What’sPoppin app connects students to events to help shape college experience

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Joseph Kitonga knows the secret to creating lifelong memories in Happy Valley. Beyond all the classes and related coursework, he said there’s an entire community to be accessed.

The trick, however, is to attend the right events — maybe not the massive shows in the Bryce Jordan Center, but some of the smaller gatherings. For Kitonga, his passion lies in the local performance scene, be it attending a poetry slam in the HUB-Robeson Center or catching a band live downtown.

Following the official launch of "What’sPoppin" — an app available on iOS and Android devices — earlier this month, Kitonga is now letting everyone in on his secret. The platform, which also offers a website for users, outlines all the diverse events Penn State has in store.

“We focus on the smaller events that shape your college experience,” said Kitonga, a sophomore studying computer engineering from Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. “You go to one event, and it transforms your boring day and makes it feel more purposeful.”

Joined by about 10 team members, Kitonga is on a mission to disrupt Facebook and Eventbrite. Those sites may be the most popular way to identify events at the moment, but Kitonga said What’sPoppin has an advantage by solely targeting college-aged students.

“We aim to create memories for people,” said Ishan Ranpura, the iOS developer for What’sPoppin. “Of course, realistically for the future we want to become a staple for Penn State.”

Various student organizations are already using the platform to advertise upcoming events, Kitonga said. Plus, he’s noticed unique hits and returning users are on the rise.

Once What’sPoppin gains more momentum at University Park, there are plans to develop the app across the campuses, said Ranpura, a sophomore majoring in computer science from Vadodara, India.

The duo said they owe their recent success to University mentors they’ve gained along the way.

After developing a prototype over the summer, Kitonga applied for funding at Lion LaunchPad.

Anne Hoag, the co-director of Lion LaunchPad and director of the Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, or ENTI, said the initiative is the “one place that undergraduate can go for very specific mentoring and microgrants.”

“Often, students just need small amounts of money to make a really big difference,” Hoag said. “We’ve paid for students to finance their prototyping. We’ve financed students to file their incorporation papers. We’ve financed students who are doing customer research.”

Kitonga said he was rejected after the first pitch. In hindsight, he said it made sense — he didn’t have a team or a clear vision of where What’sPoppin was headed. At the recommendation of Hoag and Lion LaunchPad co-director Peter Whalen, Kitonga applied to Happy Valley LaunchBox, another business accelerator program.

“Anne and Peter have been great,” Kitonga said. “The advice that we’ve received from them has helped us get to where we are today, although we still have a long way to go.

LaunchBox’s boot camp marked a turning point, Kitonga said, as he became immersed in user experience studies. Around that time, he also joined forces with Ranpura to fine-tune algorithms to ensure all events directly linked with users’ interests.

It made a difference the second time around, when Kitonga successfully secured a grant from Lion LaunchPad to fund server hosting.

“We had conviction, and we had data behind what users wanted from the event platform,” he said. “We were more focused, and we built a team that’s passionate about it. We’re really a product of the Penn State entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Lion LaunchPad is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated March 17, 2017