Penn contest searches for next big app idea

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of top coders camped out on Penn’s campus as the School of Engineering and Applied Science hosted its inaugural HACKfest, a series of app-coding and hardware building contests.

But why should computer scientists have all the fun?

For the rest of the Penn community, the AppItUP Challenge is a new mobile application design contest that will gather the best app ideas and help make them a reality by connecting aspiring designers with local venture capital firms and professional software developers.

The Center for Technology Transfer’s new business incubator, UPstart, is spearheading this effort. Karina Sotnik, a senior consultant at UPstart and the program director of AppItUP, devised a platform for casting a campus-wide net to look for the next big app idea. Rather than only tapping into the experience of the technologically adept, AppItUP aims to connect with nurses, historians, poets, lawyers, and others who may have a great app idea but no easy way to bring it to life.

“Unlike other app development contests, we’re drawing on the diverse spectrum of knowledge that can only be found at a place like Penn,” Sotnik says. “We’re looking to unearth the hidden gems that exist outside the software and business development world.”

Starting on Monday, Sept. 23, current Penn students, faculty, and staff can log on to the AppItUP site to briefly and confidentially describe their app idea. Contestants will then enter their idea in one of three categories: commercial apps with broad appeal, specialized apps that serve a particular professional need, or “noble mobile” apps that are aimed at doing social good.   

Partner venture capital firms and developers will comb through these submissions, selecting a panel of finalists who will go on to pitch their ideas at a public event on Friday, Nov. 22.

There, the AppItUP developer partners will compete with each other for the opportunity to build a functional prototype of their favorite idea. The forum will also feature Wharton second-year MBA students pitching themselves to event winners as potential CEOs of new app development companies.

“By bringing the ideas, technology, funding, and leadership together in one room, we’ll have five new mobile app products in full development by the end of the night,” Sotnik says.

AppItUp Challenge