A team of Washington State University students is developing an app that’ll help connect members of the Pullman community with local businesses.
The app – Local Cougs – will allow users to learn more about the businesses around them and ideally generate a vital wave of support coming off of two years of struggling through the pandemic. Local Cougs is currently in the prototype stage, with plans for beta testing this summer.
The five-student team is led by Marley Schneider, a web development and advertising senior, and Jennifer Espin, who is majoring in civil engineering with a minor in mathematics. Three other students – Daniel Chia, Stephany Lamas, and Roshani Shiwakoti – assist with the coding and development of the app.
The idea of finding a way to better connect the Pullman community – particularly students – to local businesses was pitched to Schneider and Espin by Ray Combs, director of entrepreneurial studies at Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture’s Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. Combs told the pair that Elizabeth Chilton, who’d recently started her tenure as provost and executive vice president, was particularly interested in finding a way to help local businesses emerging from the pandemic.
“The biggest barrier we’ve identified is people not being knowledgeable about what businesses have to offer,” Schneider said.
Whether it’s finding a place to get a tire patched or a cup of coffee, the Local Cougs team is determined to get local businesses front and center in the minds of students and Pullman community members. The project is also a valuable learning opportunity for the team that’s bound for the workplace in the years to come.
“I was really excited for the opportunity to learn more about the business and marketing aspect of engineering,” Espin said. “That’s really where the entrepreneurship center came in and presented this opportunity to talk with local businesses and get better connected with people in the industry.”
In the past year and a half, Schneider and Espin have met with local business owners and advocates to get a sense of their situations and what they can do to help them thrive. Conversations with students have also netted valuable insight into the perceived barriers between them and the businesses right on their doorstep.
“We identified a lack of enthusiasm among students for going downtown, so we’re looking to create an incentive within the app that rewards people who use the app at downtown businesses,” Schneider said, citing examples like a free smoothie at Sanctuary after attending two yoga sessions.
While Schneider is on track to graduate in May, she plans to continue to be involved with frequent visits and remote collaboration with the team.
“Because we have a big cohort, we’ve been thinking about bringing more people onto the team, to be able to get as many hands working on the prototype as possible,” Espin said. “We need to grow to get this project out, and we’ve been fortunate to have great advisors helping us out.
Combs has been particularly impressed in the team’s efforts to understand the problem that the app aims to solve – local businesses’ lack of marketing horsepower compared to larger chains.
“They’ve done good boots on the ground research, talking to local business owners and commerce people to understand what business need for this app,” Combs said. “It’s really encouraging that they’ve done this kind of work, because it’s the kind of effort that engineering teams fail at – understanding the problem their technology aims to solve.”
In addition to preparing the app for beta testing in the months to come, members are also gearing up for the university’s annual business plan competition later this semester.