Luvn’ Local Helping Small Businesses Through an App

Luvn' Local home page, click for more images

The world is embracing the use of smartphones and tablets, and with those come the apps that are downloaded and used to do everything from provide a flashlight to pay your most recent bills. These apps have created a whole new branch to the economy, and have added more than 400,000 jobs since the app store was created by Apple in 2007, according to a recent report by TechNet.

Opportunity is being seized by many entrepreneurs with ideas for apps. Just recently one of those brilliant start-up app companies, Instagram, was bought out by Facebook for the price of $1 Billion.

“That is the ultimate goal,” said Michael Koeller, one of the co-founders of the Luvn’ Local app, just recently won the tech start-up contest Boston Beta Showcase. The contest features tech start ups from students or recent graduates and was held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge. The Microsoft sponsored contests’ winners have had great success in the past years and include, Quiyk, OrigiArt, and Roof for Two. Along with winning the contest comes a good chance at acceptance into the MassChallenge, which is a much higher stakes start up contest, and also gives the founders of Luvn’ Local access to mentors from Microsoft.

“It’s a great thing because there is this collaboration of youth and experience that will push forward the tech generation,” said Koeller.

With many other apps being launched and entrepreneurs looking to jump into the app world, the creators of Luvn’ Local are off to quite a start. The company was birthed at Bentley University, where Vikram Chabra and Monil Kothari came up with an idea to aid local small businesses by creating a loyalty system for their customers. Vikram and Monil moved to Boston after graduating from Bentley in 2011 and met up with Koeller, a Harvard student, who was brought on to help with the business side. They used their Bentley roots to find their programmer, Paul Cheek, who is still a student there. Now they are working for full time to put Luvn’ Local on the map and someday possibly become a story like Instagram.

So what is Luvn’ Local? The free app, available in the iTunes app store, uses a points system for a network of small business in a certain area. The points are given to customers depending on what they buy, and they can be collected and used at any of the other participating businesses in the area.

“The model is designed towards local small businesses that can’t compete with the loyalty programs of larger commercial companies. “With Luvn’ Local,” said Koeller, “they (businesses and customers) can collaborate together to keep the money in the community,”

The Luvn’ Local guys have chosen the area of Harvard Square to test and launch their app. “We thought it would be the most receptive area, with the Universities near by, tech saavy people, and our own familiarity with the area made it a sensible choice,” said Kothari. They have six locations signed up and on board right now and once they add a few more Kothari says the app will go live. Luvn’ Local already has the famous Mr. Bartley’s Burgers on board and also The Hempest, two popular spots in Harvard Square.

The Luvn’ Local app has a bright, friendly look that is easy to use. The sign-in can be done through your Facebook account, and the app also features a map and locator to aid the users. The points can be accumulated with your profile by placing your phone up to a QR code shown by the cashier and simply pressing a button to scan.

The future of the app is on the mind of the founders. “We want to expand around collegiate areas, because students use technology and are always looking to save money and find small deals,” said Chabra. The app is currently only available on the iPhone platform, but the group plans to bring it to android users as soon as possible. “With funds and more time for our programmer we would like to bring Luvn’ Local to the android platform,” said Kothari. For the app going live Kothari said, “within six to eight weeks,” he expects the app to be live and running for people to use in the Harvard Square area.

There is some competition in the Boston area for similar loyalty apps. Chabra cited the LevelUp app, which is used with businesses in downtown Boston and has been successful. LevelUp also includes a payment system, but that may be where Luvn’ Local has an advantage because the small businesses are forced to pay a payment processing fee to the credit card companies. “We are a low cost service for business and easy to use,” said Chabra when comparing Luvn’ Local to competitors.

This new generation of entrepreneurs who are voyaging into the app world have grand futures in mind, and with technology purchases moving more towards the tablet and smartphone market they are probably onto something. Luvn’ Local next turns its attention to the launch day and the Mass Challenge, which could be the big break they need.

“We have our fingers crossed,” Koeller said, “Winners of the Boston Beta have faired well with the Mass Challenge, we think we have a good chance.”

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Keeping Up With the World of Apps

There is all sorts of news coming out everyday in the world of apps. There is searching involved, usually paying quick visits to any number of sites and looking for any article that mentions apps. I typically visit larger and more popular sites first, such as engadget and pcmag. Any of the big stories are usually covered well here and these are probably the two best designed sites.

I also hit the popular tech blogs, Techcrunch, Techradar, and mashable. These sites usually carry the same information as engadget and pcmag, but also sometimes have different stories that are useful. A completely app based blog that I find to be the best spot for me is appadvice. The site is easy to use and every article is about apps.

