As seen in the Tulsa World
Facebook has its roots in a fraternity house at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the winners of Tulsa’s StartUp Series technology competition, who wouldn’t mind selling his patented application to Facebook, LinkedIn or Eventbrite, hatched his idea in the hallways of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Arkansas.
Will Edwards, alongside partner Evan Tipton, won the first leg of the StartUp Series for Remember the Member — an app designed to enhance the social networking aspect of a social network.
The idea came after Edwards had found himself in one of those awkward situations where he didn’t know the name of the person he was talking to and was too familiar with him to ask him his name. It was 2011, and he was pledging the fraternity.
“He kept calling me Will,” Edwards said of his conversation with an older member of the house. The brother knew his hometown was Tulsa and asked him about it.
Edwards kept the conversation going, using “buddy” as a substitute for the actual name. He had a few ideas, but “I wasn’t going to risk it and call him one of them,” he said.
Edwards had his phone in hand and was scrolling through it casually. Right then and there he thought: “Gosh, I wish I was able to scroll and tap on his face and get his information.”
The earliest form of the app replaced the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet the fraternity used to help members learn each others’ names. The latest form won the first leg of StartUp Series and $2,500 from the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation.
Edwards and Tipton beat out four other smartphone applications before a panel of three judges last Wednesday at 36 Degrees North, which had its grand opening Monday.
The three judges — Noah Singer, Tulsa Community College business and information technology associate professor; David LeCount, TCC business and information technology assistant professor/George Kaiser Family Foundation endowed chair for entrepreneurship; and Kayvon Olomi, co-founder of Whiteboard — narrowly chose Remember the Member over a similar app, Church Portal, which was designed by Jeremy Hunt to help churches learn more about the people who came to services and what they would be interested in doing at church.
The judges said they picked Remember the Member first overall because it seemed to best fit a need in the marketplace and because of how far along Edwards and Tipton were in the development process.
“They were able to say ‘I had this problem’ when I was going through my fraternity rush, and this is how I solved it,” one judge said.
Tipton, Edwards’ partner, got involved because he too had problems remembering peoples’ names.
“This was really solving a problem that I have on my own,” Tipton said. He said there’s a need for it in the marketplace, whether its for volunteer organizations or country clubs.
The new Startup Series, which evolved last year from the Startup Cup, has five categories divided by industry and includes mentoring for the winners.
The initial round of the contest wasn’t without its hiccups, organizers and judges said. For the next round, the presentation time will be longer — each of the five pitches ran over the original two-minute limit.
On a lighter note, the judges entered a room to make a decision, shut the door and found that it had an empty window pane. They moved to another room out of sight of the competitors, and it lacked a door.
There will probably be doors for the next four rounds of the competition. The unsuccessful tech pitches can get another shot and enter in the wildcard round in September.
Edwards said he saw fraternity brothers and friends look at the app, then approach someone and start a conversation.
The idea of turning it into a business didn’t come until a senior-year entrepreneurship class, Edwards said. No one else in his group had an idea for a business, so they used Remember the Member for an in-class presentation.
This summer, after graduating, Edwards started to work on the app again in earnest. A finance major, he didn’t build it. That was the job of a developer in India and another in California. Edwards was on Skype — a video-conferencing app — with them in the middle of the night. He often fell asleep, he said, so he set alarms for the wee hours of morning, waking up to find himself with a call waiting.
All that work could pay off if they sell the app to a larger company, which Tipton said is the goal within the next two years.
Winning the competition put the pair further along on that front, Edwards said. It also gave them recognition.
“It validated the idea more than anything and gave us a chance to meet different people that I don’t think I would’ve had the chance to do otherwise,” Edwards said.