Meadows Student Earns $5,000 Startup Grant to Make New App a Reality

SMU's 2015 Big iDeas Business Plan Competition gives students recognition

Big iDeas Winners

By Ally Van Deuren (B.F.A. Theatre, B.A. Journalism '15)

Irisa Ona, (B.A. Advertising, B.A. Communications ’15) and Austin Wells (B.S. Engineering, ’16) began collaborating in an interdisciplinary engineering class, “Building Creative Confidence” with Professor Kate Canales in fall 2014.

Wells approached Ona about an idea.

“He saw a need for connecting community members together,” Ona said.

Their app, Helpple, connects people who need help with people who are offering to help, ranging from tutoring to moving furniture to getting volunteers.

“Initially, we thought the app was going to serve community members on a city level,” Ona said. “Now we want to serve school communities specifically.”

Ona says that the biggest challenge has been learning how to work together efficiently with Wells, having both come from entirely different backgrounds.

“We think differently, we speak different languages when it comes to talking about work, we prioritize tasks differently, and overall, we work differently,” Ona said. “The more we worked together, the more we learned and began to understand each other’s disciplines.”

Four student teams combined winning pitches with business plans with the hopes of earning $5,000 startup grants for their projects through SMU’s Big iDeas program in January 2015. From there, a panel of volunteers from Dallas-based Executives in Action judged the student projects and Ona and Wells were honored as winners.

In the next nine months, the students will develop their projects further. They will present results in October 2015 at Big iDeas Demo Day for a chance to win another $5,000 to continue their work.

“When we go out in the ‘real world,’ work is interdisciplinary, so we’re really glad to get a little bit of that while we’re in school,” Ona said.

While at SMU, Ona has been a member of SMU Student Senate, president of SMU Catholic Group and has studied abroad in London at Regents College. In addition, she is a TEDxSMU Jim and Carole Young Fellow.

Professor and Director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute Steve Edwards said, “She is a wonderful role model for SMU students and the community at large and a great representation of the future leaders coming out of Meadows, SMU and the Temerlin Advertising Program.”

Ona also was an Engaged Learning Award recipient for her research proposal related to fluidity of Filipino American Identity. Ona was a design intern for the Lyle School of Engineering and the Dallas Arts District. She won third place in the Hackathon for a Trace Your Threads App.

“She is not only intelligent and creatively talented, but she also has depth of character and experiences that make her stand out from the crowd,” said Edwards. “She has used her talents in the community as well as broadening her talents through multiple internships and diverse hands-on experiences.”

See Ona’s online portfolio. Read more about the SMU Big iDeas program.