Exhibitor Spotlight on Happenstance

Highlights on many of this year’s FUND Conference exhibiting companies will be featured throughout the upcoming weeks to showcase their backgrounds, inspirations, and investment history. 

Today, we share with you Happenstance, a mobile app telling Chicago's little-known stories one push notification at a time.

Please share with us what Happenstance does.

Happenstance is a mobile app that spontaneously tells Chicago’s little-known audio stories.

What inspired you to start this company?

Happenstance began as a class project when co-founders Stephanie Choporis and Jasmine Sanborn were graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Our assignment was to create an idea for a new media product and Happenstance was the product our team developed. We love Chicago, learning new things about it and figured others would too.

We then polled Chicago residents, and many said they still wanted to learn more about their city. That told us that, despite all of the information already out there, an information gap still exists.

About halfway through the class, our professor brought in an early-stage investor to give each team feedback on their ideas. Of the projects the investor saw, he thought Happenstance was viable to succeed in the real world and was interested in advising us to make this a reality.

We already enjoyed creating the sample content, reaching out to potential partners, etc. But this gave us the real inspiration to turn Happenstance into a company and start filling that information gap.

What’s your background and why are you the person or team for the job?

Choporis and Sanborn have more than 10 combined years of journalism experience and Master’s degrees from one of the top journalism schools in the country. Our new CEO/co-founder, Kathy Bartlett, has 20-plus years of entrepreneurial experience in a variety of fields.

Sanborn also has knowledge of more than five programming languages, which could prove to be helpful in assisting a future chief technology officer. These are key pieces that Happenstance will need to succeed.

Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

We highly recommend staying in touch with your universities and capitalizing on opportunities that could connect you with potential talent, beta testers, etc. For example, we participated in Northwestern’s startup career fest earlier this year and met many students who were interested in pursuing software engineering/computer science careers. Given that Happenstance originated in a Northwestern class, they were that much more interested in the idea. This came in handy when we were looking to bring a software intern on board.

Another great resource is conferences that specialize in your product’s specific niche. We were fortunate to stumble upon a recent conference for independent, online publishers. Though we technically don’t have an online platform, the sessions were still really applicable to the work we’re doing. These are great places to gain ideas for tweaking your business model, marketing strategies, etc. and advice from people who are knowledgeable of your niche.

Lastly, we have made great use of free, online resources, such as Canva and Hootsuite. If you’re a small team and on a tight budget, Hootsuite can help you more easily manage multiple social media accounts and interact with followers. Canva has also allowed us to design multiple items, from pamphlets to letterheads to social media graphics, without spending on professional design services. We recommend that fellow founders take advantage of similar tools.

What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

We’re still pre-revenue, but we have so far done the following: applied for and got accepted into 1871's WiSTEM (Women in STEM program), had one-on-one meetings with investors, attended workshops on how to perfect our deck and made connections with female angel groups and venture firms.

If we had to rewind and start over, we probably would take advantage of classes, workshops, mentors and other resources that are available to student entrepreneurs. The Garage at Northwestern offers many of these things, but we unfortunately didn’t know much of it existed until after we graduated.

Why did you decide to join FUND Conference this year?

We joined the FUND Conference to gain exposure and make some meaningful connections...Plus, we were interested in meeting fellow entrepreneurs.  

We encourage you to connect with Stephanie Choporis of Happenstance and follow their expansion journey post FUND.  

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