January 26, 2013

Myrtle Beach app developers create winner in Foursquare contest

Take Foursquare, come up with a new application integrating its services and build it. You have 48 hours. Go.

Take Foursquare, come up with a new application integrating its services and build it. You have 48 hours. Go.

Deer in the headlights for most average folks.

But two Myrtle Beach technology gurus not only embraced the challenge, but created an application that outdid nearly 80 other apps built earlier this month over a weekend around the globe to win a trip to New York City to ring the NASDAQ bell -- not to mention bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment -- and land Myrtle Beach in the tech spotlight.

That competition is called a “hackathon,” which sounds like a bad thing to the average person but in tech circles is known as a chance for bright minds to focus intently to create and build a project under a tight deadline.

This is the first one that Myrtle Beach has participated in, though more are in the works. Foursquare, a free app used by 30 million people to check-in and get recommendations and deals on what to do next, organized this hackathon.

Joe Clarke and Mikkel Green, representing Myrtle Beach, created “The Reward Board,” an app aimed to motivate Foursquare users to “check-in” at venues such as restaurants, stores and attractions. When a person checks in, it automatically posts on a monitor at the venue and a printer spits out a coupon for that user. The venue operator decides how often to issue coupons and what they can be cashed in for.

“We want to give people a reason to check in,” Clarke said. With Green echoing, “It kind of starts up a game, a competition.”

Not bad for an idea that bubbled up over a casual lunch. It’s the brainchild of Clarke and Green, members of Cowork MYR who had never worked on a project together. They ended up making a great team, playing off each other’s area of expertise, they said while sitting in the former bank vault that’s been converted to a lounge at Cowork’s digs on 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, which hosted locals for the “hackathon” and plans to participate in more.

“We are a good combination because we have a software guy and a hardware guy,” Clarke said.

The pair, one of two teams at Cowork that competed in the hackathon, started building the app at 8 a.m. Jan. 5 -- including writing all the code and programming it to work with the TV monitor and small printer for the coupons. They even created the system venue operators would use to program the app and create the coupons it would distribute. Oh, and they had enough time after all that to shot a video explaining to the judges how the app works, complete with a hands-on demonstration.

All that by the end of the next day, Jan. 6.

“What they developed actually could help Foursquare,” said Paul Reynolds, president of Cowork MYR. “It could be something Foursquare might want to buy.”

And it was made with gadgets and parts the duo had laying around or get could their hands on quickly, including a $35, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a TV and a keyboard dubbed the Raspberry Pi, which is all the rage for technology enthusiasts.

“I got this Raspberry Pi for Christmas. Let’s use this,” Green said, recalling how they built the system that day.

And they paid attention to details, with supporting roles from other Cowork members, one of which designed the logo that prints on the coupons.

They walked away from that weekend with a functional prototype and a sense of accomplishment, but no idea they’d end up one of four grand prize winners.

“I’m just really proud and happy we were able to accomplish this,” Clarke said.

When he got word that winners had been posted online, Clarke went to the Foursquare blog and couldn’t believe he was seeing “The Reward Board” listed.

“Wait a minute that is us,” he said.

There it was listed as the NASDAQ Grand Prize winner. The other three winners: Gym Shamer, which allows users to set fitness goals that are connected to Foursquare check-ins, with posts letting Facebook friends and Twitter followers know if you didn’t check in at the gym like you planned to; Droptask, which lets you find out how long the wait at a restaurant is before you get there; and Couch Cachet, described as a tongue-in-cheek app allowing users to live vicariously through Foursquare without getting off the couch.

The other winners are from New York City and San Francisco. More than 200 hackers participated in the Foursquare Hackathon.

“We were especially impressed by the strong showings at non-official sites in Madison, WI [hosted by Snowshoe], Myrtle Beach, SC [hosted by CoWork MYR], Tokyo and Los Angeles,” Foursquare posted on its blog when announcing the winners.

“I was already impressed by that” before seeing that the local pair won, Reynolds said. “We were just shocked that they mentioned Myrtle Beach at the same time as Tokyo and Los Angeles. I was just proud of that. It helps us get Myrtle Beach on the map.”

Clarke and Green -- along with Kevin Young and Rocky Dohmen, Cowork members who played supporting roles -- don’t yet know when they’ll be heading to New York City to ring the NASDAQ bell. For now, Clarke and Green are taking that weekend creation and putting on the finishing touches, such as finding a nicer case.

“We would kind of like to have a polished product to show,” Green said of when they meet with Foursquare folks during the visit to New York City.

Other than pitching the idea to Foursquare aiming for a deal, the pair don’t know what’s next for their creation.

“We are not sure,” Clarke said. “After we won, we thought maybe there is something to this idea.”

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