For our Startup Spotlights, Times of Entrepreneurship scouts the most successful startups from top university competitions and programs. The impact of such awards can be many years in the making, especially in the DeepTech space.
Helps users understand how close they’ve been to people who have tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19, relying on self-reports of other app users. It was designed to be used primarily near Pittsburgh, at George Tech and Grand Valley State and in Las Vegas, N.M.
Interviewee: Founder Po-Shen Loh, associate professor of mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University and the national coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad team, by video chat and email.
Hertz Foundation Fellowship
In 2004, Loh, as a PhD student, won a Hertz Fellowship in the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences. The prize is valued at $250,000 over five years.
What is your elevator pitch? NOVID helps users visualize the spread of COVID-19 in their communities through a privacy-preserving network of connections.
What should we know about you? I am a university professor, and this is my third venture. I built an innovative learning platform where students have the power to choose the method in which they can learn, and I started “The Daily Challenge” – a daily, creative math lesson made to both improve and challenge middle-schoolers capacity to do maths.
What are you looking for? We have a clear goal of changing the public discourse on contact tracing, and subsequently tracking apps. We saw Covid-19 as a network theory problem, and that is how we are solving it.
Why should someone invest in NOVID? Current contact tracing apps are made to protect others from you, a bit like most masks. We found a way to create an app which protects you from others by reversing the tracing. It makes sense that people are hesitant to have an app which tells them to stay home, and that they are a danger to others. Instead, we reframed this into a Network Theory problem, based on people’s degrees of relationships. We moved away from the geographical solution, and instead thought of human connections – what we tell our users is how far from you – socially – did someone contract the virus, and you can determine your behavior accordingly.
Employees: 10, with another 10 full-time equivalents
Funding: The app was initially funded by profits from my social enterprise, Expil Inc. (the daily math challenge). NOVID has received philanthropic funding in the high six figures.
Clear evidence of success you would like to share? How many users do you currently have? We have had 80,000+ installs at this point. In addition, our app is being recognized for defining an entirely new paradigm in app-based pandemic control.
If you would describe your startup to have a superpower, what would it be? Honestly, I do feel like we are helping save the world. We have an intensely driven and capable team which is united by that mission.
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