App wins Idea Challenge

Story by Debora Biasutti

 

In order to help individuals and entrepreneurs in Eau Claire County, The Idea Challenge program of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Center decided to introduce a cash prize this year, and the winner is a UW-Eau Claire student.

 

Jeremiah Isaacson, a senior majoring in information systems, received a $500 cash award for his product idea, PictureMe Universe. Isaacson started to develop his idea while he was studying abroad in Europe through the university’s GlobITPro grant program.

 

“I decided to think about ideas that would become a quality app, something that people would actually want, not a game that people check it out and then delete it,” he said. “So, I brainstormed a lot of ideas when I was overseas and I came up with the concept of PictureMe Universe.”

 

After coming back from his semester abroad, Isaacson approached Alex Ecker, a sophomore computer science student who lived on the same floor as him in Towers Hall, to
help him develop his idea.

 

PictureMe Universe, which is currently being developed for Androids and iPhones, works in a way that if anyone who has this application on their phone and takes a picture and you’re in it, the picture will be sent instantly to your phone (you’d need to have the app, too), because of facial recognition technology.

 

“If you go to a party or a social event, for example, people are taking pictures all the time,” he said. “What you typically have to do is either wait for them to upload their pictures to Facebook or find them and connect a USB cable to their computer and put in a flash drive — it’s inconvenient. PictureMe Universe solves that problem by just simply sharing them instantly.”

 

In order to get financial and business support for his idea, Isaacson applied to The Idea Challenge over the summer and said that the program has been very helpful.

 

“They give you direction, and it’s somebody to talk to see your progress,” he said. “You have to keep the concept semi-secret and they are a great resource to keep proprietary information secret.”

 

The Idea Challenge, which started in 2007 to give technical assistance and guidance to individuals and start-ups, will award up to five ideas $500 in cash. These ideas will go on to compete to win one of three $1,000 awards to be applied towards business expenses, with a final winner that will receive $5,000 towards business expenses.

 

 

Brian Doudna, Executive Director of the Eau Claire Area EDC, said that they have received over 50 ideas so far.

 

 

“The goal of The Idea Challenge is to help individuals and companies advance their product to the market place,” he said, “and hopefully build stronger companies and help create new companies.”

 

 

The ideas submitted to The Idea Challenge are reviewed by a group of business professionals, called The Idea Challenge Partners. Each idea is evaluated to determine if it is a viable business concept.

 

 

Dr. Ray Hughes, professor at the College of Business and one of the judges of The Idea Challenge, brought the same program to the university. Overseen by the student organizations Collegiate Entrepreneur’s Organization and Students in Free Enterprise, the university’s Idea Challenge gives $3,000 to the best idea presented.

 

 

The winner then works with professors that are involved with the program to come up with a work plan on how to take the idea to the next step. The prize money, which comes from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation Inc., is used to help finance the initial costs by reimbursing the student or paying invoices.

 

 

“What we are really trying to do in this campus is that school is critically important and it can help you become good at certain things,” Dr. Hughes said, “but once you graduate if you want to be your own boss, if you want to create something, you got the capability and you got the resources.”

 

 

The first competition was held last spring and Isaacson and Ecker were also the ones who won first place with PictureMe Universe. Isaacson said he will use the money to pay for the computers he bought, server hosting and tight security for the mobile application.

 

 

Dr. Hughes said that he encourages students to apply for the CEO/SEF Idea Challenge first, because the opportunity of funding is for students only. He said that the program gives students the opportunity to think and refine more their idea before they go to the county level, which gives them more exposure in a professional level.

 

 

“The county level gives them even more exposure to additional resources that we don’t have,” he said. “It also provides them access to people outside of the university that they can work with more formally.”

 

 

Isaacson said it’s hard to say when PictureMe Universe will be released to the public, but that he and Ecker are working hard to release a beta version of the app to the Eau Claire area and students on campus only.

 

 

He also said that any student who is willing to intern with PictureMe Universe is more than welcomed to join the team and that they are currently accepting donations of old Android, iPhone, Windows Phone 7, Blackberry, or Symbian phones so they can test the app on them.

 

 

The Eau Claire Area EDC Idea Challenge is currently accepting product or service ideas until Oct. 14 in order to be considered for the remaining 2011 awards. Students can apply for the CEO/SEF Idea Challenge starting Oct. 7.