A Team of MSU Student Developers Created 4 Apps in Only 2 Months — And They’re About to Do It Again

By Gerard Smith, Business Development Intern, MSU Hatch & Spartan Innovations

The MSU Hatch Dev Shop team. Pictured from left to right: Aakash Bhargava (‘18), Gustavo Fernandes (‘18), Yash Vesikar (‘20), Chess Luo (‘19), and Simeon Goolsby (‘18)

At the beginning of Fall Semester 2017, The MSU Hatch Dev Shop, a team of five in-house app developers at The MSU Hatch, hosted a student startup pitch competition that saw over 20 aspiring MSU student entrepreneurs pitch their early stage business ideas for a chance to have a professional-grade app created on behalf of their brand. However, only a handful of startups would be selected to participate in the exhausting two month process toward minimum viability, and these lucky few had to demonstrate more than just a good idea — they had to demonstrate direction and preparedness, along with a strong commitment to collaboration.

And while competition was tough and the overall event took several hours to complete, five startups were eventually hand-picked by the Dev Shop to come along for the inaugural adventure — one full of aspiration and uncertainty.


Gus Fernandes (MSU ’18) leads the year-old Dev Shop team and played a crucial role in planning the initial pitch competition as well as the ensuing development program — the first of its kind for The MSU Hatch. He said that once the five student-led startups were selected, each Dev Shop member chose a business to directly collaborate with. During the first two to three weeks, the student entrepreneurs frequently met with their main developer in addition to the Dev Shop team as a whole to brainstorm UX and UI app elements, such as general design and primary capabilities. Simultaneously, wireframe layouts, some of which were previously established by the student entrepreneurs themselves, were refined and finalized so each developer could build their respective app using a specific mold. (Unfortunately, one of the student startups dropped out during this phase due to a time conflict.)

Once this foundation was set, the Dev Shop split up their responsibilities, buckled down, and began the main phase of their work. The goal was simple: generate a minimum viable product (MVP) — in other words, a functional, easy-to-use app tailored to each business’s needs that could be tested among potential users.

Coding tirelessly to accomplish this task, each developer was also responsible for maintaining an effective communication stream with their student partner, coordinating weekly meetings to exchange feedback and ensuring everything was on track (not to mention overcoming any misunderstandings along the way).

If I could insert a fast-paced montage of these individuals churning through both good and bad ideas, typing a mile per minute, and consuming Red Bull like it’s “Michael’s Secret Stuff,” I would. But you get the point: After a total of two long months in the lab, success became imminent.

In the end, a celebration — complete with all you can eat Qdoba, a festive ice cream bar, and a kegerator (for those of age) — was held on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at The Hatch to recognize the hard work and determination of both the Dev Shop and the four student startups eager to display their awesome new apps, each possessing its own specific functions.

Tyler Mehigh (’18) alongside the beer taps on top of the kegerator, which is equipped with craft beer from Lansing Brewing Co.

Following is a brief breakdown of these four startups:

Ninety6

Ashton Keys (’18) modeling the corduroy floral bomber jacket released as part of Ninety6’s latest fall season look.

The clothing market is overwhelming, to say the least, and on the surface, Ninety6 may just seem like another brand trying to make its presence felt. But in looking at their retro-oriental, yet fashion-forward designs and conversing with founder Ashton Keys (‘18), it becomes apparent that this company is far from mediocre.

Founded in 2014, Ninety6 offers many different kinds of eye-catching apparel items, such as hats, hoodies, t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, and even a trench coat, and is continuing to expand its offerings. Besides acquiring customers through word-of-mouth, press, and social media, Ninety6 has been extremely active in coordinating pop-up shops and taking part in fashion shows across the Michigan area and beyond, stretching from Detroit and Lansing all the way to Miami. In fact, the startup participated in or hosted over 20 pop-up events in the past year alone. Additionally, Keys used the success of Ninety6 and his relationships with other Michigan State designers to organize the first ever student-produced fashion week on campus.

Keys, who is studying experience architecture with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation, is no stranger to The MSU Hatch and credits the organization with giving his business the long-term support it needed to get off the ground. He hopes the new Ninety6 app will further his vision of a multi-faceted omnichannel shopping experience for consumers, and plans to harness various user data to create stronger appeal.

inQuire

Russell James (’15) showing the new InQuire app to a young woman at the December 6, 2017 celebration.

