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App designed for travelers with disabilities wins 54 hour startup challenge

 Western student Ryan Roberts pitches his group's startup idea at the Bellingham Startup Challenge 2016 on Sunday, Jan. 31, at The Leopold. Robert's startup, Trail Trolley, would a convenient shuttle service for patrons to local mountains and other areas otherwise challenging, or more expensive, to reach. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

Western student Ryan Roberts pitches his group’s startup idea at the Bellingham Startup Challenge 2016 on Sunday, Jan. 31, at The Leopold. Robert’s startup, Trail Trolley, would a convenient shuttle service for patrons to local mountains and other areas otherwise challenging, or more expensive, to reach. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

Living with a disability poses a challenge when it comes to hotel stays, Western alumnus Daman Wandke knows first hand.

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But Wandke, along with Western students and alumni, has devised a solution: AccessTravel.

The application focuses on accommodating travelers with disabilities — an idea that won the group the title of the 2016 Bellingham Startup Challenge Grand Champions.

The 54-hour Startup Challenge was a unique opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs in the community to develop startup ideas in teams under the guidance of experienced professionals, according to the event website.

An estimated 50 participants attended, including web coders, designers and business-minded project managers of all ages and levels of experience.

This was the first time Western’s IDEA (InterDisciplinary Entrepreneurship in Action) Institute was involved with the annual startup challenge.

Wandke first pitched the idea from his own experience as a frequent traveler who lives with cerebral palsy.

It is not Wandke’s first time coordinating an innovative idea for those with disabilities. While attending Western from 2007 to 2013, he co-founded the Disability Outreach Center.

According to the team’s executive summary presented to judges, they are attempting to address the lack of information hotels currently provide concerning accommodations and ease of locating that information online.

Other members of the winning group include senior Jeremy McLaughlin, transfer sophomore Ashley Ziencina and alumnus Patrick Garrett who currently works as an operations manager in Sedro-Woolley.

In their presentation, they mentioned 37 million Americans are living with disabilities. Their target market focused on the 36,000 individuals within that group that are daily travelers.

McLaughlin and Ziencina visited hotels within the area as part of the process to gather information on the need for this kind of platform locally.

At first, the group struggled with narrowing down an idea for services that could serve this part of the community, Garrett said.

They finalized a collaborative goal late Saturday evening and got the ball rolling toward their final product, which Wandke hopes to make a reality in the future, he said.

Another team featuring Western students created an application called TribeVibe. This user-created music streaming service allows collaborative input between people to build playlists who are in close proximity.

Members included senior Chad Spady, junior Micah Spady and 26-year-old entrepreneur Parker Helland. This group’s inspiration came from being frequent users of Pandora and other streaming services such as Spotify.

They noticed gaps in these applications’ functions, lacking an efficient sharing quality that requires use of Facebook and other platforms. Their goal is to integrate the process into a single mobile application that allows users to share music in real time and build communities, or “tribes,” around those.

Ultimately what we’re trying to articulate [is similar to] how Instagram is the medium through which pictures help us communicate with each other,” Chad Spady said. “We are going after the medium of music as means of communication through shared experiences.”

The demographic is especially focused on incoming freshmen who are trying to find ways to connect with others and make new friends, Micah Spady said. This application offers a unique way for individuals to put themselves out there and gain feedback from others based on music interest. Because this all occurs in close distances, it gives a way for people to build relationships within their communities.

Music festivals are becoming increasingly popular among the generation that TribeVibe is appealing to, Chad Spady said. They want to connect the unforgettable experiences people share at these kinds of events with a service that will help maintain those same relationships and memories.

For participants, this may just be the start of potential future companies. Wandke and his group have plans to bring their services to the community someday, now that they are prepared with the experience and resources necessary to make them come to life.


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