It started as a conversation among friends, about a common issue of college life: the price of textbooks. Ade Adesanya (BSEE '11) recalls the discussion with Eric Imasogie (BSIE '10). "We decided there is no reason why anyone should sell a used book to the bookstore," he said. "You spend $200 on a book and the bookstore buys it back for a fraction of that. The ideal thing would be for students to sell or trade books to each other."
More conversations led to more questions. How can students share information about job opportunities, scholarships or other important information outside of their circle of immediate classmates? How do you connect students who have the same interests in the same location, but would not necessarily find each other on their own?
Then engineering undergraduates, Imasogie and Adesanya developed the idea of giving other college students an online space to post items they need. The idea was based loosely on the concept of crowdfunding, sort of a technological version of the bulletin board posts that pepper every building on campus. "When you can make that process more efficient and totally replace a 'dinosaur' way of doing things, you can capitalize on a niche that most people overlook," said Imasogie.
The business idea grew to become givepals.com, a social site in which users can create a profile and list what they want to buy, sell or trade, from cell phones to textbooks to furniture and beyond. There are no shipping costs, because most of the transactions are localized to UH and aren’t monetary.
Since October 2010, the team has devoted their time to building the business. Currently the company is internally funded, and the team is now focused on fundraising efforts, and keeping the site creative and competitive.
Imasogie and Adesanya contacted a friend with IT and web site knowledge. Kelvin Ihaza (BSEE '11) came on board as the web developer who puts the functionality of the site in place. The team then recruited Ore Ayodele, whom they had met through the UH Nigerian Students Association. Ayodele, who graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering technology at the UH College of Technology, brings the company’s ideas to life through graphic design.
For Adesanya, the path to technology and entrepreneurship started early. When Adesanya was a child, his father started a software company, and he had always been immersed in principles of engineering and business. "I knew I would one day start a business, I just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon," he said. Adesanya’s role is in product development, business development, and networking. "My homework is to get to turn this into a million dollar idea," he said. "If you have a good idea, you have to tell everyone about it. I connect givepals.com with the world."
Imasogie serves as the CEO of givepals.com. He delivers roles and expectations to the team, and sets goals on a weekly basis. He also oversees product development, ensuring that the software stays user-friendly and functional.
Starting a business always involves on-the-job learning, but Imasogie credits his business knowledge to an entrepreneurship class taught by PROMES Program Director Kathy Zerda and UH alumnus Tony Catalano (MSChE '79). The course covers business and legal fundamentals, and connects entrepreneurs with students.
Givepals.com is gaining momentum. Since launching last August, the site now has approximately 2000 users. With the tactical guidance of Houston Technology Center, the group is building business capital and expanding their team, having recently brought on two professionals who previously worked at eBay. A mobile application is in the works, and the team aims to make givepals.com available to 100 colleges by the end of the year. Additionally, they are working with area businesses to bring exclusive retail offers to givepals.com users, including dining, shopping and services.
A central goal of givepals.com is to foster a culture of community spirit at UH. "Tier One schools need Tier One ideas and innovation," said Adesanya. "School spirit is a big part of becoming Tier One. It’s really about connecting people."