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New Bethlehem Startup Makes Proximity-Based Networking Smartphone Apps

By Colin McEvoy on May 24, 2017

The Pi business incubator is located in the heart of the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ), which allows qualified startup companies to qualify for multiple financial and advisory support benefits.

The Pi business incubator is located in the heart of the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ), which allows qualified startup companies to qualify for multiple financial and advisory support benefits.

There are plenty of smartphone apps available out there to help users connect with people nearby. But Val Arzunian is taking a different approach.

He’s the creator of UBMe, a free proximity-based networking app that allows users to connect with other people using the app, not just within a nearby radius, but who are physically located at a specific place, whether it’s a business, bar, college campus, concert, festival, sporting event, or something else entirely.

“It has a lot of different uses and a lot of different possibilities,” Arzunian said of UBMe, which works in more than 100 million places in 54 countries. “We’re marketing it as a local network for the modern world.”

UBMe is the latest tenant at Pi: Partnership for Innovation, a Bethlehem startup business incubator located on Evans Street, which hosts technology companies, social media firms, and software development companies.

Arzunian was also the recipient this month of a $15,000 technology transfer grant from the board of the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ), a designated zone within the city of Bethlehem designed to foster entrepreneurial growth.

Screenshot examples from the UBMe app.

Screenshot examples from the UBMe app.

“I’m excited to see the potential of this app,” said Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator. Pi and the Southside Bethlehem KIZ are managed by the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation.

“It has the potential to have a worldwide impact, but I also want to see its impact on Bethlehem, especially for use at events like Musikfest and for driving visitors into the city,” Schiavone said. “I think it could develop a strong connection between the events and the businesses that are currently here.”

The app allows users to check into any venue or place and immediately chat with others in the same location, or post something in a local area the way one can post statuses to their Facebook followers, Arzunian said.

Users can also create local events with the app, he said, and local businesses can use it to interact with its customers and create a more personal interaction with its guests.

UBMe is already available on Apple’s iTunes App Store, and Arzunian is currently working to make it available for Google as well. Schiavone said when considering the grant application, the KIZ board was so intrigued with the app that they started using it during their board meeting.

Val Arzunian

Val Arzunian

Arzunian moved into the Pi incubator this month at the suggestion of the founders of Soltech Solutions, a manufacturer of state-of-the-art LED grow lights that moved into Pi in February after conducting an exhaustive search of possible locations in multiple states.

Like UBMe, Soltech Solutions had also received a $15,000 technology transfer grant, which the Southside Bethlehem KIZ makes available to helps its company market and commercialize a product or service.

UBMe’s grant will primarily support app development and marketing. Schiavone said Arzunian could also benefit from the Lehigh Valley’s colleges and universities, including the nearby Lehigh University, as he works to develop a proof of concept for the app.

“So far, my experience with the KIZ has been unbelievable, and I’m very thankful for that,” Arzunian said. “Asher has been amazing. He’s one of the greatest people to work with, and does anything he can do to help us.”

UBMe is one of six companies currently located at Pi, along with Soltech Solutions, HarborLight Software, a provider of marine data collection software; LiveHelpNow, a customer service experience provider; Viddler, which provides interactive online video tools for corporate training; Element ID, an RFID solution provider; and the Lehigh Valley Social Impact Center, a co-working and event space for community members.

The Southside Bethlehem KIZ provides other financial and advisory support benefits beyond technology transfer grants. Qualified startup companies can also receive student internship grants totaling $2,500 for undergraduate students and $5,000 for graduate students.

Don Cunningham: Lehigh Valley Takes Center Stage in a Global Show

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper's website on May 4, 2017. (Click here to read [...]

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