News - 11/14/2013

‘Spark’ of Inspiration Leads Business Instructor to Develop New App

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As someone whose career has spanned being an attorney, a CPA and a professor, MiraCosta College Business Department Chair Tom Severance has gone to more than his share of conventions and networking events. And all have the same flaw.

It’s often difficult to connect with new people when you’re in a room full of strangers. And that means possibly missing out on potential business and social opportunities.

Solving that problem is what led Severance to embark on his latest venture, a new iPhone app called Sparkify. The concept is simple, but effective: Users create a profile with a picture and some basic information, then select up to 10 interests or “sparks.” Users then search for people with similar sparks, and connect for conversation.

“It provides an ice breaker,” Severance said. “It allows you to break through the clutter that you have with all the anonymous people who are out there. Once you get a conversation started, that’s when business and social relationships can evolve.”

Sparkify, Severance said, could especially come handy for people trying to make new connections at conventions such as Comic-Con or new freshmen trying to find folks with similar interests on college campuses. And venues can customize the app to have their own unique set of “sparks” to help connect people.

“It’s really geared for being used where there are a lot of people in close geographic proximity who are interested in connecting with others either socially or for business.”

The app has already captured the attention of students at Cal State San Marcos, where seniors looking for hands-on business experience are working with Sparkify in a number of areas. The College of Business Administration’s Senior Experience concludes with a trade show in December at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.

Severance began working on the idea about a year ago and has spent “a substantial amount of money” hiring a programmer, setting up a website (http://www.sparkify.com), marketing the product, and working out the kinks. The Apple app store began offering Sparkify in September, and Severance is hoping to launch an Android version soon.

Severance is no stranger to business ventures. He earned his bachelor of science degree at Arizona State University, and his joint law degree and MBA at the University of Minnesota. He is a licensed attorney in California.

The biggest challenge facing Sparkify? “We have to get the word out so people know that it’s out there,” he said. “If you only have a few people using it, the experience isn’t going to be any good.”

He says the next few months will be critical. Severance is looking for planners of large business or social events interested in improving their attendees’ experience to give Sparkify a test run. Anyone planning an upcoming convention, conference or other networking event can email Severance at support@sparkify.com.

“It’s an entrepreneurial venture that we think is a good idea and that we have a lot of hope for,” he said.

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