In 2016, Ibram “Sunny” Uppal ’17 (Computer Science) entered the first-ever California State University, Northridge Bull Ring New Venture Competition — modeled after the hit ABC TV show Shark Tank. He learned how to create and deliver a pitch, which garnered him third place ($5,000) for his team’s venture idea, EduCode, a plan to teach K-12 students computer coding skills in a collaborative, real-world environment while also serving real-world clients.
Taking the entrepreneurial skills he learned at CSUN, Uppal started his own company, Millennial Fox. The company focuses on creating apps for millennial audiences, with a focus on fitness and fun. Their first app, Tracks Battle Squad (or Tracks for short), won Uppal $300,000 in investment seed funds thanks to a reality show competition.
Uppal created Tracks with his business partner, Arianna Chiriff ’15 (Art), who produces art and animation for all Millennial Fox apps.
Tracks turns fitness into a game by giving users points, badges and accessories for their virtual 3-D fox character, based on their level of physical activity, Uppal said.
Uppal pitched Tracks on a show called Planet of the Apps, an online reality show that partners developers with mentors and helps them pitch their ideas to Lightspeed Venture Partners — an early-investment venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley, whose investments have included Snapchat and Double-Click.
“Planet of the Apps has so many applicants for each episode,” Uppal said. “The episode I was on had more than 20,000 applicants. Of those 20,000, only about 100 got on the show, 35 got mentors and only about 15 of those who pitched their idea got funding. I’m one of the 15.”
In June 2017, Lightspeed Venture Partners announced their $300,000 seed investment in Millennial Fox.
Actresses Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow, singer will.i.am and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, who was among the first people to establish an e-commerce wine site, serve as judges on Planet of the Apps. Each judge noted that they were interested in learning more about Tracks, but Alba and Paltrow said they could not elevate the app and decided to bow out.
Vaynerchuk and will.i.am, however, both said they wanted to support Uppal. will.i.am called the app “a potential home run.” When Uppal was asked to pick between the two judges, he chose to work with will.i.am, because the singer believed in Uppal’s vision from the start, he said.
Uppal, who does the web and mobile development for Tracks, said the idea for “gamified” fitness was inspired by his childhood experiences.
“When I was a kid, my dad had an interesting way to get me motivated enough to swim laps in our pool: For every lap I swam, I would get a few more minutes of playing video games,” he said. “I really wanted to play video games, so my dad’s method tapped into a motivation I already had and got me to swim a ridiculous number of laps.”
Tracks uses this same idea, Uppal said, by offering users multiple rewards to remain active. Uppal’s app gives users a virtual pet fox that lives on smart watches, watches that incorporate health-oriented tracking. To keep their pet healthy, the user must also be healthy, so exercise is key for success in Tracks.
Uppal did not always have celebrity mentors. In fact, he said, one of his best mentors was professor Lois Shelton from CSUN’s Department of Management.
Shelton said that as a computer science student in her entrepreneurship class, Uppal was unique.
“Sunny stood out because of his drive, his intelligence, his ability to be on a team and his ability to be quietly powerful,” Shelton said. “I think that’s really encouraging for people who think entrepreneurs have to be a certain stereotypical way.”
The “stereotypical way,” Shelton said, is to be an extrovert whose skillset includes a natural gift for sales and a million different ideas.
Currently, Uppal is working on developing different aspects of Tracks. With the help of his celebrity mentor, will.i.am, Uppal said he hopes to make Tracks a social platform where users can see their friends’ level of physical activity.
For more information on Uppal’s company, please visit his website.