ANN ARBOR—Growing up in Los Angeles, Jake Fleshner and his brother liked to visit a local deli and then nearby stores before heading home. These local businesses often attracted a similar customer, so why weren't they promoting each other to their customer bases?
That question eventually led to creating Spade America—an ad exchange that connects businesses that want to advertise with brick-and-mortars that want to monetize their physical location and foot traffic.
Jake Fleshner, now a University of Michigan sophomore studying sport management, connected with Logan Levin, a freshman at U-M's Ross School of Business; Noah Witus, a School of Kinesiology sophomore; and Isaac Haft, a freshman in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, to commercialize the idea. Spade is meant to bring small businesses together that may share a customer base.
The Spade mobile app, the business-to-consumer aspect of the business, brings these partnerships to life. As partnerships are closed online, consumers can scan discounts offered as they visit their local businesses.
"We hope to be on every college campus," Fleshner said. "A lot of our sales force is college students. It's all student-based. They want a discount and are always on their phones."
Spade is one of 60 ventures that U-M students across campus are pushing forward with support from the institution's top-ranked entrepreneurial programs. Details of other student startups and endeavors are included in the second annual Made at Michigan. The report is produced by Innovate Blue, along with a network of programs, centers and institutes that help support U-M's student innovators and entrepreneurs.
"We are young, but I think that helps us," Fleshner said. "Our app helps students and local businesses."
So far, they've introduced Spade in more than 25 small businesses in Ann Arbor. They plan to initially grow in college towns where students tend to have similar needs and wants.
"It's easier to understand the market when you are the market," Levin said.
One of their clients, a pizza restaurant, puts their print ad signs into partner clients like a nearby apartment building. The pizza place pays the apartment building for the space each time a customer scans the ad on the Spade mobile app. Clients set their own prices for renting their "space" to other businesses through print ads posted on their walls. Spade is paid a percentage of every scan.
"Businesses don't have to pay unless customers scan their ads, so they are only paying for it when the ad is effective," Levin said. "The goal is for businesses to help each other out so they can maximize their income."
The businesses interface through their online platform. There they can log into their accounts and select the stores where they want their ads placed and agree on the price they will pay for each scan of their ads. The businesses offering ad space can decide whether or not to accept the ad.
The goal this summer is to grow their user base. They also want to test sensor technology that would allow users to get a notification on their phones to swipe on the discount there instead of from a print ad on a wall.