David Alston and Nicco Adams’ business partnership wasn’t always a foregone conclusion; in fact, the two Gies College of Business seniors started on divergent paths that would’ve never brought them together. Now, the two have developed an app that is quickly growing in popularity, and it’s earned them a chance to learn from some of the top coders, developers, and marketers at Apple.
Adams, a suburban Chicago native, was moments away from accepting admission to an out-of-state business school. But something deep down kept drawing him back to Gies. Alston grew up in Champaign and originally chose the University of Illinois’ computer science program before later transferring to Gies. The two met through a mutual friend, discovering they had similar passions for technology and entrepreneurship.
Together, Alston and Adams run Kickstroid – a social app for sneakerheads. In true entrepreneurial fashion, they identified a large and growing market and noticed that the social aspect hadn’t gotten the attention it deserves. Essentially, Kickstroid, which is available on Apple’s App Store, is a virtual community for the sneaker-obsessed. One of the app’s most popular features is the sneaker battle. Users upload a photo of their shoes, and other people vote on which one they like more.
“Kickstroid is for everyone,” said Alston, a senior majoring in information systems. “Whether you’ve been involved for ten minutes or ten years.”
Kickstroid recently got a shot in the arm thanks to some help from Apple. Alston and Adams applied and were accepted to Apple’s first-ever Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers. According to Apple, the camp is designed to help developers take their products to the next level through one-on-one guidance from Apple experts, engineers, and other top leaders. Alston and Adams were the only two college students invited to participate.
“Being the youngest ones there let us know that big things are possible, and it made us more driven,” said Alston. “Honestly it was the most perfect thing we could’ve possibly been accepted to. As college students, we couldn’t leave to be part of a big accelerator on the west coast. Being able to meet one-on-one with some of Apple’s top decision-makers was incredible.”
Over ten days, Alston and Adams received individualized coaching on topics like app design, machine learning, and marketing. It included fireside chats with company executives, lectures on how to best use Siri, and general advice on what makes a successful app. Thanks to Apple’s mentorship, they’ll soon be adding CoreML to Kickstroid, which will analyze individual user preferences and show the apps active 2,000 users more of exactly what they want to see.
Now, the two are bringing what they’ve learned back to Gies as they finish their college careers. The mentorship aspect is nothing new to Nicco Adams. The finance major is a past president of the National Association of Black Accountants, and he still mentors at least a dozen members.
“Helping Black students in this College grow is what keeps me energized and driven,” said Adams, who is also part of The Hoeft Technology & Management Program, a joint minor between Gies Business and The Grainger College of Engineering. “It’s helped me develop tangible leadership skills and really shaped who I am and what I’m capable of.”
Adams and Alston have grown both outside and inside the classroom at Gies. Alston credits Gies faculty like Professor Mark Wolters, for playing an integral part in his development. Wolters, who calls Alston “the definition of a true entrepreneur,” helped him develop a business plan for a previous project and has served as an invaluable sounding board as Kickstroid has taken off.
“Gies professors – just being available and letting me speak with them after class and bounce some ideas off of them – have been unbelievably important,” said Alston. “No matter what situation you’re in, there will be people who don’t believe in you. What’s important is making sure you find the people who do believe in you. We have those people at Gies.”
“The amount of different people I’ve been able to be around and learn from has been pivotal,” added Adams. “When you come to Gies, you have people interested in so many different disciplines. We all come together to be part of the Gies community, and it makes us all stronger.”