As Anvil’s annual startup accelerator and competition, The Boiler, approaches quickly (applications close this Sunday!), I’ve been speaking to quite a few Purdue student startups kicking off their journey, thinking about what kinds of problems they’ll solve, and about the ones that we have yet to tackle as a community.
So in the classic Y Combinator fashion, here’s some potential starting points for interesting ideas both ambitious and trivial, from and as a member of the Purdue community, to the entrepreneurs, developers, and founders itching for new ideas at Purdue.
Oh, and of course, if you have any of these ideas (or anything else, really), and want to give it a serious try at taking your idea to the next level, we’d be thrilled to have you at our accelerator, The Boiler, hosted and supported by your truly, the Anvil. You can apply by this Sunday!
Something to make traveling easier
Nobody really likes sitting in planes or trains, making reservations is a chore, and the whole process of figuring our an itinerary and making backup plans in case something goes wrong… it’s all a huge hassle. And let’s not even get into international travel.
There are lots of pieces of trip-planning that I think could be improved with some clever design and technology, from making cost-effective flight reservations to making it easier to figure out what to do in a city when you’ve got a couple hours to spare.
Travel is an industry with so many niches and an absolutely massive market, there’s great strength in being able to focus on a particular, very specific type of traveler or trip planning, and design an experience around it that caters to a very specific set of problems that can be solved well. I think it’s a space with lots of inefficiencies and room for innovation.
Something to make writing online better
There are more places to share writing online than literally ever before, but it’s far more difficult and confusing to try to make money doing it. From serious, skilled bloggers to small- and medium-sized newspapers and magazines, the market for monetizing online writing is wide and deep. But after a few decades of doing this whole Internet thing, nobody’s really figured out a right way to make a business writing online yet.
The best solutions in this area are probably not technically challenging, so much as difficult business / product problems. The number of attempted business models around online writing are as numerous as there are publishers who share writing online. But nobody has a particularly standout offering yet.
I’ve seem some really compelling sparks of ideas around ways to free writing from advertising, like Blendle, an originally European startup trying to adopt the Spotify, pick-and-choose-the-favorites approach to reading news online. I think areas around micropayments for writing, helping publishers build more loyal audiences, and making it easier to be tech- and social-savvy as a writer are really interesting.
Online publishing is a unique area, because it’s one of the oldest ways of doing business online, but we still have no clue how to it honestly, sustainably, and profitably. I think it’s an exciting and meaningful area to investigate.
Something to simplify organizing big events
If you’ve been involved in any student organization or club, you know how many variables and tasks there are in managing a big event. You need sponsors, marketing, design, volunteer management, crowd control, schedule planning, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. It’s a crazy, difficult, and complex process, and there isn’t yet a great, turnkey solution I’ve found to manage all the chaos.
The Anvil is actually home to an events-related startup from Purdue, Socio, who help event attendees get more out of an event. But I haven’t yet seen a startup tackle the problem of just managing the puzzle that is event planning and execution in an innovative way. And even though it might not be the most glamorous field, there’s no shortage of people trying to organize events small and big around all kinds of interesting ideas, and personally, I’d pay good money to keep my events-organizing related chaos under control.
Something to help everyone participate in local government, or make government more transparent
Government is messy and tactical, and it usually requires a lot of experience and historical background to understand everything that goes on, both at the national and local levels.
A key misconception that I find about government transparency-related businesses is that it’s not a very lucrative market, because the key mission of trasparency-focused initiatives seem to be altruistic, about giving the constituents good data to vote. But that’s not true everywhere.
Data about how government works — which legislators and leaders support which bill — is important (like, pay-money-for-this important) to organizations that have political motivations and want to influence the way our communities go about policies. An organization worried about loose gun control policies, for example, would be really interested in detailed dissections of how gun control-related policies get bounced around and influenced by different legislators. It’s rarely transparent, often confusing, and always a chore to discover these important details about how government works, and I think there can be some good and quite lucrative work to be done in making our government more transparent.
(Thanks to my colleague at Spensa, Zachary, for this insight!)
Applying cutting-edge technologies to sports
America spends an incomprehensible amount of money every year on sports, everything from tickets and passes to merchandise, gear, and games. There’s no denying sports technology is a big market.
And I think there are some really interesting ways that we can attack problems in sports — especially lower-tier, college sports and high-school sports which still spend lots of money every year — with technologies that are just now becoming commodity and easy to implement at scale, like machine learning, fast computer vision, and real-time data processing.
Imagine watching a game, and being able to decide from exactly which angle in the stadium you want to watch the game in virtual reality, or a video camera that can use machine learning to analyze your racquet strokes and tell you which strokes and angles get you the best returns across the net. Between how we practice, experience, and talk about sports in our communities, I’m really excited to see how newly commotidized tech can help us experience and play sports in more immersive, safe, or smart ways.
(Thanks to my friend Josh for some interesting insights into sports and technology!)
Do you have anything to add to this list? Did you agree or disagree about anything on this list? Voice off here or let us know at email@example.com!
Oh, and did I mention, if you have an idea, we want to help you make it a reality! You can apply to the Boiler startup accelerator until this Sunday, and win up to $7,000 in funding :)