Bringing order to the buzz

Innovative app designed by MRU student streamlines group planning while supporting local businesses

Katherine SharplesMount Royal University | Posted: May 30, 2023

Bianca Veltri

In April 2023, Bianca Veltri competed in the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's annual JMH LaunchPad Pitch Competition, the largest student entrepreneurship event in Alberta.

Tasks like making group dinner reservations, co-ordinating a trip to the mountains and sharing field locations for slow-pitch games are rarely pulled off without a hitch. It can sometimes feel like planning an event requires more effort than physically attending the event itself; chaotic group chats, lost calendar invitations and firing off a frantic “WHERE ARE YOU?” text — only to realize the recipient was accidentally left out of the invite — play a frustratingly expected role in getting groups together.

The unnecessary tediousness that goes into making seemingly simple plans and the lack of event-specific chats on all platforms is what inspired fourth-year Mount Royal University finance student Bianca Veltri to create The Hive, an app designed to simplify group activity planning and provide users with exclusive discounts from local vendors.

How The Hive works

With intuitive tools catering to the “friend organizer,” The Hive streamlines the planning process, offering curated rosters featuring go-to event companions, event-specific chats and real-time updates on your pals’ attendance status. It’s a virtual hangout spot for friends to make IRL plans — and provides options to choose from.

“When I do group activities, I often leave a person out by mistake due to lack of saved rosters, the inability to have a group chat across different phone types and preferences on time and location,” Veltri says.

“Every group of friends has that one organizer who makes everything happen. I want to make their life easier and enhance the experience of the entire hive of friends.”

The Hive’s inclusion of local vendors for activity discovery is also a game-changer, enabling groups to enjoy discounts while supporting local businesses. The more people you bring, the higher the discounts are — creating curated experiences that benefit both the patrons and the businesses.

“I often see local businesses empty or competing with one another,” Veltri says. “Instead, imagine booking a night out that starts with mani-pedis at a local nail salon and then moves to the restaurant next door for dinner — both at a discounted rate.”

Building a business from a seed of an idea

The Hive prospered from Veltri’s passion to bring people together and create lifelong memories between friends, but it wasn’t until Veltri took part in the Innovation Sprint, a work-integrated learning experience offered out of MRU’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE), that she realized her initial idea could be better applied to event planning and local partnerships.

“As a budding finance and accounting student in my third year, I had not yet been exposed to the thrilling world of creative thinking and innovation. However, participating in the Innovation Sprint completely changed my perspective, igniting a fiery passion for ideation and problem-solving,” she says.

In April 2023, Veltri competed in the IIE’s annual JMH LaunchPad Pitch Competition, the largest student entrepreneurship event in Alberta. MRU’s most accomplished student entrepreneurs showcase their businesses for a chance to win a share of $70,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, provided by JMH & Co., connectFirst Credit Union and Grant Design. In the weeks, months and sometimes years before the event, they receive pitch preparation training, personalized advanced mentorship and peer-to-peer support.

Veltri and The Hive wowed judges and sponsors alike, taking home $10,000 from JMH & Co. and the $15,000 Grant Design award for in-kind design services.

“The Hive solves a real problem experienced by a lot of people, which gives it a rare opportunity to be broadly adopted and grow into a substantial business,” says Ray DePaul, the IIE’s executive director.

“There’s no question that Veltri is the high-impact, innovative talent that we strive to develop at the Institute.”

Fast-forwarding a startup

Veltri started the process of building The Hive in January 2023, and was pitching on the JMH LaunchPad stage in only three months. On top of a part-time job in the tech industry, a full course load and balancing regular life commitments, meeting the short timeline took an incredible amount of hard work, achieved through steadfast dedication and community support.

“As someone who strives for perfection in most areas of life, I learned the important lesson that innovation is not designed for perfection and there is no such thing as ready — you always launch early,” she says.

