passengers seeking a lift, Kern revealed the “rider will pay about the cost of gas.” Kern further predicted that a one-way ride to Bridger Bowl would cost about four dollars.

As the head of development, Kern and his colleagues have been building the app within Meteor, a Java framework, to create both an iOS and Android version of the app. The Android version is expected first, but both versions will be designed native to their respective operating system.

Weltner, who focuses on the business side of ShareLift, explained how “Skiers and snowboarders are unique – they have a single destination where 85-90 percent of them are going to the same place.”  Weltner indicated that it was this common destination that gives ShareLift its true potential, as he continued to state that “For skiers, carpooling just makes sense.”

Majoring in marketing and photography, Weltner’s excitement came from his entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for skiing itself. He credits his confidence, however, to Business Professor Dr. Terry Profata.

After performing startup exercises in her class, Weltner stated, “She gave me the confidence to handle the business side of things, and even start [ShareLift] in the first place.”

Using his business knowledge, Weltner initially sent out market research surveys to gauge whether or not ShareLift was something worthwhile and to determine if a possible customer base exists. “Based on the research, people want to see something like this,” Weltner said.

Besides Weltner’s MSU resources, he also used Stanford’s online business lecture library, along with Forbes articles and personal conversations with various venture capitalists. After looking into paid services to provide support to ShareLift, Weltner decided against it since “Blackstone understands the culture of a college startup, the paid services don’t.”

Bozeman will serve as ShareLift’s launch location, but Weltner and the team plans to expand west, most notably to Salt Lake City, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Ore. and Southern California. “Eventually, we want ShareLift to be in a position where skiers can use it at any major ski destination,” Weltner noted. Europe and other international locations are longer term goals, and Weltner is actively seeking funding to improve the speed and quality of development to meet these milestones. “Funding goes to development first,” said Weltner, “Marketing is a must, but it comes second.”

Weltner is also currently arranging deals with various ski areas to provide premiere parking to those who use ShareLift, advocating that it is a more environmentally conscious way to get to and from the mountain.

ShareLift is scheduled to release early January, 2016. Kern expressed that “[ShareLift] is currently looking for beta testers and perspective users,” and encourages anyone interested to check out their website at ShareLiftApp.co.

ShareLift Team:

Sam Kern

co-founder

Aidan Weltner

co-founder

AJ Gayler

Lead Programmer

Josh Kissel

Lead User Experience Designer

Donnie Clapp

Technical Director / Ninja

Jessica Dehn

Marketing Director

Lara Seeburg

Strategic Advisor