The 2014 App Challenge in Review

In a nutshell...

The third annual UChicago App Challenge is a joint effort between IT Services, The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, and UChicagoTech to cultivate, evaluate and develop ideas for mobile apps from anywhere in the University. From pitch to prototype to program, we worked with students, faculty, and staff from diverse areas at UChicago and Chicago Medicine. The Challenge aims to expand the visibility and accessibility of mobile app development at the University by taking applicants and challenge followers the entire process of building an app, from conception to creation.

Challenge timeline

Earlier this fall, the 2014 UChicago App Challenge began collecting submissions. Since then, the Challenge has been busy with workshops, drop-in sessions, and lectures helping students, faculty, and staff develop and refine their ideas.

judging_thumb.pngPhase 1: In autumn, participants had the opportunity to attend a number of drop-in to translate and improve their ideas into practical applications. By the submission deadline, the Challenge had received 141 entries from over 30 groups and departments on campus. Concurrently, the Challenge offered a number of lectures related to mobile app development for the entire campus community.

good1_thumb.pngPhase 2: From there, 18 ideas proceeded to the winter-quarter semi-finals where they had the opportunity to converse with 12 expert consultants from areas related to IP, user experience, business strategy, and programming. They received a variety of feedback and used that information to develop paper prototypes of their ideas.

computers_thumb.jpgPhase 3: Spring quarter announced the three finalists who worked closely with student programmers over eight weeks to transform their prototypes into digital apps. By the App Challenge finals, teams had developed impressive apps for iOS devices that were presented to a panel of judges. 

Finals: The UChicago App Challenge held its finals as part of the New Venture Challenge on May 29.


The finalists gave 10 minute presentations of their apps to a diverse panel of judges consisting o Patrick Jagoda from the Department of English, Adam Gerbert from Computer Science, and Julian Solway, MD from UChicago Medicine. To view the presentations, navigate to the pages for each of the finalists below. For a gallery of photos from the event, see the finals gallery.

The finalists

purls.pngPURLs (Priority Updates from the Research Literature)
Kate Rowland, MD, Department of Family Medicine

The PURLs app pushes relevant content from medical research literature to practicing family physicians and other primary care doctors, tailored to what they want and need to know.

Brian Geddes, Chicago Booth

Oratoria is a private coach for public speaking, allowing users to upload speeches, use the app's teleprompter, record practice videos, and provide automated feedback about pitch and pace.

puppytest.pngThe Puppy Test (winner)
Artur Grabowski, Chicago Booth

For prospective dog owners, The Puppy Test provides a realistic simulation of owning a puppy by combining accurate dog behavior data, incessant notifications and time consuming, in-app activities.

The Winner: The Puppy Test

We were impressed with the quality of final products and had difficulty picking a winner. Apps were judged based on a number of criteria including breadth of audience, similarity on the market, expandability, and potential impact. The judges found that the Puppy Test best satisfied all the categories and were happy to name Artur and his app the winner.

The Puppy Test excels in its room for growth and expansion. The framework that the Puppy Test hopes to expand would allow other apps to create targeted simulations of specific high-commitment, time-intensive tasks. For example, schools could develop a version of that app as an inexpensive alternative to infant-simulator dolls to teach the reality of teen parenting. Alternatively, jobs may adopt an app using the Puppy Test's framework to evaluate candidates' ability to manage and maintain frequent, repetitive tasks.

The app's modular design makes it easy to add new features that help users evaluate their decisions. For example, users could opt to make small recurring payments to simulate the cost of food, vaccinations, and toys to be refunded or donated to charity at the end of the test.

The judges were also impressed with Artur's research and reach. In order to better understand the impact and desired features of his app, he surveyed current dog owners and connected with animal shelters. In one of his surveys, he found that 71% of dog owners underestimated the time and monetary commitment of having a dog. From his conversations with shelters, he established potential partnerships that would help pair users with dogs and provide relevant information gathered from experts.

What's next?

Although the finals are over, we are working with the finalists to help them prepare their apps for the next stage in their product cycle. This includes establishing partnerships with the programming interns to polish apps that are almost ready to apply to the App Store and consulting the finalists in areas they need the most help taking the next step. We are reviewing all the excellent feedback we received this year and hope to see you next year!