Jake Nyquist, a sophomore in computer science at Rice University, has learned to balance course work with the effort required to launch a business. He said, “There are gaps between when [course] projects are due. As long as I have an idea of what is going on and what is due, then I can spend my free time on other things.”
Currently, he chooses to spend his free time working with his partners in Steward Technology, an app for registering and tracking drivers. Nyquist, along with CS juniors Philip Taffet and Brett Gutstein, are collaborating with a representative in the auto industry on an app used for events where journalists test drive and review new vehicles.
He said, “Auto manufacturers spend a lot of money to launch the new car, but have no way to track who is driving which car during the event, or where it is at the time. Also, they don’t have analytics about the journalists and their reviews.” Ideally, manufacturers would be able to target specific test drive invitations to the journalists who give their models the best coverage.
The Steward Technology app works something like a library check out system. A car and driver are matched, and the route of the vehicle can be tracked. “For example, a truck might be driven in a desert,” he said. “Then we combine the driving data with data about the journalists. If they only give positive reviews about sports cars, then sending them an invitation to test drive a truck in the desert is not a good investment for the auto manufacturer.”
The app was inspired by a conversation with a journalist. “I like cars a lot,” said Nyquist, “and I had been reading about cars when I met my contact in the Texas Auto Writers Association.” As the journalist described going to a test drive event, the idea for Steward Technology began to take shape. “Our first attempt was ridiculously unreliable,” Nyquist admitted. He said, “We looked at each other and said, ‘we’re computer scientists, we can do this.’ And that drove us to understand the problem better.”
They learned that executives running an auto manufacturer’s communications department have to meet specific requirements – like proof of a valid license – before a test drive can begin. One of the challenges was to determine how the company could do a mini background check on the invitation list, to ensure the guests can actually drive a car when they arrive.
Executive Director Kaz Karwowski
The three students, who have been friends since high school, were all admitted to Rice, and all chose CS majors. They use Rice hackathons and entrepreneurship opportunities to further develop their app and business plan. Recently, they won a $2500 prize in the Rice Alliance Owl Open, a Rice student startup competition, which will help them purchase a bundle of cell phones and other tools they need for the next stage of development.
Nyquist said winning the Owl Open was a surprise. “You present in eight minutes and local venture capitalists and people in the business community vote on those they think are best. Prior to the Owl Open, we didn’t even have an executive summary.”
Although he is devoting a lot of free time to his entrepreneurial duties for Steward Technology, he is also pursuing summer internships in the tech industry. He said, “I worked at eBay last summer and that was my first technical internship. I worked for a Rice alumnus – now the CIO—and that was really cool. This summer, I’ll be interning at Facebook in Seattle.”
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