Congressman Jim Himes, Senator Tony Hwang and Representative John Shaban joined a dialogue with about 20 Fairfield University Dolan School of Business faculty and students on entrepreneurship on Tuesday, Feb. 16, discussing the forthcoming release and advancement of CommunAlert, a public safety app that fosters dialogue on potential safety threats.
Dean of DSB Dr. Donald Gibson gave the opening remarks at the event, stating that entrepreneurship has been a particular focus of DSB in the last five years. Last August, Gibson hired Chris Hamer, CEO and founder of Crowdflik, in the position of entrepreneur-in-residence in which he “mentors students for the Business Plan Competition, serves as an advisor to the faculty, and really kind of personifies entrepreneurship on campus,” according to Gibson.
Hamer worked with students in Dr. Carl Scheraga’s Technology Ventures class last fall where he came with ideas that the students had developed and took them to the next level by creating a business plan and basis of the app and its design; this led to the birth of the soon-to-be released app CommunAlert.
CommunAlert is a location-based app for reporting suspicious activities to authorities, which Dan Mahoney ‘16 said expanded from the “See Something, Say Something” campaign.
According to CommunAlert’s website, the app is “a community-powered location app” that allows anyone to report anonymously from any location. The distinguishing feature of CommunAlert is that users can respond to the posts made with information or questions.
“It gets rid of false alarms and it creates a dialogue on the problem immediate to have evidence that goes all the way back to that problem,” said Mahoney of the app, into which they are discussing an integration with the Department of Public Safety and Fairfield Police.
Students who worked on CommunAlert in their class, however, expressed interest in continuing this project, which they were able to do through the University’s entrepreneurial initiative FUEL, or Fairfield University Entrepreneurship Labs, which replaced the Fairfield Accelerator and Mentoring Enterprise, or FAME.
Located at 1499 Post Road above the Fairfield University Downtown Bookstore, this office space was created as “a way to connect to the community and to the state” and “to take ideas and move them to incubation stage, move them to funding stage, to move them to reality,” according to Gibson. About 15 students currently intern at FUEL working for CommunAlert.
Bringing those ideals to fruition, members of local government were in attendance to support and advance entrepreneurial efforts, efforts that Hamer said are already beginning to pay off, as two teams of two students pitched in the open audition for Shark Tank and are awaiting news of their fate.
“I think the key is we have a responsibility as legislators to pursue these types of empowerment programs to bring out entrepreneurs who are willing to share and contribute to be part of the solution moving forward,” said Hwang.
Himes agreed, and added that these conversations are important for “what we can do to make this area in Connecticut generally that much more amenable, that much more welcoming, that much more supportive.”
In speaking about ways in which they could use support, students shared that they will be launching a crowdsource funding campaign through the platform IndieGoGo. Their current plans, according to Mahoney, are to “build up their social media presence [and] the awareness of the idea, and that is all going to go toward our funding that gets kicked off in April.”
When asked about the experience working on CommunAlert, Matthew Engel ‘16 shared that this internship is different from others because “not a lot of internships you see from start to finish … and watch evolve.”
Senior Romario Lemy added, “We’re getting real-life experience and actually experiencing what it is like to be an entrepreneur and start a business. Even though we’re really busy, we still like coming in here and working on and actually building it.”
Himes said that the students’ real-life experience will be beneficial in the future, not just for them but for the economy at large. “This is, you are, our future economic prosperity.”
CommunAlert is expected to go live this summer. For more information, visit their website at www.communalert.co or like their Facebook page CommunAlert.