Innovative app enables users to plan social storms

James Jeffrey

On the first day of class in spring 2009, when design graduate student René Pinnell was assigned to take something occurring in nature and turn it into a product — better known as “biomimicry” in the design world — he thought of a hurricane.

He likened the complicated buildup of the storm to that of a party and, wanting to streamline the process of event planning, came up with the concept of Hurricane Party.

Hurricane Party is an iPhone application that helps create a spontaneous social event by allowing the user to broadcast a potential get-together, locate friends, pinpoint event locations and get the ball rolling.

“[A hurricane is] kind of like a party; people come, but if it’s not the right mix of people or you run out of drinks, it sucks, it never happens,” said Anderson Price, a second year business school graduate student who monitors the financial side of the app. “But if you have the perfect mix of the right people — men, women, drinks — you have the perfect party: it rages longer, just the way a hurricane happens.”

Pinnell discussed the idea further with Eric Katerman, who recently graduated from UT with a Ph.D. in math, and Avram Dodson, who is enrolled in Columbia University, deciding it would work as an iPhone app that provides a way to broadcast how and where you are going to party.

In May they applied to Capital Factory, a business incubator in Austin, and were accepted as one of five new businesses from 250 applications from across the country, being the only Austin-based company.

With a start-up investment of $20,000 and legal assistance from Capital Factory, the team then expanded to include Price, UT mechanical engineering graduate Richard McClellan, computer science senior Matt Keas and UTSA graduate A.T. Fouty. The Hurricane Party software was developed by mid-August, submitted to Apple and gained approval for production on Aug. 31. Now the company is promoting the app around Austin, encouraging people to download it to help them test for glitches. The company was also recently accepted into the inaugural class of Texas Venture Labs, a University-wide initiative to nurture entrepreneurship on campus.

“It’s a free mobile application that allows you to create spontaneous events and broadcast those events prior and during the event to your friends,” Price said. “So we consider ourselves the bridge between social networking and actually being social.”

One incentive of using the app is setting up a Hurricane Party with a partner company in Austin, such as J. Black’s Feel Good Lounge or Birds Barbershop where you will get some form of discount for taking a group of friends there. Businesses can also go on the website and initiate an offer for a discount, which can be accessed by any Hurricane Party user.

It would be a win-win situation, Price said: The local business gets more customers and the Hurricane Party user gets a discount, as well as some help deciding which local spots to frequent.

The app is similar to Foursquare and Gowalla in the location function, though the makers of Hurricane Party are looking to be more dynamic.

“We are all about broadcasting intent, rather than locality, helping share that with a defined set of friends rather than the whole world,” Price said. “The app is itself a call to action through the offers, but it also lets each user project that call out to their friends. Rather than broadcast past experiences, we are about creating new ones.”

For more information on launch parties and to download the app, go to hurricaneparty.com or the iTunes App Store.