An easier way to move your degree plan along

Andrew McConville, alumnus, design and visual communication/computer science
William Barlas, senior, engineering
Kyle Forsberg, senior, global studies
Maximilian Felgenhauer, senior, computer science

While he was a student at UWM, Andrew McConville wished there was an easier way to set up his classes. He and his faculty advisor relied on a paper checklist to ensure that he was on track to graduate.

“My advisor and I would write on it and photocopy it, and the checklist was really torn up after the first year or two,” McConville remembers.

messmer_jAs a sophomore, he created a Word document with boxes and arrows to plot out his courses semester by semester, but this method wasn’t flexible. As for the university’s online course catalog and PAWS system, McConville describes them as “clunky.”

His senior year, McConville took a graphic design class where he was asked to design a solution to a real-world problem, and he knew exactly what to tackle. “I wanted to take the existing university systems and integrate them into a modern, intuitive, visual, interactive experience,” he says.

As he began to mock up designs, other students in the class took an interest. “I realized that this could be something.” He named his software “Mesmer,” after an 18th century German physician known for mysterious cures. That same semester he took a computer science class in which he began coding Mesmer for his final project.

A demo version of Mesmer includes an orange bar at the top that shows a student’s progress toward graduation. It lists the classes a student has taken, groups them by semester, and includes the grades and credits earned.

“When you want to add a class, you literally just drag it into the semester that you want to take it,” McConville explains. “Lots of computer programs are kind of ugly. I wanted to make a beautiful interface so people want to use it.”

Winning the Student Startup Challenge (SSC) gives McConville access to the business expertise of students in the Lubar School of Business, who are helping him develop a business plan.

Partnering with UWM also provides an opportunity to learn how university databases work, and test his product.

After displaying Mesmer at the annual Design Entrepreneurship Showcase for Peck School of the Arts students, he met Michael Hostad, director of Web and Mobile Strategy at UWM’s Mobile Innovation Lab (also known as the “App Brewery”).

Since May McConville has been working at the Brewery full time, he met Forsberg who was interning at Startup Milwaukee. Forsberg brought on Barlas and Felgenhauer to work on the “back end.” The team is preparing to run a summer pilot test of Mesmer at UWM. If all goes well, they hope to try a full implementation at UWM in the fall. They are making sure the software is “backwards compatible” with the enterprise systems, like Oracle, that most universities use to operate their registrations.

Meanwhile, McConville recognizes the unique resources he has been able to tap into at UWM in his quest to start a company, including the App Brewery, where he now helps new teams who have won the SSC.

“College students who don’t really have a lot of money can get a whole design team for free, which is super awesome,” he says.

Update: The team has named the company MajorWeb and are working to incorporate it as an LLC. They also tied for third place in the New Ventures Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the Lubar School of Business and La Macchia Enterprises, winning $2,000.