By GREGORY ZELLER //
Judy Wieber remembers computing when reel-to-reel mainframes filled entire rooms.
Now she’s putting the power in palms through a series of high-minded data-sharing apps, with a shot at a television gig that could put East Islip startup Science Mobility LLC on the virtual map.
Wieber, a former Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory science librarian and grant writer, has survived the first cut for “Planet of the Apps,” an unscripted reality-TV competition series about innovative app-makers.
While Apple has yet to announce a syndication deal or broadcast schedule, the show – which will have a penchant for inspirational stories and real problem-solving products – is slated to begin filming this fall.
Wieber’s contender: Communicavi, an automated text messaging system that crunches data to handle the user’s routine texting requirements – everything from “on my way” to “happy birthday,” with a host of customizable options.
The first “Planet of the Apps” qualifier involved an open casting call, with app-making applicants submitting one-minute video pitches. Wieber is now preparing a longer video audition for the casting director – a Long Island native, she noted – with hopes of being among the 100 finalists selected to start shooting in Los Angeles in October.
Those finalists will compete in a season-long elimination tournament that includes hands-on mentoring with top tech, entertainment and software professionals. At stake is up to $10 million in funding to be invested during the season by what Apple called “top-tier VCs,” as well as promotional platforms – including featured App Store placement – that could reach millions of global Apple-platform viewers.
Win, lose or draw, Wieber makes no bones about her primary mission. A “basic prototype” has earned 700-plus free downloads in the App Store, she noted, but without certain corporate permissions, Communicavi can’t fulfill some of its primary and most critical objectives.
“I want to get Apple’s attention,” Wieber told Innovate LI. “When I originally developed the app, I wanted it to be able to automatically respond to text messages, but the way the Apple iPhone is set up, app developers can’t get access to the information they need to enable that feature.”
It’s not just a technological hurdle but an obvious commercialization challenge for Science Mobility, which Wieber launched in 2014 to formalize her creative interests.
A lifelong tinkerer – as a “fairly underprivileged” child, she made her own makeup from talcum powder, food coloring and Vaseline – she professes a “love of technology and new things and gadgets” that blossomed at Pennsylvania’s Duquesne University, where she earned her MBA, and upstate Potsdam’s Clarkson University, where she earned a PhD in biochemistry.
“I began working with computers in high school, which was around 1977,” Wieber said. “I started out with the huge room-sized IBM mainframe computers and used computers throughout my education, including in my PhD dissertation.”
The former CSHL librarian and writer, who left the laboratory in February after seven years, has personally invested roughly $40,000 lifting Science Mobility off the ground, covering the LLC formation, app development – the self-described “project manager and big-idea person” outsources coding to teams in India – and patent applications.
Wieber is currently waiting out a 2015 patent application on her automated text-response system, after receiving a provisional patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2014.
The pending utility patent factors into not only Communicavi but into coming-soon app Beacly, a real-time registry of personal, business and organizational beacons that can be used to promote products or facilitate point-of-sale transactions.
Beacons are small, Bluetooth-enabled antennae that transmit information to nearby smartphones. With Beacly, the data “comes directly to your text inbox,” Wieber said, and the user follows a link to access further information or complete a transaction – ideal for retailers (in-store specials), temporary point-of-sale locations (craft fair sales) and cultural centers (virtual museum guides).
“It’s another example of automated text messaging,” Wieber noted. “You can transmit marketing information or cultural information, and we’re thinking it’s perfect for selling tickets at the door of a music festival, for instance.”
Beacly, which is beta-testing now and ticketed for the App Store later this summer, keeps with Science Mobility’s come-together theme. Wieber is also the project manager/big idea person behind Colleagueshare, a secure, cloud-based hub where researchers can aggregate large amounts of scientific data.
Promising “ultimate ease and security,” Colleagueshare may become an app somebody, according to its creator, but it “seems to be doing OK” as a free, responsively designed web application.
It’s also got some serious commercialization potential, according to the solopreneur.
“I want to expand it to different industries and sort of white-label it, so a mortgage broker or somebody might create their own Colleagueshare site,” she said. “It’s a great way to share information with clients securely.”
Wieber is also a survivor of Stony Brook University’s ninth-annual Innovation Boot Camp, where she put DNAshare – a proposed subscription-based biological database – through the paces this spring.
Described by Wieber as “the Netflix of genomic data,” the bio-sample bonanza is another example of the inventor’s collaborate-first thinking – though Science Mobility has some more fundamental, perhaps more important, goals to accomplish.
A member of LISTnet’s Women in Technology group, Wieber hopes to “be a role model for girls and young women who want to be in technology” and envisions a software-development company “led by females.”
“Just like women’s colleges succeed by taking away that peer-pressure factor, I think women would be less intimidated to follow their dreams in technology if they were working in an environment where they didn’t feel constantly censored,” Wieber said.
She also wants to help minorities and disabled individuals thrive in technology development, noting “not everyone’s views are being reflected, not everyone’s needs are being met, in the technologies being created.”
But Science Mobility’s most noble mission – one it can’t accomplish without Apple-permitted access to proprietary user data – may prove a literal life-saver.
“So many young people are dying or being seriously injured in texting-and-driving accidents,” Wieber said. “The iPhone is so addictive. Texting is so addictive.
“We need to provide those automated responses to help with the problem of texting and driving, which is the real reason I developed the Communicavi app.”
Science Mobility LLC
What’s It? Lifestyle-focused technology studio and app developer
Brought To You By: Former CSHL science librarian and grant writer Judy Wieber
All In: $40,000, self-invested, for patent application, LLC licensing and software development
Status: Various prototypes now available … and Hollywood beckons