Monday night, Joe and I attended Dr. Benn Konsynski’s Appcology: New Commerce Infrastructure class at the Emory University Goizueta Business School.

The class has a mix of students from the Goizueta MBA program, the BBA program and the Computer Science program. Over the course of the semester, Benn’s students were asked to come up with three different ideas for either an app or an eBook, try to bring two of those ideas to life and finally, complete one of those ideas. At the end of the semester, the student projects would be evaluated and graded.

Joe was invited to participate as one of several guest judges in the final app competition. Each project was scored on the basis of five criteria: Innovation, Feasibility, Polish/Design, Revenue/Exit Potential and Presentation.

HelpMe! App creator presents his project.
HelpMe! App creator presents his project.

There were many ideas presented, from teams like Subhaven, whose app helps students navigate the process of subletting their apartments on short-term leases; or HelpMe!, an app that tracks your movement via GPS and allows you to alert both emergency responders and a favorites list when you are in potential danger.

The Chef’s Pantry, one of both Joe’s and my favorites, allows users to enter the food/ingredients they have on hand at home and the app then serves up recipe suggestions based on what’s in your “pantry.” The team has big aspirations as to future features such as a chef’s community where friends can share recipes within the app and even the unattainable photo-capture a grocery store receipt which then auto-populates your pantry as you stock your kitchen. The design of the app was very pleasing and seemed easy to use. The students tried to enlist a developer through Fiverr to code their app for $5, which of course failed, but they had a really good sense of humor about the experience.

Multiple calorie/nutrition apps were served up by teams, some of them having beautiful designs and ambitious features, others which were simpler, and focused on one or two key offerings. Getting access the data on nutrition information for tens of thousands of food entries seemed to be their biggest hurdle.

One team presented a ninja mobile game as their semester project. Two of the team members used the experience to learn how to effectively project manage a software development project, while the third gained valuable experience actually designing and coding the game. He had a working knowledge of Objective C before starting the project but taught himself how to code using Swift over the course of the project. We were very impressed with his love for programming and initiative to teach himself a new code language. Hopefully, we can entice him to intern for us this summer!

Two students in the MBA program developed a concept to create a connected campus that used iBeacons and geofencing to promote Emory to potential students. While their intention was not to monetize the product (one of the students worked in Admissions and this was a goodwill project), Joe was able to show them the value of pitching it to other universities that might also like to capture the attention (and data) of potential students that place a high importance on technology integration within the academic setting.

Three of the teams created eBooks as their class projects, one of which leveraged Kindle singlets to create teasers for a full-length Kindle or hardback title. We were very impressed by the third team who worked with a Reddit author to produce an eBook compiled from the various experiences of the author while on the job as a cop. The students brought a completed project to the competition (including a cover design that they successfully enlisted a Fiverr designer to create), and are waiting only on legal review of the police case content to publish.

emory university

Two teams explored what they could do using a Raspberry Pi. One, admittedly, was not a software programmer and learned numerous lessons along the way. Another team used the Raspberry Pi to hack into wifi by mimicking MAC addresses. Ultimately their business model would help companies find vulnerabilities and then make corrections.

There were many great ideas presented during the competition, even more than I’ve included above. The judges asked tough questions around feasibility, monetization and business strategies. We enjoyed the stories of failed project ideas that turned the presenter’s focus toward great project ideas.

Some of the takeaways from the evening:

  1. Differentiation is key – a lot of ideas presented felt familiar. Apps already exist for almost everything. If you want to create another calorie-counting app, for instance, you are going to have to disrupt a very stable category. Do market research first to see if your offering is even necessary.
  2. Be adaptable – Your first, second, tenth, twentieth business idea may not be the right one for you. It may fail. But if you are serious about the entrepreneurial path, be adaptable. Test and fail quickly so that you can move on to the next idea.
  3. Meet a need – Great entrepreneurs see a need and figure out a way to solve it. (So do developers!) If you really need a tool to meet a need in your own life, it’s likely there are others who could benefit from your discovery.
  4. Find a mentor – You are going to have questions along the way. Enlist the advice of someone you trust who has been through similar challenges.
  5. Have a business plan – Build a roadmap on where you expect to go with your business with details on how you expect to get there. When will you hire staff? Begin marketing? Seek investors? Establish partnerships? Exit? Each of these questions is necessary parts of the business machine and deserve your attention.

Thanks again to Dr. Benn Konsynski for inviting us to participate in this event. It is inspiring to see the passion and excitement for entrepreneurialism alive and well at Emory University. We are proud to participate!

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