Two recent graduates of the University of Connecticut School of Business have created a new online social planning tool that aggregates and organizes information about friends’ social plans, community events, local establishments, and other information required for making successful get-togethers. It works as a Facebook application, on mobile devices, and from a dedicated website, Shizzlr.com.
College students use three primary mediums to gather information to make social plans: text messaging, instant messaging, and social networks. Research shows that the average student has 1,000 friends on Facebook and uses the three mediums to communicate daily with 150 of them about upcoming plans.
The two UConn graduates, Keith Bessette and Nick Jaensch, both of whom received their MBA earlier this month, identified a need for social activity awareness and planning. So, with the help the Innovation Accelerator at UConn’s School of Business, they responded with a service called Shizzlr.
Shizzlr is a free social planning tool that works as a Facebook application, on mobile devices, and from the website Shizzlr.com. By marrying social plans with local businesses and establishments, Shizzlr provides an opportunity for revenue-enhancing and branding opportunities for businesses, in addition to increasing location traffic and tracking attendant patterns.
By contrast with its competitors – social calendar and real-time check-in applications such as Plancast, Foursquare, and GoWalla – this service is about where people are going, not where they are. Shizzlr is also ‘platform agnostic’ – not limited to a particular computing platform: it’s a website, Facebook app, mobile site, and includes text messaging.
While developing Shizzlr, Bessette and Jaensch were also pursuing an MBA in venture consulting at UConn. In the MBA program, they were accepted to the Innovation Accelerator, not as students but as an entrepreneurial company with a project engagement for the accelerator.
The Innovation Accelerator, one of the primary outreach initiatives of UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, assists entrepreneurial ventures in addressing the many challenges associated with the identification and capture of business opportunities. The Accelerator uses interdisciplinary project teams of graduate and undergraduate students that develop innovative solutions to complex business issues for Connecticut’s technology-based entrepreneurial ventures. Faculty members Richard Dino, executive director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Luke Weinstein, director of the Innovation Accelerator, served as the advisory board for the project.
The Innovation Accelerator project with Shizzlr is unusual in that the project is a technology company developed at UConn that did not come about from an academic exercise; there were no faculty involved in creating the project.
During the past eight months, Shizzlr has been evolving as a beta product at UConn. With 1,000 students using the product on its test run, it has received significant feedback from the student community. Shizzlr is now moving from the beta stage to a fully enabled production stage and national rollout. The website is now open to the public.
Shizzlr won the 2010 Connecticut State Collegiate Business Plan Competition sponsored by the Entrepreneurship Foundation Inc., which took place at the Yale Lawn Club in New Haven on April 23. The project took first place in the venture enterprise category, selected from among more than 100 entrants. It also received a start-up grant from Connecticut Innovations.
Bessette has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and an MBA in venture consulting from UConn. In 2000, he co-founded Estorrs.com, a university-based social network at UConn that preceded the ubiquitous social networking sites. He also co-founded Mobile Link Solutions in 2004, a mobile workforce application for field technicians. EStorrs was dissolved after the founders graduated in 2001, and Mobile Link Solutions was sold as a beta product to its pilot customer.
Jaensch earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2008 and an MBA in venture consulting in 2010, both from UConn. Before beginning the MBA program, he worked for two entrepreneurial growth companies during a three-year span. His most recent stint of employment was at Semprae Laboratories, where he worked with the firm’s lead funding team on their development and product portfolio strategy.