Paying close attention to what students want to know and how they want to get that information has landed a U of T Mississauga alumnus a spot on Forbes Magazines’s 2015 Top 30 Under 30 list.
Master of Biotechnology alumnus Peter Cen is one of four founding members of OOHLALA, a mobile platform that connects post-secondary students with the campus information they need most. The project, which sprung from a 2010 Rotman ADventure business competition, brought Cen together with OOHLALA’s cofounders—Alice Dinu and U of T graduates Danial Jameel and James Dang—to create the award-winning mobile platform.
The app, which launched in 2011, helps institutions and student organizations connect with post-secondary students by bringing campus social networking together with institutional information and practical tools, like calendars and reminders, on a single mobile platform.
“Many institutions don’t have a mobile version of their websites, which is problematic for students who depend on mobile devices,” Cen says. The app meets students where they spend their time—on their phones and tablets. “We provide branded applications of their college or university that accesses campus information, organize their coursework and communicate with other students or the administration.”
The app is used by about one million students at post-secondary schools across North America and Europe to plan their timetables, keep on top of tests and exams, and connect with other students through photo sharing and a message wall. The app even features a reminder to students to go to class.
The app also appeals to the social nature of the student demographic. “As we worked more with student organizations, we saw a problem of student engagement on campus and we evolved to our current focus on helping students engage with their campus,” Cen says. “People can feel isolated. They can use OOHLALA to become more engaged and to make friends and connections.”
Every step of the way, Cen says he’s applied the business skills he learned during his MBiotech program. “At MBiotech, we had lots of exposure to entrepreneurship. I learned about business plans and how to make a pitch,” he says. “My experience with MBiotech and the coop I did through the program (at Toronto’s inDanio Bioscience firm) prepared me for pitching and networking, which I was heavily involved with as we first started OOHLALA. The entrepreneurship and corporations course taught me a lot of the details of starting a new business, which resonated throughout the first year of the project.”
Now based in Montreal, OOHLALA has grown from the original founders to about 20 employees. Next up for the team is increasing their client base and integrating additional services. “We plan to branch into admissions,” Cen says, adding that the app will eventually include the ability to handle event transactions, such as handling tickets for athletic events. “We are looking to become the mobile platform for the majority of post-secondary institutions in North America.”
And what’s it like to make the Forbes list? “It’s good encouragement for the team, and it validates what we’re doing,” he says.