UCL Entrepreneurs get thumbs up from Airbnb co-founder

20 March 2014

A start-up founded by four UCL students has won the backing of a panel of judges led by Airbnb co-founder, Nathan Blecharczyk.

Nathan Airbnb square crop

The company, RunTroll – a multiplayer game and app which aims to make running more fun – won the pitching competition organised by the UCL Entrepreneurs Society on campus on Wednesday evening, triumphing over four other student start-ups after they were chosen by him as the winner. 

Following Blecharczyk’s endorsement, the RunTroll team will receive mentoring by Airbnb staff, as well as funding from the UCL Entrepreneurs Society seed investment fund – run by the Society’s committee members – which is also backing the company.

The team, comprising students Nicholas Tenhue, Manfred Micaux, Angie Skazka and David Pribil, all of whom are studying the MSc ICT Innovation at UCL, won the competition on the strength of their pitch about their business, RunTroll. Unlike other running apps, RunTroll offers an immersive gaming experience for users while they exercise, connecting runners across the world in real-time to provide a multi-player race experience.

Users compete in races, enabling them to move up or down global rankings, and become the fastest Troll in all of Trollvania. Through participating in races, users can earn TrollGold and customise their avatar with apparel from the in-app TrollStore. Once development has been completed, the app will be available free on Google Play, AppStore & Windows Phone Store.

Prior to judging the competition at UCL, Blecharczyk participated in a discussion with Gillian Lacey-Solymar, Senior Teaching Fellow in the UCL department of Management Science & Innovation, ranging across his career as an entrepreneur and advice he would give students considering the same path.

As one of three co-founders of Airbnb, Nathan Blecharczyk – as current Chief Technology Officer for the company – overseas technical strategy and a team of world-class engineers to keep Airbnb at the forefront of the peer-to-peer accommodation market. Following a computer science degree at Harvard, Blecharczyk held engineering positions at Microsoft, OPNET Technologies and Batiq before his involvement with Airbnb, which was founded in August 2008 and is currently based in San Francisco.

The company has fundamentally disrupted the accommodation market through providing a trusted community marketplace for people to list and book accommodation around the world, online or through a mobile phone, and includes many truly unique properties available for guests, including over 600 castles.

Speaking about winning the pitching competition, David Pribil, who pitched the concept to the judging panel, said:

"We are super excited to receive mentoring from one of the most innovative and high impact companies around today. We will definitely run with this idea – no pun intended."

"So far we have been keeping things lean and mean with a devoted set of early adopters. We feel that we are now ready to upscale, so we will be searching for funding and partners to help us reach the finish line."

Commenting on the competition, Nathan Blecharczyk said:

“I was really impressed by all of the pitches from the UCL Entrepreneurs Society. It’s a real testament to the talent within the UK university community. RunTroll just had the edge and we look forward to giving them support to help them on the next phases of their journey.”

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