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4 Cool Apps Produced in RI

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Tech startups have to start up somewhere. Ambitious entrepreneurs, well aware of a smartphone apps’ ease of delivery, set sights high—regional, national and global—right out of the gate. Several such startups are being developed right here in Rhode Island.

One locally grown touch-screen application has already started to increase the rate at which teachers can gather and organize information about their students’ progress.

Education App

“We want students to be taught at the appropriate level,” said Metryx cofounder Shawn Rubin. “The more teachers understand where their students fall in terms of their proficiency with a skill, the better they will be able to prepare their lessons to meet students’ needs.”

But before this new formative assessment tool reaches the hands and fingers of educators in every corner of the U.S., some Ocean State teachers are test-driving the new app on iPads and providing Rubin and cofounder Stephanie Castilla valuable feedback ahead of extensive Beta testing this winter.

“Currently there are 15 teachers piloting the Metryx app at Highlander Charter School,” Rubin said. “We will be expanding to between 30 and 50 by the end of January and then looking to grow our Beta pilot well into the hundreds nationwide by the end of the winter.”

“RI is a great place for startups to get support, funding and traction,” Rubin continued. “Nonprofits like the Highlander-Dunn Institute are always looking for locally-grown ideas that they can bring to the rest of the state.”

Rubin and Castilla have enlisted Brown University to test the effects of the Metryx app on classroom instruction and student outcomes.

“Brown has sent researchers to the school to administer surveys and conduct classroom walkthroughs,” said Rubin. “We’re about to start our first round of one-on-one interviews during which Brown will ask teachers directly how they use Metryx in the classroom and what they think of it.”

While Rubin is emphatic in his praise both for Highlander-Dunn and Brown University, he is careful to point out that Rhode Island can be a tricky place to roll out an app like Metryx.

“With only 300 or so schools in Rhode Island,” he said, “it’s essential for us to sell our product outside of the state in order to reach a large enough audience to make our app profitable.”

While young entrepreneurs with big ideas often eschew Rhode Island for what they assume are greener pastures, Providence startup accelerator Betaspring is attracting new businesses like Mosec to the Ocean State and helping them stay here.

The former professions of Mosec cofounders Bernard Huang, Austin Ball and David Pham are simply too interesting to exclude. The former online poker shark, child actor and mixed martial arts fighter (respectively) make up the nontraditional team.

These Summer 2011 Betaspring alums originally set out to create Android’s answer to Apple’s Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant app for iPhone 4S but recently decided to reinvent Mosec for Realtors.

“Mosec was going to be a competitor in the voice recognition field,” said cofounder Bernard Huang. “But as we got more feedback from our customers we figured out that voice wasn't a truly game changing factor for most of our users.”

“Instead,” Huang continued, “the convenience of inputting relevant information and displaying it was what they were truly after. Our initial focus on Realtors comes from the love and support they had for our original product.”

Providence is collectively aware that it’s not exactly known as an up-and-coming startup network but Huang thinks that’s about to change.

“Rhode Island has been a breeding ground for new ideas and innovation with the Mosec team,” he said. “We've met numerous amazing people who have run and are running amazing businesses that have supported us through thick and thin.”

“The close-knit community of Providence,” he added, “has been really receptive to growing local companies and we love it here.”

The City’s offer to invest $50K in any Summer 2011 Betaspring startup willing to continue in Providence for at least a year, has made staying not only possible but also profitable for Mosec and fellow Betaspring businesses Translate Abroad and Revenizer.

Translate Abroad

Translate Abroad cofounder and CEO Ryan Rogowski called the City’s investment a “company saver,” and agreed with Huang about Providence. “We hired two great engineers locally, Kevin Clark and Huan-Yu Wu.”

“There are advantages to big cities like San Francisco and New York, but Providence has allowed us to survive on a leaner budget,” he said. “Talent is cutthroat in some of the larger cities whereas I have found there is a great untapped resource of talent in Providence that is excited to make changes in the world.”

The purpose of the Translate Abroad app is to allow smartphone users to instantly interpret character-based languages like Chinese. Translate Abroad’s first product, a Chinese Menu Translator, will be released later this month.

Rogowski and his team just won a regional startup competition called Made For China and will be flying to Yang Zhou in March to compete in the global finals.

Revenizer cofounder and CEO Phil Rogers said, “There is a growing cluster of software companies focused on helping small business market and serve their customers better,” Rogers said citing BatchBlue (CRM), Swipely (rewards), TwoBolt (integrated marketing) and Groove (customer service).

As a mobile app dedicated to organizing and presenting marketing statistics from services like Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter, Revenizer, fits right into the business community in Rhode Island.

“The start up ecosystem is growing fast with Betaspring accelerating the growth of homegrown and outside startups in the state,” he said. “Service providers like MojoTech are expanding.”

He continued, “Other success stories like NuLabel, Tracelytics and Andera are really important as well. Everyone is working together so it is a great place to be.”

Rogers, who just moved Revenizer into BatchBlue’s new offices in the “Knowledge District” is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs who think that Rhode Island might just be the next big thing on little mobile devices.



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