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May 08, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Pano helping connect college students, spotlight events of interest

Pano(EDITOR’S NOTE: Pano won last week’s second “Pitches & Pints” hosted by Startup Tri-Cities. Here’s a more in-depth look at the company based on an interview earlier this year with Founder John Cowan.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Eleven months into a start-up focused on helping connect entrepreneurs, John Cowan says he did the proverbial pivot to focus on a much larger and more geographically-defined market – college students.

“I (initially) wanted something that made it easier for young entrepreneurs to integrate into communities,” the Tri-Cities native told us in explaining the original concept behind Pano. Cowan had just quit college after three years and accepted a job in Rockville, MD. He was working long hours which meant he did not have much time to build a network in the community.

Cowan’s solution was an app designed to allow individuals to electronically meet new people and add them to their network. After less than a year, he decided the focus on young professionals was too challenging, but he believes he’s found a good niche in the collegiate market.

After all, many first-year or transfer students arrive on a campus without knowing many people. How do they find other students who share their interests – music, arts, sports, hiking, camping or whatever? Instead of happenstance, why not try something that draws on the crowdsourcing concept?

“Life is a collection of experiences,” Pano says on its webpage, adding “We help you find and create the ones that matter.”

Think of the Pano app as a tool that not only helps students add like-minded people to their networks, but also helps the partnering universities communicate with their students and local businesses promote their offerings.

“We give students the ability to broadcast to the entire campus what they want to do and see who responds,” Cowan explains. All of the interaction is powered by the app that is available in both Android and iOS versions and sign-up for an account.

The app is being Beta-tested at East Tennessee State University, a campus environment Cowan knows very well.

“We’ve launched and are iterating through the feedback gained from students,” he says. “We hope to launch more broadly this fall.” The broader focus includes other universities and cities where there are multiple institutions, offering additional networking possibilities.

The key, however, starts with the university and its participation.

“They (the students) must be in the college’s network,” Cowan says, citing an important safety consideration. “Once you tell us which university you are attending and you are validated as a student, you gain access to the app along with content from that specific school.”

“A component of the app we are rolling-out is called Memories,” Cowan says, explaining the feature will allow users to post pictures of events they attend.” This feature helps drive the long-term revenue model which is based on subscriptions from businesses.

“We van link memories of events that students post at a business and charge the business,” he says. “It’s an organic, innocuous way to promote their brand.”

Right now, Pano is allowing businesses to sign-up without a fee for the first year, then there is a monthly charge.

In the future, Cowan plans to target alumni associations and the student affairs offices at participating colleges.

“It’s a way for colleges to connect all elements of the university,” he says. “It is also a way for student organizations to penetrate the noise,” a reference to the many texts and social media messages students receive on a daily basis.

The good news for Cowan is that Pano is funded through much of 2017. Later, he may seek investment capital.

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