Rhodes Students Apply Business and Computer Science Studies to Launch New Social App

a group of four African American students
(left to right) Ben Vickers '21, K'Nori Bone '21, Megan Wassef, '21, and Taylor Smith '21

Motivated to find a more efficient way to plan a night out, Ben Vickers ’21 hatched the idea for MEET, an app that provides users a glimpse into their favorite bar, restaurant, or lounge before they even leave home, and a way to message—and then hopefully meet—other users of the app once there. With the help of co-founder Taylor Smith ’21, Megan Wassef ’21, K’Nori Bone ’21, alum Kerry Love ’20, and University of Denver senior Meier Werthan, Vickers and the MEET team have successfully funded the app and are prepping for its launch in March.

Inspired by QuikFix, a startup created by Ben Siegel ’19 and Parker Pell ’19 during their junior year, Vickers and his team have set out to prove that launching a business while in college is possible, especially when you have a dedicated team. “Being on the basketball team has taught me a lot about how to lead,” says Vickers. “As a CEO, it’s essential to understand how to communicate with people and learn from each other’s perspectives.”

Vickers, a neuroscience major, brought on business majors Smith and Wassef to be his chief operating officer  and chief marketing officer, respectively. Smith and Wassef have applied the lessons they’ve learned from their business classes in operating the financial and marketing side of MEET. “I find myself going back and reviewing terms I learned from my classes when I go and talk to investors,” says Smith. “The business department has equipped me with a lot of intangibles that have benefitted me throughout this process.”

a Zoom screenshot
Team members met virtually to work on the MEET app.

Wassef cites the internship opportunities provided by the business department as influential in promoting and marketing MEET. Serving as an account services intern for Doug Carpenter and Associates and a development intern for the Levitt Shell, Wassef says the real-world experience, coupled with her coursework, have been pivotal in helping her create an effective marketing campaign. “These internships have given me a stepping stone to take on this project,” says Wassef. “All the classes in the business department prioritize giving students real-world understanding, so new roles and responsibilities feel less daunting.”

Bone and Love remark on similar experiences within the computer science department, both citing Assistant Professor of Computer Science Matthew Lang’s Software Engineering course as being influential in their ability to create coding for MEET. “Professor Lang introduced us to Open Source projects where we work with Mozilla and GitHub,” explains Bone. “When creating MEET, we started in one language and had to convert to another, so the experience working on the repository and the same code base in Professor Lang’s class helped me get familiar with these different languages.”

Despite MEET being a social engagement app designed to facilitate interactions between its users, Vickers says he also had the pandemic in mind when creating the app’s user interface. As bars and restaurants open up at limited capacities with social distancing regulations, Vickers says that MEET should be useful in allowing users to see which establishments are truly following COVID-19 regulations. “With MEET, you’re able to get real time information about a place before arriving and message people within the location as well. We’ve tried to create a business where people can go out safely.”

Having overcome the challenges of launching a startup in the midst of a pandemic, Vickers is proud of his team’s accomplishments over the last year, particularly obtaining enough funding to get MEET off the ground. “A lot of majority Black-founded startups don’t get funding, but I’m blessed enough to have connections back home in Birmingham that really believe in what we’re doing. It was a long process of building relationships to get where we are now.”

By Sam Brown '21