Published September 19, 2018
When you hear “Student Sandbox,” you probably think of a playful, easy way to spend some time. In reality, it’s an intense, fast-paced, entrepreneurial training program sponsored by UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad.
Participants work with UB faculty members and local entrepreneurs, who teach them how to transform their unique idea into a startup company. The program culminates with a pitch contest, complete with cash prizes.
This summer, two students from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences took home top honors. Jon Goodrum, a computer science graduate student, won first place and $5,000 for Tivvy, a mobile app that lets the user communicate and get together with people in the local community. Arthur De Araujo, an undergraduate computer science major, was awarded second place and $2,500 for OpenCode.tv, a live-streaming platform for software developers to share what they’re working on.
Goodrum’s Tivvy (inspired by the word “activity”) was born from his experience working as an intern for NASA and Amazon. He, and others like him, found themselves in a new location, where they didn’t know anyone and weren’t sure what to do for fun. So one of his fellow interns set up a communication channel (for example, the NASA interns used Facebook) that indicated when and where students could meet up for a movie or to study. Goodrum wondered why there wasn’t a stand-alone app for this kind of situation, since there was clearly a need for it.
That’s why he developed Tivvy, a location-based messaging app that allows users to create “chat rooms” for any topic from work to play. Then other users in the same geographic area respond. For example, if you are a Starbucks employee and can’t work tonight, post the message on Tivvy and find someone to cover your shift. Or if you need a fourth for basketball, use Tivvy to find another player.
Goodrum was drawn to UB’s Student Sandbox for the coaching and mentorship aspects. But he says the most helpful part of participating in the program was preparing for the pitch contest. “A lot of my thoughts about Tivvy were scattered,” he says. “I knew what idea I wanted to capture, but I wasn’t quite sure how to present it. So getting my thoughts on paper and figuring out what I wanted to build and how to do it really helped.”
De Araujo, on the other hand, explains that he got involved with Blackstone LaunchPad as soon as he arrived at UB because he’s been interested in startups since high school. He also brainstorms ideas for new products and companies every single day. “It’s been amazing,” he says. “They always have interesting events that have helped me attain knowledge about startups. The director mentioned that Student Sandbox is great if you want to learn even more about startups and how to pitch, so I thought it would be perfect for me.”
His idea for OpenCode.tv came from the fact that coding is a one-person job, so it can be a little isolating. “Eighty percent of coders treat coding as both a career and a hobby,” De Araujo says. “OpenCode.tv lets them share their screens and web cams, allowing them to interact and entertain each other. Its goal is to cultivate a social community specifically for software developers.”
De Araujo was also recently awarded the grand prize in the Spark Mobile app contest for his iOS app Lecture Buddy, which helps autistic students study lecture material. The app records and then transcribes a professor as she is speaking. When she says a key word or phrase, such as “remember” or “this is important,” the app highlights the following material, allowing the student to improve their focus and become better students.
Both Goodrum and De Araujo plan to use their winnings to fund their innovative ideas. It looks as if playing in the “Sandbox” really paid off for these two enterprising students.