Startup Roundup: Partners for America, Smir.ch and Hazarai


 

Photo: Volunteers work at a Partners for America event with Morris Habitat for Humanity. They earn "coins" to reduce college debt. Photo Credit: Courtesy Partners for America

Volunteers work at a Partners for America event with Morris Habitat for Humanity. They earn "coins" to reduce college debt. | Courtesy Partners for America

Partners for America: NJTechWeekly.com has been following the evolution of Partners for America (Parsippany), a startup that wants to help students pay off college debt by working for charities and nonprofits, thereby simultaneously helping their communities.

The startup works with generous donors and collaborates with volunteer and charity organizations. Founded by Rutgers University (New Brunswick) MBA student Evan DiMeglio, the company held its first event May 3, 2014, in Dover with Morris Habitat for Humanity. Some 18 volunteers attended the “build” event.

Volunteers are “paid” with coins worth $10 per hour, which are placed in a Partners for America account. From there they can either transfer the money to their educational debt accounts or transfer it peer to peer. In the latter case, groups can help nonprofit organizations and then send the earned coins to someone in need or to a family or individual who has educational debt or is still in college.

Said DiMeglio, “A whole family can attend a volunteer event and send all their coins to the one person who may be in college and have a loan. We are also pushing payments not only towards educational loans but … institutions, to reduce education costs as [they are] being incurred.”

DiMeglio said all registration for events is done through the website PartnersforAmerca.org. He is making upgrades to simplify the registration process before a New Jersey event with Habitat for Humanity in July. The startup is planning three other events with Habitat for Humanity — one “build” event and two Saturday “restore” sessions, during which volunteers work at stores, repairing furniture or in customer service.

For the long term, Partners for America hopes to sell the software it has developed as software as a service, providing a white-label product for businesses. In that way, the businesses can help their new hires, or anyone within their organization with educational debt, while giving back to the community, DiMeglio said.

Photo: Eric Bryant of Smir.ch, an SMS search app. Photo Credit: Eric Bryant

Eric Bryant of Smir.ch, an SMS search app. | Eric Bryant

Smir.ch: Eric Bryant, founder of Bedminster-based Gnosis Media Group, has updated NJTechWeekly.com on what’s been happening with Smir.ch, a service he founded in the spring of 2013. Smir.ch is a way to search Google using Short Message Service (SMS). The service is aimed at people who don’t want to use the Internet on their phones all the time and those who have feature phones.

Bryant told us he had called the product “Smir.ch” as a play on “SMS search.” In the U.S., users text the phone number 908-251-9083 and then type in a keyword to use the service.

Typing “Menu” produces all the commands you can use in Smir.ch. For example, to find out the weather forecast, you type “weather [zip code]”. To find a business, you type the name of the business followed by the town in which it is located.

Bryant recently added sports-score capability to the app. Texting “scores MLB” or “scores NFL” retrieves those leagues’ scores.

Users can find out what time it is throughout the world and obtain flight information, driving directions and movie listings using the app. They can even search Wikipedia with the search term “Wiki.” Using the “Web” command, you can search the Internet for information on any topic.

Bryant says teachers and students often use the service to look up formulas and other facts.

Bryant knows he is not alone in offering SMS search. In fact, Google once provided this service, using an SMS short code that spelled out “Google.” When Google shut down its SMS search in 2013, Bryant had an alternative ready to go, and he put out the information. “Within a couple of days I had 50 or 60 people using the product,” he told us.

Bryant says that what his current competitors  offer is limited compared to Smir.ch, which can provide a general Web search. Smir.ch is holding its first #smirch TweetChat on May 24, 2014. To RSVP, go to s.gnoss.us/smir.chers.

Photo: Hazarai giving the pitch at TechLaunch demo day. Photo Credit: TechLaunch

Hazarai giving the pitch at TechLaunch demo day. | TechLaunch

Hazarai: Hazarai, a TechLaunch (Clifton) LaunchPad2 company, recently redesigned its website and is now in beta. The company underwent a complete rebranding in the fall of 2013, and the team went to New York Comic Con in the middle of October, founder Ian Griggs said.

One part of Hazarai works as a sort of Pinterest for all things geeky. Griggs like to say, “It’s as though Pinterest hooked up with Tumblr at Comic Con.” It is a content sharing community for fans of all things geek culture. As users comb the Web for interesting geek culture items, they can click a bookmarklet that copies whatever items on the page they want to save to their rack on the Hazarai site without ever having to leave the original page. They can share racks or follow others’ racks.

Some of Hazarai’s earliest members include Tenacious Toys, an online designer toy boutique that works with all the top indie toy creators, and Toy Tokyo, a “legendary” New York toy store, Griggs said. The site has content from Jessica Chobot, the host of Nerdist News on Nerdist.com, and Dhani Jones, a “Star Trek” fan and former NY Giants player and now host of “GT Academy” on Spike TV.

At New York Comic Con, the Hazarai team met some 600 people who were enthusiastic about the idea for the site, most of them of the 18-to-24-year-old demographic and willing to provide feedback, Griggs said. “They thought this was the coolest thing — to have a place of their own on the Web,” he told us, adding, “Artists thought it would be cool to use the site as a way to showcase their work.”

“We took their feedback and we reworked the site. We tore down what we had and rebuilt some of this from scratch, now that we had a better idea of what will work [for our customers],” Griggs said.

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