Bringing New Apps to Market: How Five Innovators Outshone the Competition

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While the public’s desire for specialized applications for their mobile devices continues to grow, questions of scale and long-term viability remain.

To that end, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Technology Transfer initiated AppitUP, a contest for Penn-related individuals and teams to create innovative applications, with the opportunity to have software development firms help them get those apps out on the market.

At the 2013 AppitUP, 185 contestants made presentations to a panel of venture capitalists gathered by the Center for Technology Transfer and UPstart — the Penn program that helps students, faculty and staff bring their ideas to the marketplace. The panel selected 10 semi-finalists whose presentations they felt were candidates for actual development.

Four of the semi-finalists came from Wharton, three from the School of Medicine, two from the School of Nursing and one from the School of Design. While many of the apps were based on medical needs, others dealt with retail experiences, including upscale coffee buying.

The ultimate goal was to have one of five development firms bid to help adapt the app for potential marketing. After the 10 semi-finalists gave short presentations, with questions and comments from both the venture capitalist panel and the development firms, those firms then turned around and bid for the app-makers. One of the applications – designed to help cardiac-arrest patients get proper temperature management on the scene – attracted three of the firms’ initial bids. Two eventually dropped off and matched with other app-makers.

UPstart, formed in 2010, works with Penn-related researchers to find funding and, if necessary, manufacturing to get their products or ideas to market.

UPstart, formed in 2010, works with Penn-related researchers to find funding and, if necessary, manufacturing to get their products or ideas to market. Since its inception, UPstart has advised about 100 faculty and staff. Among other things, it has obtained close to $8 million in funding for the applications. “We are not here merely to build apps, but to build companies. With events like AppitUP, we can find the right people and products,” said UPstart director Michael D. Poisel.

The five winners are now working with the development companies that chose their apps. Below are the app creators and their respective backers:

Beans, with Valex Consulting

Rahul Jindal and Sascha Hughes Caley, graduate students in the School of Design, saw Pandora.com and wondered if the same suggestion-like service could work for one of their favorite items, coffee.

The app they designed has the consumer putting in attributes of coffees he or she wanted to emulate – such as degrees of strength, sweetness or flavor. Beans would then search a data base and recommend a coffee by brand or location of purchase. The two researchers determined that the group who might want to have the app would be college-educated professionals in their mid-20s up to about age 40, drinking an average of two cups of specialty coffee a day. The potential customers, according to a survey the app-designers did, are often looking for new coffees but are also looking for good prices.

The VC panel, noting that Pandora offers lots of choices, suggested that one mismatched song would not hurt Pandora’s popularity, whereas a bad coffee buy might damage Beans’ reputation.

Still, Valex bought into the idea because, as the VC panel noted, app-buying consumers want to have more sophisticated apps. While apps used to seek the middle range of buyers, the VC panel pointed to a trend toward purchasing more complex and upscale apps, such as Beans. “I really believe there will be not one, but a few, viable companies formed as a result of the event,” said Alex Zhitomirsky, the Valex representative at AppitUP, who nevertheless saw Beans as the company that offered the best opportunity for development.

Drug Verifier, with Chariot Solutions

Titilayo Oshinaya’s older brother almost died when he fell ill in West Africa and took what turned out to be a counterfeit drug. Oshinaya, a Wharton undergraduate student, found out that this is far from an occasional problem. Indeed, more than 700,000 deaths from malaria and tuberculosis in the developing world are related to counterfeit drugs, and close to half the drugs sold in even relatively developed places in Central Africa — like Ghana and Nigeria — are counterfeit.

Her proposed app, Drug Verifier, seeks to help cure that problem by partnering with pharmaceutical companies to offer relevant information, as well as preventative care, to individuals who need drugs to treat illnesses in the developing world. In her proposal, the pharmaceutical companies would pay for the information, since it would verify their drugs and give them brand protection.

“We thought the idea was clearly presented by Titi, and because of the personal connection she had to [this issue], she had a very good understanding of the problem,” said Tracey Welson-Rossman, Chariot Solutions’ chief marketing officer. “We know we can create a good prototype for this idea in a mobile app in a short period of time.”

Point of Care Digital Application for Post-cardiac Arrest, with SemperCon

Two faculty members of the School of Medicine – Audrey Blewer and Benjamin Abella – and staffer Marion Leary wanted to develop an application that would minimize the drastic outcomes from post-cardiac arrest. Only eight percent of the 350,000 Americans who suffer cardiac arrest each year survive.

Yet the three felt that if those who have cardiac arrest could get targeted temperature management, the survival rate would at least double.

The potential customers, according to a survey the app-designers did, are often looking for new coffees but are also looking for good prices.

Their app was an interactive point-of-care support system, primarily to be used by doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and other medical personnel, to help them with temperature management techniques. The system would include animation, short videos and texts to quickly relay key information.

Three of the development firms chose this app in the bidding, but the developers decided to go with SemperCon because of its background in developing medical apps.

“Besides offering an application that could have a significant positive impact on people suffering cardiac arrest, we were very impressed with the team behind the app idea. All the founders were accomplished professionals in their field and they had clearly already invested a lot of work in the idea,” said SemperCon’s Rick O’Brien. “[We] have a strong background in health care IT and also working with connected ‘smart products,’ so we felt we could leverage our expertise in those areas to help quickly move their application forward.”

Wish.list with Excellis

Wharton graduate student Vikram Madan noticed a gap in the current upsurge in shoppers scanning barcodes while browsing in stores. Sometimes, he said, people come to a store with a wish list – knowing exactly what type of item they want to buy – but other times they go shopping and then see something else they might want to buy that they hadn’t predicted.

At that point, however, the shoppers lack information about other brands to comparison shop. Wish.list would make it possible to scan the in-house barcode and then upload it immediately to social networks like Facebook or Twitter in order to get quick comparisons. In the long term, said Madan, the user would benefit from retailers doing real-time pushes for pricing and availability of now-catalogued “wish list” items.

Three people from the School of Medicine wanted to develop an application that would minimize the drastic outcomes from post-cardiac arrest.

The VC panel worried that there would not be enough revenue generated to make Wish.list a viable app, but Excellis’s president and CEO, Wayne Semisch, was undeterred. He said he thought Wish.list could work on even a daily basis, with connections all through retail companies. “We look forward to the upcoming demonstrations we will make to the VC firms,” said Semisch.

Anaphylaxis 911, with Kanda Software

According to app developers David and Rachel Edwards – she is a nurse and he is a staffer at the School of Medicine – 50 million Americans are at risk each year for anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction that occurs rapidly and can result in death). Up to 2% of the U.S. population will actually experience anaphylaxis in their lifetimes.

Their app would be sold to each end user and would text 911 with the pertinent information as soon as anaphylactic shock occurred and before the victim might lose consciousness. The VC panel was unanimous in noting that this app would be beneficial, but thought it might be more of a single product than a separate company.

Still, Alex Karpovsky, CEO of Kanda Software, was enthusiastic. “It represents an advance in using mobile devices to improve health care delivery,” said Karpovsky. “Anaphylaxis 911 addresses a real problem faced by millions of people worldwide and therefore has a significant market potential.

“This app is scalable and can be expanded to multiple countries. Additionally, according to the FCC, mobile carriers will provide text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014,” he noted. “Anaphylaxis 911 has the potential to get first-mover advantage over other apps that will be launched after the text-to-911 capability is in effect.”

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