The University of Tampa (UT) is now utilizing a local startup’s platform to boost social wellness for first-year students.
Tampa-based Krew Social offers a mobile application to boost productivity and success through decentralized communities, or crews. According to its founder, the startup’s mission is to unite its users by becoming the first social company with an incentive to create friendships without divisiveness and polarization.
Krew Social operates out of the Embarc Collective and participates in Tampa Bay Wave’s TechDiversity 2022 Accelerator. St. Petersburg-based Mike Chahinian, founder and CEO, formally announced the partnership with UT Sept. 14. He said a preponderance of research shows the beneficial effects of student friendships and the negative aspects of isolation – which the pandemic exacerbated.
“And I think universities are still digging out of that to some extent and are looking for tools to really boost social wellness,” said Chahinian. “And it turns out there’s also research showing that students who have better social connections are also much more active alumni.”
Chahinian relayed studies highlighted on Krew Social’s website show that students with stronger relationships tend to drop out less and graduate within four years more often. For example, Cigna reported that 54% of Gen Z and Millennials say that “nobody knows them well.”
The University of Tampa’s wellness department partnered with the founder on a free pilot program for the college’s 2,500 first-year students. Chahinian said the hope is that the university becomes a paying customer and offers the platform all enrollees by the fall of 2023.
He noted that Krew Social’s signature technology – a suggestion algorithm – became operational Sept. 9. Chahinian said that following a soft opening and adding some features over the last week, the private university will now promote the platform more heavily to students.
In addition to a prominent client, Chahinian plans to mine “tremendous data” from the partnership with UT. “In terms of how students are using it and what features are the most valuable,” he said.
He also hopes other Tampa Bay area institutions, such as the University of South Florida and Eckerd College, will notice the platform’s value. Chahinian expects those conversations to take place soon. However, his current focus is on making minor improvements to the mobile application for the UT partnership.
All of the major functions of the app are complete, explained Chahinian, who called its suggestion algorithm “unlike anything” on the market. He said that users create a profile – similar to a dating app – and list their interests.
The map function highlights nearby hangouts, which students can also create. Icons show when a potential or existing friend is at, and users can open their profile to learn more about the person.
“The objective of the app is to build a custom circle of friends for any activity or interest,” said Chahinian. “Which is your crew. And we will show you what they’re doing.”
Chahinian launched his startup in April 2021 and markets it to any large establishment with at least 100 members in a geographic area. These include corporations, apartment buildings, co-working spaces, churches and schools.
Additional research, Chahinian noted, also shows the benefits creating friendships provides to those entities. These include increasing employee retention rates and tenant lease renewals.
“We’re optimistic that ultimately, sales are going to be strong across all these areas,” he said. “But it’s early days, we’re a small startup and it’s going to take some time to build out those customers.”
While Chahinian hopes his platform boosts its users’ mental health, the overarching goal is to reduce the divisiveness and polarization that plagues the nation. He intends to bring people with varying beliefs together and report the results. He elaborated that Krew Social would periodically detail what percentage of hangouts feature at least one person with different views.
Chahinian used conservatives and liberals and Christians and Buddhists congregating at the same location together as examples.
“We seek to become the first big social app that is incentivized to bring the country together, as opposed to tearing it apart,” he said. “And that concern really resonates with both investors as well as customers.”
Despite living in cities such as New York, Washington D.C., San Diego and Boston, the Navy veteran and entrepreneur said the Tampa Bay region “has the highest quality of life of any place I’ve ever lived.” He expressed that the people at Embarc Collective and Tampa Bay Wave have been instrumental in helping him grow his bootstrapped startup.
Chahinian moved to the area at the beginning of 2021. In addition to the community’s friendliness and beautiful environment, he credited Tampa Bay’s up-and-coming tech scene for helping him realize he made the right decision.
“I think there’s tremendous potential here,” he added. “I moved here a year and a half ago during the pandemic, and I’ve just really, really loved it.”
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