Mobile Pitch Challenge: an "American Idol"-style contest for local app developers

Apps for medication reminders, TV-centric social networks among the most popular

BOSTON - It may not have received the attention of "American Idol," but this week's Mobile Monday Boston featured a similar type of competition among local mobile app developers.

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Featuring a three-person panel of venture capitalists, the Mobile Pitch Challenge gave area developers a prime opportunity to trot out their wares in public and receive constructive criticism about how to make their apps more appealing to prospective investors. Contestants presented their apps to the audience in a 90-second demonstration and then opened themselves up for questions from the VC panel, which consisted of Bain Capital managing director Jeff Glass, Apricot Capital cofounder Jennifer Lum and Matrix Partners general partner Antonio Rodriguez. After all the presentations had finished, the audience would vote on which app they liked the best, even though there was no specific prize for the contest's winner.

The winning entry, for what it's worth, was an app called PrescribableApps, which has been designed to send out text messages to consumers to remind them of when to take their medications and when to go to their physician for a checkup. The app also allows patients to submit self-monitoring reports that give their physicians updates on how they're progressing with their treatments. Company CEO John Moore III said the company is looking for $500,000 to build a server base of patient data that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

When asked by Rodriguez whether it was possible to make the entire app HIPAA-compliant for just $500,000, Moore responded that the company only needed to put HIPAA protections on the server base where patient data is stored since the company wouldn't be sending out any specific data to the patients but would simply give them general reminders about medications and appointments.

"We're not telling them what their meds are, we're just sending reminders to tell them to take their meds at a specific time," he explained. "We remind them of their appointments but we don't mention where their appointment is."

Moore acknowledged that in the long run the company would need a lot more funding to make its entire service HIPAA-compliant so that its text messages don't forever come across as cryptic missives that would be right at home on the J.J. Abrams TV show "Lost," as Rodriguez put it.

The runner-up in the competition was a social networking app called Thumbs Up that's centered on making watching television a more social activity, even if you're watching TV alone. Thumbs Up founder and CEO Cass Sapir, who had previously worked as a producer for WGBH's NOVA program, described his app as "a magic button for your television" that connects you with friends who are watching or have watched your favorite shows. Basically, you "friend" people that have similar tastes in television as you do and you get to chat along with them while the shows are going on. The app even accounts for time differences to help avoid spoilers, so if you live on the West Coast while your friend lives on the East Coast, your friend's messages about the show won't appear in the app until the show actually runs in your time.

While this seems nifty enough on its own, Thumbs Up is also taking advantage of closed captioning technology to let fans post precise quotes from the show to their profiles and is even letting fans post 15-second video clips from the show to share with others. The key to making the app a success, said Sapir, will be the way it makes things automatic for users, so that posting a quote or a clip onto your feed will be just as easy as using the "Like" button on your Facebook profile.

"By the time a show receives its first Tweet, it will have received thousands of Thumbs Up," he said. "We're obsessed with making this an automatic experience."

Other notable apps showcased at the Mobile Pitch Challenge this year included Jaxx, a social networking site for men that helps them meet up for activities such as sports and card games; Scene Near Me, a mobile app for tourists that feeds them information on places where movies and television shows have been filmed when they visit new cities; and Mosec, a sort of "mobile secretary" that helps sales forces by automatically entering in data into CRMs as it is initially recorded.

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