Innovation at MRU

Veltri’s ties to innovation at MRU date back to the summer of 2021, when Anita Kemp, the Alberta program lead for the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub housed at MRU, piqued Veltri’s interest by casually mentioning the Innovation Sprint program. The program has small groups of driven students work with an industry mentor to practice tackling complex problems and bring new ideas to life; blending learning about how businesses innovate with actually doing it.

Diana Grant-Richmond, an MRU alumna and innovation and entrepreneurship strategist at the IIE, also played a vital role in igniting Veltri’s passion for entrepreneurship, adding innovation and creativity to her existing finance skillset.

“I tried to convince myself there was no way I could get on stage after being in awe of the 2022 JMH Launchpad Pitch Competition competitors, but her support and mentorship showed me it was possible to be a founder,” Veltri says.

Although difficult to overcome the idea that not everything was going to be picture perfect for her pitch, coupled with the notion that she would have an incredible amount of work to do post-competition, Grant-Richmond shared a quote with Veltri during the process to help her push forward that she now reads off her wall every day:

“Entrepreneurs are always only 80 per cent satisfied. That’s what makes you an entrepreneur. You can always see how something can be better. Acting like an entrepreneur is accepting that 80 per cent is ok for now, but you’re going to keep trying and moving forward as quickly as possible.”

Through exploring the IIE, Veltri became an innovation ambassador, completed the connectFirst Social Entrepreneurs program, and landed an internship with them the following summer.

Crediting the IIE with providing her the ability and desire to launch The Hive, Veltri shares that her fall 2021 Innovation Sprint nurtured an interest in problem-solving.

“This passion drove me to explore the pains of the ‘friend organizer’ to its fullest extent, which ultimately led me to found The Hive,” she says.

Moreover, the Innovation Sprint led Veltri to discover her current employer, the local startup ticketing company Showpass.

“My experience with Showpass further expanded my love for the startup world and allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities that come with entrepreneurship,” she says.

Instead of focusing on chasing elusive innovations through patents and technology like other universities, MRU’s approach to innovation understands that it is more important to graduate students who know how to innovate over and over again.

“We focus on people, not things. Our graduates will create or join organizations that are thirsty for innovative talent and have a tremendous impact on our community,” DePaul says.

The IIE provides students with a variety of opportunities to engage with the innovation process to best serve MRU’s diverse student population. Some students will be attracted to the LaunchPad Lab program and try to start a business, others might engage with the Innovation Sprint to help a community startup innovate on their existing product. Some are attracted to the connectFirst Social Entrepreneurship or HealthTech Challenge programs in order to help solve big societal problems.

“We believe that it is important that all students can see themselves as innovators. Every student has different passions and expertise, so they are uniquely qualified to solve problems that are important to them,” DePaul says. “Instead of forcing students down a single path, we give them options for their personal innovation journey.”

What’s next?

Pitching The Hive is just the start for Veltri. She has been selected to attend the 2023 European Innovation Academy, where she will work alongside a team of talented students from around the world, as well as mentors from Silicon Valley. Together, they will go through an entire innovation process for The Hive, from prototyping and UX/UI design to marketing and pitching.

Upon her return, she will put her $25,000 in JMH LaunchPad winnings to use creating branding in collaboration with MRU alumna Aislinn Grant, and to continue building The Hive into a successful and impactful startup. In the future, The Hive’s premium features will include in-app payment processing, integrations with CRM marketing tools, customizable dashboards and more.

“The Hive is abuzz with excitement as we look forward to taking the next steps on our entrepreneurial journey,” Veltri says.

Innovation, like a beehive, is critical to society, allowing for the development of complex and organized systems that can adapt to changing conditions, overcome challenges and drive progress, Veltri explains. She also plans to participate in Platform Calgary’s Catalyzer program and utilize a junior developer to advance The Hive to its next stage.

“Just as bees work together to share knowledge, skills and resources to achieve a common goal, innovators often collaborate to create new technologies, processes and systems that are more effective and sustainable,” Veltri says.

Mount Royal University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is where transformation starts.