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A Beacon of Success: Startup Created By Students Sold

Written by David Owens
9/30/2015

Andrew Sowers '15 (left) and Austin Shoecraft '14 in the Rev offices in downtown Ithaca. Photo by Adam Baker

How many college students get to develop their own business idea into a full-fledged company and then sell it?

“It’s not the typical path,” Austin Shoecraft ’14 says of his college experience with a startup company, though that’s what he did—with Stephen Briggs ’15, Andrew Sowers ’15, and Calvin Chestnut ’14. The four came up with an idea to use iBeacons to change the way people interact with their surroundings.

An iBeacon is a small Bluetooth device that sends out a signal with a unique identification number. Phone apps can be designed to respond to the signals given off by iBeacons in different ways.

“For instance, if you walk into a retail store and you have the store’s app, it can instantly present you with a coupon for the day tailored to your specific interests,” said Briggs. “If you approach a mannequin, it can instantly present you with all the different clothing items the mannequin is wearing and even suggest other items you might like. It’s all the benefits of online shopping applied to a physical space.”

Origins
As a team, the four students took their idea for using iBeacons to the Ithaca College Business Idea Competition, an annual contest sponsored by the School of Business that gives students a chance to develop their ideas and present them to a group of judges, which includes alumni and community mentors. The team won the “judge’s choice” category and caught the attention of one judge in particular: Jerry Dietz ’75. Dietz is the owner of local property management company CSP Management, and he thought the iBeacon idea had a lot of potential for his business.

Push Interactive officially became a company in May 2014, and the team worked full-time in a business school classroom throughout the summer to design and build an app for CSP Management. The app they created was able to alert users and provide details about a property listing whenever they were near one of the company’s properties, all of which were outfitted with iBeacons.

The four also spent time that summer developing their company. “We were starting to build the app and see what else we could do with it,” Shoecraft said. “We met with people and were traveling throughout the state to find other companies that could use the technology.”

When Push Interactive was invited last August to join Rev Ithaca Startup Works, a business incubator in downtown Ithaca, the team found a welcoming space to continue growing.

“It was great to have mentors there, to have them right across the table to ask questions or get advice,” Shoecraft said. “Their input was one of the biggest benefits to working at Rev.”

Rev also had 3-D printers, which allowed Push Interactive to make prototypes for its iBeacons.

Working at Rev sparked an idea for another way to use the technology. The team created an app that used iBeacons to track how people were interacting with the space inside the incubator. Data from the app helped Rev design a new second-floor space to fit the work habits of the people who would be using the area.

Teamwork
As CEO, Shoecraft used the knowledge and skills he learned through his business administration classes to aid in the success of the company.

“I would take what I learned and delve deeper into each topic,” he said. Through reading, discussion with mentors, and simply trying things in the real world, he gained a well-rounded business sense.

While Shoecraft worked on top level management and expanding the business, Briggs, an integrated marketing communications major, handled branding and marketing. Sowers, a computer science major, developed the back-end programming of the system, and Chestnut, who majored in English, created the mobile apps.

Acquisition
The work the team was doing caught the attention of another local business, GORGES Inc.—a software, website, and app development company—and in January, GORGES acquired Push Interactive.

“[GORGES] had been interested in iBeacons,” Shoecraft explained. “[Push Interactive] was a great platform that [GORGES] could take and apply to several other companies in the area and throughout New York State.” Brad Treat, a management professor in the business school, acted as a “matchmaker” for the deal between Push Interactive and GORGES.

Shoecraft had taken classes taught by Treat, who saw the potential of Push Interactive’s technology when applied to GORGES’s business model and put the two companies in contact with each other.

Being acquired so early in the company’s existence is a huge accomplishment, though Shoecraft said leaving Push behind was bittersweet after putting so much of himself into the startup. “It’s exciting that something you’ve built has grown up.”

Future
For now, the four Push Interactive founders have gone in different directions. While Shoecraft and Sowers remain in Ithaca, Chestnut is working in the Boston area, and Briggs spent the spring semester studying in the ICNYC program. There’s a good chance that their paths will cross again for a new project, though.

“It’s definitely not over,” Shoecraft said.



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