BSI student wins Ross Business School competition

The Companion team display their grand prize, awarded by the Zell Lurie Institute. UMSI student Jake Wayne is second from right.

Walking alone across a college campus at night, past a dark alleyway, or through an unfamiliar area can make anyone feel uneasy. 

The peer-to-peer safety application Companion, now available through the Apple App Store, seeks to provide lone travelers with peace of mind and help them avoid potentially dangerous situations by giving them a tool that allows family and friends to keep an eye on them as they walk through unnerving areas.

BSI junior Jake Wayne founded Companion with U-M Business School students Danny Freed, Lexie Ernst, and Kathryn Reiner, as well as U-M Informatics student Nathan Pilcowitz. On Feb. 20, the team’s work on Companion won them the $20,000 Pryor-Hale Award for Best Business at the 32nd annual Michigan Business Challenge hosted by the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. 

The Michigan Business Challenge is a four-month, multi-round competition that began in the fall with 80 teams of students from across U-M’s 19 schools and colleges. Wayne’s team was one of four finalists chosen to present their businesses to a panel of judges that included professional investors, which also awarded them the Most Successful Undergraduate team award for $2,500 as well as the Marketing Award sponsored by Marketing Associates for $2,500.

Companion utilizes a phone’s GPS, prompting users to enter their destination and share their route with select contacts, who are able to view a live map of the user’s location and are notified if anything goes wrong. The app will end the trip when the user safely arrives at his or her destination.  

If the application senses that the planned route has been altered or that the trip is taking longer than expected, it will alert those selected friends unless the user confirms that everything is OK. The user can end the trip at any time and also has the ability to use Companion to quickly alert law enforcement if the need arises.

Companion also has the potential to help public safety organizations enhance their strategies by providing real-time walking data that can be combined with historical walking patterns and a predictive engine to determine the best locations to station police officers. Wayne said his team is in the process of launching a pilot monitor system with the U-M Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) to help identify these spots on campus.

“They were really excited that we reached out to them and that we’re helping to update their methods,” Wayne said of DPSS. “The data we have can identify where people are walking on campus and give them a better system of positioning their patrol cars.”

Wayne said the team plans to invest much of their winnings into marketing and further developing Companion in order to increase usage on campus. The app currently has about 5,000 active users, with several downloading it from locations across the United States after Companion was featured on the website Product Hunt, a collection of the latest mobile apps, websites, and technology products.   

Companion is set to launch on the Android platform in late March or early April, and has plans to grow to include routes for users who are traveling by bike or car. The team has also launched Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages to raise the visibility of the application and connect with potential users, with the hope of expanding marketing efforts to other college campuses in the near future. 

“We’ve all had that uneasy feeling, or had others reach out to us because of one,” Wayne said. “So we see a lot of potential for Companion to be used in cities, across corporate campuses, or by parents who have kids going out with friends.”

To download Companion, visit the App Store here: http://bit.ly/usecompanion

Posted February 26, 2015