August 09, 2022 • By UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business
Using common dating apps can often feel shallow and risky, but a business created by a UC Irvine student seeks to eliminate those hurdles and provide an application that fosters lasting relationships.
That business, Noveil, recently won a $20,000 grand prize and $10,000 Consumer Services first prize in the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition, which is hosted annually by the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business to encourage entrepreneurship and support student startups in the Orange County area.
Michael Allotey, a 2021 UC Irvine graduate who majored in computer science and minored in innovation and entrepreneurship, started Noveil specifically for Generation Z college students.
“We understood the problem because we experienced it ourselves,” Allotey said of the Noveil team. “We noticed there was a hookup culture that you can’t get around in online dating. There was a superficiality. People only judged each other on a picture and then a few sentences in a bio. Also, women don't really feel that comfortable. To us, that’s crazy.”
Noveil seeks to solve these problems by removing photos and a bio and adding a video dating platform so people can really get to know each other before going on a date. This eliminates the shallowness that comes with choosing to date somebody based on a short bio section. This way, people can get to know the personality of the person before the first date. Allotey said this could get rid of the hookup culture aspect as well because that is primarily based on looks over personality.
The video chat can also help women feel more comfortable about going on a date with an unknown person.
“Women can now speak with somebody and get a better feel about them as opposed to just judging them from a picture,” he said.
Allotey also said that people are more likely to go on a date with somebody after video chatting with them, so Noveil improves the chances of having successful relationships.
When somebody signs up for Noveil, they will be asked three questions to determine their preferences and whether they want to start dating. From that point, the app’s algorithm uses machine learning to find a good match for each person. Initially, these matches are based on preferences, but after going on a few dates, the app will base its matches on who somebody has chosen to date and who they have disliked in the past.
“It’s similar to how Netflix recommends movies,” Allotey said.
When two people are matched, they are immediately placed in a three-minute video call. The app provides two icebreaker questions to stimulate the conversation.
While some video apps may face issues with inappropriate behavior, Noveil has removed that risk by limiting the app to a college campus and requiring people to sign up with their university email and real name.
“We know who you are, so the chances of somebody doing something when people know where they are in that community, it’s very low,” he said.
Allotey started Noveil in November and enrolled in the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition a few months later. He said he had been interested in competing in the event for a while.
Each year, dozens of up-and-coming businesses submit their product ideas to claim some of the thousands of dollars handed out during the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition. This year’s event gave nearly $100,000 in prize money to a variety of businesses dealing with sustainability, medical technology and diet.
Over the course of seven months, 88 teams were whittled down to 10 during this year’s competition. These finalists competed in an event run similarly to an episode of “Shark Tank” where contestants pitch their products and services to a panel of judges made up of Orange County entrepreneurs and investors. This year’s panel included Isabelle Bart, Rodrigo Mahs, Lori Mazan and Debbie Lin.
Once the Noveil team decided to join the competition, they immediately went to work to validate the problems they identified with dating apps by talking to people about their experiences. Then, the team tested the video platform by having people chat over Zoom. He said there was a 94% satisfaction rate among the people who took part in the experiment. From that point, the team knew it had a great idea.
Allotey said the most important part of the competition was how much he learned during several workshops, including how to put together a business pitch.
“The most important thing I learned was to make it understandable and relatable,” he said. “You have to make sure, beyond anything, that they understand what you’re doing.”
Allotey said he was surprised when the team won the grand prize, but the team’s goal was always to claim the top spot in the competition. Allotey said the prize money will be used for operations, marketing and other business costs.
The company is still conducting beta testing on the app, but is planning for a release in September. Initially, the app will just be released solely at UC Irvine, but Allotey is hoping they will be able to get the app onto other campuses.
“We've applied to a bunch of startup accelerators and we've been talking to a few funding opportunities to see if we can get some initial funding so we can really learn our craft, find a good pace to move at and help us find product-market fit,” he said.
Aside from Noveil, several other businesses received cash prizes for a variety of categories, including business products and services, consumer products, consumer services, life sciences and social enterprise. First place winners were given $10,000 and second place received $5,000. A grand prize runner up was also chosen and awarded $5,000.
Grand Prize Runner Up
Enjovu Paper was chosen as the runner up for its proposal to use regenerated fibers from elephant feces to create sustainable paper products. The company argued that this will lessen the environmental impact of paper production and raise awareness for endangered elephants, which are threatened by poaching, human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction.
The first prize was claimed by forMED Technologies for its mission to provide patients with an at-home eye pressure monitoring system to prevent blindness and make sure that patients are receiving the correct amount of medication. Sayenza Biosciences received the second place prize for developing the first fully automated device that processes fat removed during liposuction. This is crucial because the cells in liposuction fat have a high amount of adult stem cells, which can be used for regenerative medicine.
Business Products and Services
Nutripair was awarded the first place prize for its product pairing people with the most nutritious and beneficial foods for their dietary preferences. The company also helps restaurants raise their revenue through helping manage the menu and analyzing allergens and nutrition. EmpowerMi came in second place for its mental wellness platform that provides a more holistic approach to mental health maintenance.
HAI came in first place for offering sustainable and fashionable jewelry. GaleGauge took the second place prize for its golf training tool utilizing data on wind, temperature and distance to help people adjust their swing.
Blue Aqua Food Tech received the first place award for using insects to create an alternative protein for fish to feed on to help solve the global crisis of fishmeal shortages. Enjovu Paper also was awarded second place honors in this category.
Noveil also received the first place prize in this category, while SnapHealth came in second place for its mobile app that helps patients take back control of their sensitive health data to improve the overall experience of healthcare.