Olu had a problem.
A year ago, Oluwatoba (Olu) Toye-Abdul was a freshman at UT Arlington. When he moved to the United States from Nigeria to further his education, he found UTA to have the programs, reputation and diverse student population he was looking for. But as he sat in class after class, he was having trouble meeting his fellow classmates.
“There are so many people at UTA that you can easily feel lost in the crowd,” said Toye-Abdul. “It’s hard to meet people when they keep to themselves in class, and without knowing someone’s name, it’s even harder to find ways to connect outside of class.”
In a marketplace full of smartphones, laptops, apps and online solutions, you might imagine that a solution was within arm’s reach. But that wasn’t the case. “The University’s online academic tool Blackboard is too rigid; it isn’t designed for personal networking,” said Toye-Abdul, “and social media platforms like Facebook or Snapchat are too big and noisy.”
Olu formulated an idea.
Pizza and TP
In September 2015, Toye-Abdul met up at CiCi’s Pizza with his freshman roommate Jonathan Patterson. Patterson had recently transferred to Tarrant County College. Another TCC student and friend, Alonzo Rios, joined them. Over pizza, Olu told his friends about an idea he’d developed to help UT Arlington students break the isolation barrier and connect with other students.
As the three friends talked, the more excited they got. So Toye-Abdul committed the idea to paper. Toilet paper, actually, using a pen he borrowed from the employee at the cash register and paper from, well, you know. When inspiration strikes, you make do with what you’ve got.
Toye-Abdul envisioned a networking app that would integrate the best features of Blackboard, the UTA website and top social media platforms to create an online community.
Much like Facebook, students would create a personal profile, including a photograph, academic major, place of origin, personal interests and other information of their choosing. Much like Blackboard, students could view the academic calendar and the names of every course. And much like the UTA website, students could see events and activities happening on campus. To limit access exclusively to students, the programming would only permit people with UTA student email addresses to create a profile in the first place.
By bringing all of this functionality under one umbrella application, students could more easily find and meet classmates, form groups based on common interests, and make plans to attend mutually-appealing events with other students.
The name of the app would describe both the means and the end: UTA Connection.
Three, two, one, launch
With Toye-Abdul’s talent in graphic design and Patterson and Rios’ programming experience, by March 2016 the team was ready to launch the beta version of their app. Once the app reached 100 downloads, Toye-Abdul and his friends focused on gathering user feedback. They met with users, messaged them through the app and listened carefully. During the few months that followed, they launched new features based entirely on user feedback, including privacy options and more academic and event information.
By the time the full version launched last week, nearly 430 students have already downloaded the app.
An entrepreneurial spirit
Not once did Toye-Abdul doubt the potential of UTA Connection, or his ability to deliver.
“I like everything to do with start-ups,” he told DAMC. “When I was 17, I had an idea to start a web design company, so I did it. It grew so fast, I hired freelancers from India and Pakistan. I ran the business for about 1 year 3 months, but decided to shut it down. Between it and my studies, it was too much.”
What did Olu learn from that experience?
“Better to start a business in partnership with other people. That way, you can share the time commitment as well as the successes.”
To UTA and beyond
Now that UTA Connection has launched, the team’s emphasis is on marketing and on-going product development. According to Toye-Abdul, they will proactively gather feedback from users on a weekly basis and update the app monthly.
At some point in the future, the team plans to version and launch the app at TCC.
“Since we already have connections at TCC, this is a natural next step,” said Olu.
We can’t wait to see what’s next.
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An official State of Texas Cultural District, Downtown Arlington, Texas blends a unique mix of activities, sights, tastes and sounds that attract visitors and locals alike. Within its less than a two-mile radius, Downtown is home to a top tier public research university, prolific fine and performing artists and arts institutions, live entertainment, exciting NCAA and professional athletics, one-of-a-kind dining and retail, and a supportive business climate. Downtown Arlington brings together a plethora of cultures and inspirations with a character all its own.