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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer


ND juniors to compete in ACC InVenture Prize competition

While most Notre Dame students will likely spend the week before Easter studying for exams, juniors Luke Blazek and Brian George, both residents of Pangborn Hall and hailing from Dallas, TX, will be traveling to Florida State University to compete in the ACC InVenture Prize Competition.

The pair are representing Notre Dame at the competition after co-founding the app “Routora” in 2022 with Tom Vazhekatt, a junior at the University of Texas, Dallas. The app uses artificial intelligence to allow users to plan the optimal route with multiple stops and calculates the approximate price to be spent on gas for the journey. 

The app works as an extension that can be paired with Apple or Google Maps and is free to download, although a paid premium version is available. Blazek and George said they hope the app is used to make the lives of small businesses and everyday people easier while also lowering their carbon footprint.

Despite only having eight employees, the app now has 40,000 users in 90 different countries.

Blazek said Vazhekatt was always running errands and realized it was difficult to plan multiple stops using mainstream map apps such as Apple and Google.

“He kind of had a suspicion that mainstream mapping apps weren't truly optimizable to stop routes. 

In 2022, Vazhekatt first developed a basic version of the application as a Google Chrome extension named “Routify.” He then introduced the concept to George, who shared it with Blazek, as both of them reside in Pangborn.

George offered to help Vazhekatt create the app.

“I told him, ‘Look, I'm willing to use the Idea Center and the Notre Dame network, and I think we can kind of take this to a whole other level,’” George said.

Blazek said he had an interest in entrepreneurship at the time and agreed to work with George to bring the start-up to the IDEA Center at Notre Dame. 

From there, they incorporated the company and changed the name of the company to “Routora,” after coming up with the idea during a game of Scrabble.

Blazek explained the IDEA Center originally granted them a $300 ad credit in spring 2022 and then put them through a six week mentorship program.

“I’d say a lot of the IDEA Center relationship with us is mentorship, opportunities to win funding, and networking,” he said.

Blazek said the IDEA Center also helped facilitate their entry into the ACC InVenture Prize competition.

The competition is an “entrepreneurship week” with questions and answers with judges over Zoom, presentations in-person on Tuesday, and a televised competition on Wednesday. The winner will receive a grant of $15,000, and the second-place finisher will receive $10,000. 

There will also be a “people’s choice” award where the team that receives the most support from the public will win an award of $5,000. Votes for Blazek and George’s company are placed by texting “ND” to 415-965-7445.

Blazek emphasized the pair’s excitement for this week’s competition.

“We're really excited about representing the school because I think it will put us in the spotlight and hopefully allow us to share more about our mission and story from a good position,” he said.