March 7, 2014
Roommates Launch Company After Internships Show Them the Ropes
Oct. 11, 2013
From left: Roommates Nelson LeDuc, Justin Ehlert, Alex Gwyn and Austin Schwartz have started a company called Jump Space Apps.
Sophomore Justin Ehlert and his three roommates are putting knowledge they learned from their summer internships to work in their new company, Jump Space Apps.
Their application development company was launched in August and is working on projects for a few clients. The company’s business office, which is also their on-campus apartment dining room, is covered with three large whiteboards.
“The best thing we took away from our internships was the use of whiteboards,” said Ehlert, a computer science major and president of the company. “After working at a company where 90 percent of the walls are whiteboards, we knew we had to get some. So we bought some whiteboards, mounted them on the walls, and now have a whiteboard dedicated to homework, one for shopping lists and one for all our projects and task cards.”
Ehlert and his roommates, Nelson LeDuc, Alex Gwyn and Austin Schwartz, all sophomore computer science students in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, decided that if they were going to start a business, they needed to live together. They go grocery shopping together and share dinner each night.
“Living together really allows us to communicate much better,” said Ehlert, also a third-baseman on the UT Dallas baseball team. “At any point when we are all at home, we can chat about a new client or project in less than a few minutes. It allows us to discuss things incredibly fast and never have to put off making decisions until we can all have a meeting.”
Ehlert, LeDuc and Gwyn, along with graduate student Naveen Tammineni, first came together late in the spring semester to develop an app that provided band performance schedules for Richardson's Wildflower! arts and music festival.
Before the business was launched, the students built an app for Richardson's Wildflower! festival.
UT Dallas Police Chief Larry Zacharias was golfing with Michael Massey, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Richardson, who mentioned that it would be great to have a Wildflower festival app.
Knowing that Jonsson School students develop applications for different organizations and companies, Zacharias said, “It would be a pretty cool opportunity for the city and for UT Dallas students.”
“Our students are already building apps,” he said. “It would be a perfect partnership.”
Chief Zacharias contacted Dr. Jey Veerasamy, a senior lecturer in computer science and director of computer science outreach. Though Ehlert was just a freshman, he was selected to lead a team of students to work on the project – one that would not result in credit or pay.
“For this type of project, there is a lot of technical knowledge involved, but the primary driver of success is how much passion the students have,” Veerasamy said. “If they are passionate, they can achieve anything; that’s the good thing about computer science and programming.”
With a self-taught Web developer background, Ehlert had already designed UTD Eats – an app that shows open hours for campus food operations and nearby restaurants, as well as times for sporting events and campus activities.
“That idea came from the first week of school last year,” Ehlert said. “Not knowing when the dining hall was going to be open, I made the mistake of walking all the way to the dining hall once or twice when it was closed.”
Internships taught the students the value of organizing their thoughts and plans on whiteboards, which they have installed in their on-campus apartment.
The team of students built Android and iOS versions of the app for the Wildflower festival in five weeks.
“We found it to be extremely useful,” said Massey, with the city of Richardson. “I think the most remarkable thing about having the app was the timeframe in which it was put together.”
The team already has plans for next year’s app.
“These apps are something you have to maintain, you can’t just create it and walk away,” Massey said. “These students gave their commitment to stay with us a few years. We were extremely impressed that they have that kind of commitment and resolve.”
Although Ehlert knew he wanted to start his own business one day, the Wildflower experience sped up the process. “Without that project, I’m not sure we would be this far into the business right now,” he said.
The festival was in May. Schwartz spent his summer learning mobile development. Ehlert and LeDuc interned at the high-end mobile apps company Bottle Rocket, and Gwyn at the data privacy and protection company Encryptics.
“The biggest things we learned from our internships over the summer was organization and polish,” Ehlert said. “After working on multiple million-dollar products, we learned how to organize our to-do lists and polish an app so that is was practically perfect.”
Ehlert registered Jump Space Apps in August.
“Right now, we are working on some internal projects, as well as a few for some outside companies,” he said. “Unfortunately, we really can't discuss them, but they are some very fun projects.”