PROVIDENCE – Albert J. Brown knew he wanted to build and make things when he arrived at Brown University from San Francisco four years ago.
His latest idea is an app, called Spotter, designed to link drivers with parking spaces.
The San Francisco native first encountered the problem as a high school student, and now he’s working to alleviate the parking problem on the Brown campus, thanks to an entrepreneurship class he’s taking.
Brown, who is working with two other students on the app, Nick DeMarco and John Bui, is part of Adjunct Assistant Professor of Computer Science John Jannotti’s new csciStartup class. Through the course, students will incorporate and run a startup. Students had to apply to be part of the class, and Jannotti selected five teams from the 20 who applied.
“The level of enthusiasm is higher than I’ve seen in any class I’ve taught. We had something like four times as many students apply as I could take, and students are still sending emails hoping to join,” Jannotti explained recently. “I was surprised by how many people were interested in it. It seems to be filling a need.”
Jannotti said students had approached him and the department chair about the desire for a class like this.
Jannotti said they have to not only create a product, but find customers for it. And while the goal at the end of the class is to have an operating company, Jannotti said that might not happen with every team, but they at least will discover what it takes to get a business off the ground.
The class also features guest speakers from local businesses, to give students startup advice.
One of those speakers was Nick Kishfy, MojoTech LLC’s founder and CEO, who visited the class on Feb. 16. MojoTech, a software application development company, helped build the Teespring platform for Brown alum Evan Stites-Clayton. The San Francisco-based custom apparel maker recently closed its Providence office to concentrate on other locations.
Kishfy said he talked mostly about his experience starting his own company and working with clients. Kishfy told the students it’s important to identify and mitigate risks early on, and what to do in order to release a product as soon as possible.
“Speed to launch is a critical component of success,” Kishfy said.
Another piece of advice he gave was to not hire designers or engineers without seeing them work first – give job candidates an actual challenge. Also, Kishfy said, it’s important for would-be entrepreneurs to know why they are starting a company.
“It’s really hard to start a company, so if you don’t have a solid reason, good motivation to do it …” Kishfy said.
Still, Kishfy said he would encourage anyone who wants to start a business to pursue their idea.
“I think it’s really important. It’s why I love this class at Brown. These students are learning they can do it. Anyone can, it’s just a lot of work,” Kishfy said.
As for Brown, he said he is focusing his service on parking needs for student commuters, professors and anyone traveling to the campus. They are reaching out to those who have designated parking around campus to see if they want to rent their spots. In return, they will be compensated, a “tiny portion” of which will go to Brown and his team, he explained.
Brown said he is enjoying the class.
“It’s great … We’re getting not only to meet these successful entrepreneurs, but to meet people at Brown who are like-minded,” Brown said.