Early in the film The Social Network, the actors playing Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin pull an all-nighter in their Harvard dorm room to create Facemash, a website that ranks and compares female students. Amid the glow of multiple computer screens and clinking beer bottles, the pair, along with a couple of other dorm mates, conceive of and build the site in a single night. The website is such a hit, it crashes Harvard's servers.
Now, ethics (and good taste) aside, one wonders how much of an impact environment had on such a collaborative effort. Would Facemash, a precursor to Facebook, have come about had Mr. Zuckerberg and friends lived in separate apartments off campus? Or did their close proximity play a part in the eventual outcome?
That, in a nutshell, is the inspiration behind the University of Waterloo's VeloCity program.
Launched in the fall of 2008, the program accepts as many as 70 of Waterloo's budding developers and entrepreneurs and houses them together in their own dormitory. VeloCity's "dormcubator" was envisioned to foster a culture of collaboration and to provide resources and mentorship to help students turn their bursts of genius into something tangible.
"The requirement is you're supposed to live, engage and be part of the environment, participate in [events]we put together for you and produce something by the end of the term," says Jesse Rodgers, VeloCity's director. "It can be a feature app or a prototype of a bigger idea."
And it's working. Some VeloCity students have gone on to form startups. To date, the most successful is Kik Interactive Inc., created by Ted Livingston, who came up with the idea for Kik Messenger during his term at VeloCity.
Kik Messenger is a mobile application that lets users send instant messages to one another on several different types of mobile devices, from iPhones to Androids. In the two weeks after it launched in October 2010, more than one million mobile users signed up for it. (The app used to work on BlackBerrys, too, but Research in Motion booted KIK Messenger from its App World store in December, 2010, and launched a patent infringement lawsuit, claiming it infringes on RIM's own BlackBerry Messenger.) Mr. Livingston credits the program with providing the support and mentorship he and his colleagues needed to get their startup running.
"Finding people that want to start a company is hard, and finding people that want to start a company with you is even harder," he said. "Kik wouldn't have happened without [VeloCity]"
- Simplepost.ca Ever feel the urge to contact your Member of Parliament but think an e-mail will just get lost in their inbox? SimplePost.ca is a free service that helps create, address, and send an actual letter to federal politicians. After addressing and composing your letter in a series of simple-to-fill text boxes, the site uses your home address to build a list of relevant politicians. Once you have chosen recipients, the website creates personalized letters and envelopes address to each politician. The envelopes are designed to be printed on standard letter-sized paper and folded around the letter, but if you print on both sides of a paper, short correspondence needs only one sheet. Then just drop it in any mailbox. No stamp is required when writing to Members of Parliament.
- Inflo's photofloTV If Grandma and Grandpa shun your digital lifestyle, the brains behind photoflo.tv may have a way for them to catch up on all of your posted photos and videos right through their own TV. When the Web service launches, users will be able to sign up for the service and link to photos and videos on sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr or Picasa. The digitally-shy connect a set-top box to their TV, and when it's turned on they'll be able to scroll through the content when tuned to channel 3. Inflo, the company behind photoflo.tv, is still in beta testing and plans to partner with retirement communities first before launching their product in wider markets. Their goal, according to Inflo president Max Brodie, is to prove their business model before designing a custom TV box that one day may line the shelves in places such as FutureShop and BestBuy.
- UpPhoto UpPhoto.ca is a fast and easy photo uploader for Facebook that was created during one of VeloCity's 24-hour hackathons. The downloadable application creates a folder on your desktop into which you drag and drop pictures. The images are then automatically uploaded to your Facebook account. Features include the ability to download your photos from Facebook, create multiple albums, and upload photos into existing albums.
- QuickCite Students who hang out in the library a lot need this bibliography time-saver. Quickcite.it is an iPhone and Android app that makes creating a bibliography simple and easy. All you do is scan the barcode on the back of a book with your phone and the app sends a properly formatted citation to your e-mail. From there, copy and paste the formatted source into your term paper. The team behind QuickSite developed the app in a single day during an intensive VeloCity project called 7Cubed, which requires participants to create seven apps in seven days.
- MappedIn People who have found themselves walking blindly through a mall or airport searching for a specific store will want MappedIn. The Web and mobile app aims to be the Google Maps for indoor places, connecting users with a database of interactive indoor maps for places like malls, airports, museums and university campuses. Created last summer, the team behind MappedIn just delivered a finished product to their first customer - the Communitech Hub digital entrepreneur facility in Kitchener.