They can help you build an app. Can you help them build a busi­ness?

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Look­ing for some ad­vice? Con­tact us at cap­biznews@wash­

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.

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