SFU Beedie alumnus Jon Harris is creating a buzz with his new app, which aims to spark live-chat-style conversations in common places by letting users share without compromising privacy.


What’s the buzz? New app incubated at SFU aims to spark conversations

November 09, 2017

Have you ever wanted to warn people about bad restaurant food, ask for help in a class, or pitch an idea at work—but didn’t have the nerve? Well now there’s an app for that, thanks to an SFU Beedie School alumnus.

BuzzIt aims to spark live-chat-style conversations among those in common surroundings—such as in a classroom or at an event—by letting users share openly without compromising their privacy. The app uses GPS signals to let users post messages to their location, and nearby users can click on that post to join a live chat on that topic.

Jon Harris, a Beedie School graduate, created BuzzIt with lifelong friend Jeremy Jackson. As clients of SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection, the pair sought to create a way to facilitate informal idea exchange without the need to share contact information.

The app—available in the Google Play store and coming to the App store this month—was recently tested in a second-year business course, Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Innovation, taught by professor Sarah Lubik, SFU’s director of entrepreneurship. After a promo video and 30-second pitch, half of the Android users in the class immediately downloaded, logged in and began giving live feedback and asking questions.

“The participation after such a short pitch was better than hoped for, and the feeling in the room was electric; the students were really into it,” says Harris. 

Lubik says the class lit up with activity.

“Jon and his venture BuzzIt are an excellent example of what we are trying to achieve at SFU - students and alumni tackling meaningful problems and, in this case, exploring new ways of engaging students and our community through technology.

“BuzzIt has the potential to let instructors surface the opinions of those who may be more introverted or hesitant to speak, but whose contributions are no less valuable than any other. I'm delighted we are able to provide a test bed and support BuzzIt's journey."

Harris was motivated to develop the app after consuming less than adequate fair food from a PNE vendor—and wanted to share that information to “save others from the same bad experience.” Other situations came to mind. “Imagine you’re sitting in class, when the teacher wraps up a monologue and asks, ‘Was that clear for everyone?’, and you didn’t get it but keep quiet because no one else is speaking up. You feel alone with your uncertainty, and probably, you are not.

“The root of the matter is that society has a self-censorship problem. We’re often too ready to stop ourselves from saying what we think. Where we run into trouble is when we’re unwilling to break the silence, even when there’s something that needs to be said.”

“With BuzzIt, we’ll be able to send those thoughts out to the people who are seeing what we’re seeing, just as easily as sending a single text,” says Harris. “And when we get replies and see that other people think like we do, simply knowing we have something in common will help us feel the relaxed, engaged, confidence that we only get when we trust the people around us.”

See www.BuzzIt.ca