For a larger picture look at the world of technology and the world of apps I usually turn to the MIT technology review. These are typically more thoughtful, longer articles. For the economics of technology I visit the forbes technology page, which has provided some interesting articles for me in the past, such as this one on 2012 being the year of the app.

Lastly, I use an actual app on my Iphone to keep track of all these different sites. The Pulse news app is my go to source everyday before I even get on a computer. It delivers all of these different news sources to an easy to use movable interface on the Iphone. Also just a touch away is the ability to save the article or email to yourself to use later. I have found this app incredible useful and important in my everyday life as a news consumer.

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A Visit from Kristen Lombardi

Our class was lucky enough to get a visit from Kristen Lombardi last week. An accomplished journalist, Lombardi, has been in the business for over 17 years. She is currently taking a year off from her work and is part of the Nieman Fellowship program at Harvard. Her investigative work with the Center for Public Integrity was the focus of her conversation with the class, although she also worked as a traditional reporter for many years with sources such as the Boston Phoenix and Village Voice.

Lombardi discussed the template that the Center for Public Integrity has laid out for investigative reporting and the reporting she has done while working for them. In particular she discussed two stories she worked on. The length and amount of work that went into the stories both stood out as she described the processes she went through. For a story on longwall mining she stayed in a Pennsylvania mining town for three months, toured a working mine and did more than one hundred interviews.

Lombardi also discussed her work for a very significant piece she did on sexual assaults on college campuses.  In particular it was interesting in this case how research was done, then Lombardi and staffers reached out to other news sources to use the research they had done. “We had several other regional sources working with us on the piece,” said Lombardi. The result was colleges and universities taking a second look at their policies and adjusting them in many cases.

It is nice to see that the long term investigative reporting still has a home somewhere for now and journalists like Lombardi are making the world a better place through their work.

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Boston’s Old City Hall

Boston’s Old City Hall stands as a model for historical preservation. Located at 45 School Street in downtown Boston, the 160 year old building now serves as a place of business. The inside functions as first class office space for 20 different businesses and the courtyard and part of the first floor as a fine dining steakhouse. In 1969 the city of Boston decided to recycle the building and use it as office space, making the building a forerunner for the idea of reusing landmarks.

Visitors encounter the building along the freedom trail and are certainly intrigued by its unique second French empire architecture. “It’s a beautiful building and a beautiful space,” said Megan Pacelli, 37, a tourist from Melrose, MA. The courtyard area is also graced by two large bronze statues of Benjamin Franklin and Josiah Quincy. “The freedom trail has so much history and it’s great how they have preserved this building,” said Pacelli, who enjoyed a walk along the historic site seeing trail and stopped to admire the building and take a few pictures.

The courtyard area has a public space available for sitting in the shade or walking up to get a closer view of the amazing architecture. You can walk up to the front doors and measure yourself against their enormous height and also get your own history of the building by reading the mural painted on the inside wall of the front doors. Their are no tours given of the building due to it being an office space.

The restaurant space in the courtyard is spacious and set mostly in the shade. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is a national chain, with Boston being their only Massachusetts location, they accept reservations by phone or online.

Boston’s Old City Hall is easily accessible by the T. Either on the Green line by way of the Government Center station or the orange line by way of the State Street station. For more information you can visit their website, or call 617-523-8678

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Apps In Education

I recently interviewed three Northeastern students about their use of apps in their academic lives. I found students that have begun to make the transition from using the usual textbooks to now using their tablets to download the books through apps. This is a trend I believe will continue, especially with Apple’s new ibooks2 app and their contract with large publishing companies.

Students also use simpler apps to help them in their everyday academic lives. For example, using an iPhone app that tells you how long until a train will be at a certain train stop or an app that translates english to spanish and vice versa.

The app world continues to grow and the world around it is getting more and more use out of these simple downloads to their mobile devices. It will be interesting to see what the use of tablets and phones is like in academic life a few years down the road.


Apps Creating Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs

A new study done by TechNet yields that there are currently about 466,000 jobs that are related to apps currently in the United States. This is pretty shocking when you contrast it to the zero jobs that were around before the Iphone and app store were introduced in 2007. Moreover, the app is economy is said to have generated almost $20 Billion in revenue in 2011. The study also gives a nice layout as to where the jobs are, and what they are for. Most are in California at this time, but other large metropolitan areas have seen a lot of activity as well.

