They can help you build an app. Can you help them build a business?
A start-up that matches entrepreneurs with tech talent seeks the bestway to expand its market.
— Dan Beyers
The entrepreneurs: Tyler Denk and Taylor Johnson wanted to launch a business with a new mobile music application. But as college students without the right technical expertise, it was difficult to find a developer to turn the idea into an app — a problem they realized others faced, too.
They abandoned their original business idea to instead solve the problem of matching entrepreneurs with technical co-founders and developers. They enlisted Johnson’s twin brother, Tommy, and recruited computer science students Ephraim Rothschild and Akash Magoon to help.
The pitch, Taylor Johnson,
chief executive: “Venture Storm is an online platform that connects student entrepreneurs to talented student developers on campus. Our platform is limited — users must have an e-mail address affiliated with their university.”
Tyler Denk, chief operating officer: “Venture Storm is a collaborative community online with both matchmaking aspects and freelance postings. We aren’t just a freelance site; rather, we are helping entrepreneurs build teams to create ventures to hopefully go on to pursue that start-up full time.”
Tommy Johnson, chief product officer: “We decided to focus on connecting entrepreneurs for software projects — mobile and Web applications — rather than hardware projects.”
Taylor Johnson: “We are up and running at the University of Maryland and using customer feedback to develop the next version of the platform, incorporating
collaboration features for chatting and videoconferencing.”
Tommy Johnson: “We are starting a campus ambassador program to take this to other schools. Is it sustainable to remain in our current niche market of college students, or should we expand beyond campus?”
The advice, Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland: “To expand, take the geographic approach. I like the idea of drawing concentric circles around the university first. There are a lot of requests from entrepreneurs in the surrounding region for development talent.
“Even though you are comfortable with only working with colleges because that’s what you know, you need to make broader connections to scale up. The key is that you are connected to the campuses, and in an area like D.C., you can grow that out without only operating student-to-student.
“There is a void in the market for what you are doing in D.C. Scale up to include Georgetown, George Mason, George Washington University, etc., plus local start-ups. In the short run, this strategy offers a better engine of growth than trying to set up on different campuses outside this region.
“From a revenue model perspective, your volume and dollar amount per transaction will go up if you can bring in more established start-ups. It’s also nice for universities, which are always looking for ways to better connect to the broader business community and alumni in the region.”
VentureStorm includes, from left, Tommy Johnson, Tyler Denk, Taylor Johnson, Ephraim Rothschild and AkashMagoon.