OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | TeamWise: Compa
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TeamWise: Compa

Compa is helping researchers recruit participants for community-based research studies. The majority of academic researchers are not familiar with or well-groomed in marketing skills, advertising, or recruiting. Currently, the way most academic researchers try to attract participants is through traditional and crude methods including email blasts, flyers, and newspaper ads. These archaic methods are far behind the scope of modern technology, and have already been addressed in the private sector for market research. There isn’t an automated tool on the marketplace that allows researchers to easily and efficiently recruit participants. That is, until Compa.

The idea for this software solution was born during co-founder Keito Kawabata’s time as a public health researcher at University of Southern California. After seven years there and countless academic studies, Keito noticed a trend: there were no good methods or tools in place to help researchers drive recruitment for their studies. Without training and proper resources, he and his colleagues were burdened with trying to find volunteer participants. Keito’s idea began to come to fruition when he met Brian Turner, Compa’s other co-founder, at a Startup Weekend in Santa Clara, California.

The way I saw it, every researcher, no matter what phase they are in, they will have to recruit participants. I wanted to have a solution in place for them to make their lives a little bit easier. Rather than putting this problem aside, I wanted to try and tackle it head-on.

Brian’s and Keito’s skillsets are diverse and compliment each other nicely. Keito knows the problem inside-and-out, and Brian can build pretty much anything—after studying architecture at Cooper Union as an undergraduate, Brian traveled to Japan for a year on a Fulbright Scholarship to study the history and craft of Japanese architecture. From there, he worked as an architect for several years before leaving the industry to do a traditional apprenticeship with a wooden boat builder for two years. Brian took his passion for building things and began to apply them to the tech-world, working as a freelance app designer for early-stage startups. However, after getting frustrated from having to build things for other people, Brian looked to team up and build his own product.

It kinda sucked working with other people’s vision.

After a year and a half of scheming, following that fateful Startup Weekend, Brian and Keito reconnected at the OwlSpark program to start pursuing their goal of creating an automated recruitment platform for academic researchers. Through the ups-and-downs of the accelerator life, Keito and Brian have steadfastly pushed forward in building their product. Recently, they were even able to secure their first beta user in a research lab at the University of Victoria. Brian was especially happy to see people using a product he had built from scratch.

“I was really psyched when we got our first pilot customer, because someone said they were actually interested in using the things we’ve working on,” he said. Even with its challenges, Brian and Keito have gleaned quite a bit from the OwlSpark program, especially giving credit to the Disciplined Entrepreneurship curriculum and the mentors and speakers that have graced the accelerator.

My favorite part is being a part of the program and being provided with this launch pad for our idea. It’s been really helpful to go through a curriculum that MBAs go through, and to be taught by professors from the business schools at Rice University and the University of Houston.

They also have grown to deeply appreciate the OwlSpark community. With a cohort of like-minded people all working tirelessly to achieve their goals, it’s hard not to find inspiration and support at every turn. That same inspiration and support motivated Keito to down five hot dogs in two minutes to win OwlSpark and RED Labs’ hot dog eating contest earlier this year. Using the classic break-and-dunk technique, Keito blew the competition out of the water.

When not working to deliver the beta version of their product to the University of Victoria researchers, Brian and Keito like to kick back and enjoy the simple things in life. While Brian works in his free time to build classic wooden boats, Keito loves to hike and cook delicious food. On a Friday night you might also find them having a cold one at The Ginger Man in Rice Village. Cheers!

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