This is great news for the world of apps, which is continuing to grow. Apple is currently counting down to 25 billion app downloads on its website. While more and more companies continue to use apps to get to their consumers, it will be interesting to see in the future if creating your own app becomes part of the game. Software could make it easy for someone to create and make their own app public, just as they can make their own blog or website on the internet.

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“Apps” They’re Everywhere

Even the topic of a recent Sprint commercial.

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Mary Knox Merrill Guest Visit

Mary Knox Merrill paid a visit to our class last thursday to discuss video journalism. Along discussing her career and giving the class career advice, she showed us some of her work from her time at the Christian Science Monitor.

Along with her productions being great stories they were also well told with the video. Something that I believe to be more informative and effective than regular newspaper journalism. The ability for the viewer to see exactly what was going on in some of the journalism done by Merrill, such as the African communities using the poverty tours to raise money in their locales, was truly more influential than a written story would have been for a reader.

Merrill also discussed photography with the class, and we got to see some awesome photos in her story on the Congo’s Mountain Gorillas piece. Her main piece of advice for us was to always get closer. We also got to see how she used the photos as broll to match what the interviewees were saying in the piece, which was a nice learning piece to her visit.

Lastly, Merrill showed us one of her pieces from her PR work at Northeastern University. In this video we got to see the use of multiple angles and multiple cameras for an interview. A nice technique to use if you have the resources at your exposure.

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Fun at Mount Sunapee

Click for more images

A day spent in the mountains is always a nice vacation. This was certainly true of a saturday spent at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. The trail conditions, friendly environment, and weather all made for quite a day.

In a season that has lacked snow and cold weather to make snow, few have made it to the mountains and experienced a day of skiing or snowboarding with great conditions. Saturday at Mount Sunapee was an exception to the season though. The Sunapee snow crew used what they called a “blizzard” of snowmaking during the week to create a large base of snow on most trails on the mountain. That base of snow and great grooming lead to great conditions for skiers and boarders on Saturday. “These are the best conditions we’ve had all year,” said Dave Mcglone, a Sunapee frequenter from Connecticut.

Lines formed at the base of the mountain to ride the eight lifts up the mountain. One could see the lack of snow for the season in full affect beneath the lift lines where there were no trails and thus, no snowmaking. Yet the trails were all in fine condition, and the sun peeked through the clouds at a few different points in the day. The views from the summit of the mountain were breathtaking as usual, and the sight of the sun gleaming on Lake Sunapee in the distance was a particularly beautiful sight for patrons of the mountain.

The lodges were busy all day. With traffic in and out for lunch and to warm up. The Summit lodge provided a nice setting to warm up next to a cozy fireplace, and also fresh made waffles with your own choice of toppings.

Skiers and boarders used the entire day to make as many runs as possible on the good conditions. The lifts were busy until 3:30, which is when they began closing and people made their way back to their cars or to the Spruce lodge for a bite to eat and a drink. In the Spruce lodge was live music from the band “Bliss” sponsored by Boston Independent Radio Station 92.5 fm. The band was set in the corner of a packed Goosefeathers Pub on the upper level of the Spruce lodge. A great way to end the day on the mountain.

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Five Free Iphone Apps You Need To Have

If you don’t already have them, you should start downloading now. Here are the five free iPhone apps that are essential to everyday life.

The Pulse news app is a multi-news source app, that is fully customizable by the user. You can even include your facebook news feed into the movable interface that lets you view articles from all different sorts of news outlets. It has never been easier to keep track of what is happening in the world of news around you.

The Pandora music app is another must have. While you probably have music on your iPhone everyone needs a change once in a while. Also Pandora provides a platform to discover new music and learn about it as well. The only drawbacks are the occasional ads and use of your data plan.

Craigslist is another essential app. If you don’t use the craigslist site then you are behind the times. It is the go to online classifieds. To have it with you as an app on your iPhone is a whole new game. The ability to search the classifieds for a ticket to the big game or a condo rental for a weekend getaway while on the move is incredible. It’s fast and it’s easy to use.

Yelp is the ultimate what’s around me application. There are others out there that try to do the same thing, and often do it well, but Yelp is the most used and most respected. Any type of business you need to find and then the information about the business is right there for you, just a touch away. The reviews are typically plentiful and pretty accurate also.

The personal finance app is the best way to manage your money. While your bank may offer an app that is very good, Mint can be used by all and trusted. Mint will show you where you are spending your money as it automatically filters expenditures into categories such as clothing, restaurants, and groceries. Certainly a useful tool you should always have at your fingertips.

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