If you’ve ever participated in or witnessed a celebrity Q&A session on Facebook Live, Reddit, Twitter or any other social media site, then you know how eager people are to submit their questions for a chance to interact with their favorite icon or influencer. Russell James, who graduated from MSU in 2015 with a degree in marketing, wants to take this enthusiasm to the next level by creating a platform where a celebrity can host a video-first Q&A, and users can pay a small price to submit their question for answering. But here’s the catch: All or a portion of the money generated will then benefit the celebrity’s favorite charity, foundation, non-profit, etc.

By “turning social media into social innovation,” James believes that inQuire can make a significant impact on a variety of philanthropic causes, while constructing an entertaining digital atmosphere at the same time. And, thankfully, he has experience in fostering connections with the kind of high-profile figures who will be responsible for attracting an audience willing to pay for question asking privileges. As a student at MSU, James helped secure Kevin Hart for a performance at The Breslin Center — a show which turned out to be one the largest ever on campus. As a native of Akron, Ohio, he’s interacted with LeBron James’s inner circle, most notably pitching inQuire to James’s manager and longtime friend, Maverick Carter.

The inQuire app, as is the case with the three other apps, will need to undergo further development to fulfill all of its proposed capabilities, but the base for a new form of social media is now in place.

GigGot

For an upcoming musician and someone who books these musicians for shows, securing and coordinating a gig can be a headache-inducing process. Hew Hamilton (‘18), a student at MSU studying mechanical engineering and an avid folk music artist, recognized this issue as he began performing around the Lansing area and speaking with other local artists and venue managers. So, he decided to streamline the process with GigGot: an open platform for live performance coordination, booking, and listing.

A portrait of Hew Hamiltion (‘18)

Welcoming artists, hosts, promoters, and fans, the app includes a dynamic set of features including: user profiles, instant messaging, an interactive map, event pages, event updates, and artist ratings. Most importantly, it allows local musicians and those seeking to book talent for gigs at concert venues, bars, and clubs to easily discover one another and directly communicate.

Oh, and Hamilton’s skill set stretches beyond engineering and music: he developed a majority of the GigGot app infrastructure before taking part in the Dev Shop program.

Rock on!

What’s Cookin’

As an ever-hungry college student, how often have you missed out on your favorite cafeteria meals? Let’s say, orange chicken, veggies, and rice? Or how about all-you-can-eat nachos? In my own experience, I’ve suffered from a lack of knowledge about cafeteria scheduling on many occasions, eating something much less satisfactory as a result.

Krishna Midathada (’19) smiles at his display table in The MSU Hatch as part of the December 6, 2017 gathering.

Krishna Midathada (’19), a student at MSU studying marketing, first identified this issue as his peers complained about a lack of notification surrounding the best cafeteria menu selections. And although many universities, including MSU, offer information online about when and where certain foods are being served, it can be easy to overlook the specifics, or to not properly plan your schedule around a cafeteria visit.

But with What’s Cookin’, a new Tinder-style app that allows users to “swipe right” for their favorite foods, you can build a preferred menu and set up personalized notifications regarding your ideal cafeteria cuisine. By delivering the most relevant information about on campus dining to students in a customized, easy-to-digest manner, What’s Cookin’ gives users the opportunity to utilize the full potential of precious meal swipes. In addition, Midathada hopes to eventually provide nutritional information through the What’s Cookin’ app and partner with other universities once he has solidified his presence within MSU’s campus.

Side Note: These four apps are not yet available for download on Android or iOS App Stores as they are being tested among each startup’s intended audience, allowing the entrepreneurs to collect valuable feedback.


If you’re a rising student entrepreneur at MSU and are interested in participating in the upcoming Dev Shop program, you can apply to pitch your startup idea by clicking here. But you’ll need to hurry — applications close at the end of the day on Sunday, January 21, 2018.

If you have a business idea but don’t think you’re ready to apply just yet, no worries! Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with The MSU Hatch and advance your entrepreneurial plan.

Best of luck!


Gerard Smith is a senior at Michigan State University studying advertising & PR, and will be graduating in spring 2018. He has been working with The MSU Hatch for two and a half years. To read more from Voices of The MSU Hatch, click here.