The growing curse of Urban Isolation
Imagine living in a big city, being surrounded by people, but yet still feeling lonely. You engage and interact with people on social networks, contribute to forums, but yet, you still feel disconnected. This is the paradox of urban isolation. We are more connected to people than ever, but, at the same time, more disconnected than ever.
The City of Edmonton has been grappling with this issue for years. During his time as journalist, city councillor Scott McKeen wrote frequently about the what he observed to be the “growing curse of urban isolation.” When McKeen took office, he established the Mental Health and Urban Isolation Initiative, which has led to the development of city initiatives like Hello, How Are You?, a campaign that encourages Edmontonians to say exactly that to the strangers they pass.
Of course, it’s not just the municipal government that is looking to combat urban isolation. Also working on solutions is Edmonton-based tech startup Spontivly, founded by Anthony Nagendraraj, and his two co-founders, Raj Rajakumar and Rooh Raj Aujla.
Building community with an app
Since incorporating on October 23, 2018, Spontivly has been driven by one mission: to create a world where social isolation and loneliness are nonexistent, by revolutionizing the way people connect with their communities in a meaningful way.
Spontivly’s approach to tackling this ambitious goal is the launch of its app of the same name. The Spontivly app curates experiences based on users’ interests, with the goal of connecting them with like-minded individuals. Of course, it’s already possible to browse through countless events on a variety of apps like Eventbrite, Facebook, Airbnb, Meetup and Reddit, but according to Anthony, that’s exactly the problem: there is too much information and too many places to find it. Where Spontivly aims to stand out is in its ability to fill the gap between discovering an experience and actually attending it.
“You don't even have to open an app,” Anthony (pictured above) says. Using the example of a university student, he paints the scene, “Imagine yourself walking out of class, your phone buzzes and you look down. Spontivly notifies you that you’ve got some time in your calendar. Raj is taking a rock climbing class and you're interested in rock climbing. The app asks you if you want to go. And then you say yes or no.”
If a user selects yes, then the app automatically registers them. “We consider what you're interested in, your availability and who you’re friends with and just simplify it. That's it,” Anthony explains.
Of course, the app can be opened as well. Spontivly features a map-based interface with pins that show you what’s happening in your area. Users will be able to browse experiences; follow their friends, organizations; and invite others to join the app. Plus, Spontivly includes the option to spontaneously create activities. “You just click on the map, select the activity type and then broadcast it to your friends and everyone in your vicinity,” Anthony says.
An entrepreneurial itch
Anthony’s venture into the tech startup world can be traced back to his childhood, where he first developed an “entrepreneurial itch.” The school he attended in grade five didn’t sell any junk food, thereby forcing him and his fellow students to make the trip to a grocery store down the street. Anthony saw this as an opportunity to buy candy, markup the price and sell it out of his locker.
In his high school years, Anthony recorded pay-per-view events on VHS and sold them for profit. Around this time, he also discovered a love for technology, which he attributes to building a Pentium II computer with his friend Francis. “At that moment, I knew I was going to go into tech,” he says.
After graduating, Anthony did exactly that, going on to work for IBM, CGI and Alberta Innovates, among others. Always in the back of his mind though, was the idea that getting back into entrepreneurship was something he needed to do. And sure enough, the opportunity presented itself a couple years ago when he met Raj Rajakumar.
From ideation to startup
Raj and Anthony first met while playing hockey. Raj had recently moved to Edmonton, after having lived in Toronto his entire life, and was having a difficult time integrating into the community, since he didn't know anyone. As it turned out, this was something they could both relate to. During Anthony’s time as an IT consultant, he often visited new cities that he was unfamiliar with. After he finished work and arrived at his hotel each night, he would open his laptop and search for things to do. “Needless to say, I was completely disconnected from the city,” he says.
Anthony told his future co-founder about his idea for Spontivly, and together they set out to build it.
Fast forward to 2019 and Spontivly has made itself at home in a double office, here at Roundhouse. This spring, Spontivly is a piloting its platform with MacEwan University Residence. During the pilot, students will be able to download the app and engage with activities in the building and beyond. Roundhouse will also be on hand to help the startup with eager app-testers.
“The vision of Roundhouse really aligns with what Spontivly is doing,” Anthony says. “I firmly believe that, as an entrepreneur, your success is not just on yourself but also on the partnerships and the people that you've met along the way. For every success story, there are ten other failed startups...so to have the Roundhouse team and MacEwan supporting us...that's huge.”
But Roundhouse and MacEwan aren’t the only ones to notice Spontivly. The team has been selected as a featured startup at Collision Conference 2019 — a leading tech conference in Toronto with big-name speakers like Seth Rogen, Timbaland and Ev Williams (Founder and CEO of Medium). The conference presents topics like self-driving cars, health tech and how to get funding. “They have 25,000 applicants and this is a worldwide event,” Anthony says. “And only 3,000 get selected, so that was a big accomplishment for us.”
Overall, Anthony is grateful for his entrepreneurial journey so far.
“I am constantly learning, picking up new things and growing as a founder and CEO of a company,” he says. “A lot of times you hear ‘I'm just doing this job because it's paying the bills’ and that’s the wrong approach. I get up every morning, eager to go to work and that's what entrepreneurship is for me. I’m making a difference and doing something I really love.”
- Written by Peter Brown