Westlake students win national entrepreneurs pitch competition

Six Westlake High School students won a national competition, and with it $10,000 donated by Uncharted Learning, to help them with the launch of their new gift cart app GiftE. The group reached the final competition after being chosen as one of the top five teams in the country. 

GiftE came out of the high school’s business incubator program last year, which is part of a national program with a curriculum produced by Uncharted Learning. The team was awarded $15,000 this spring when it won a school pitch night in a competition with 30 Westlake entrepreneur teams. The students also received a $10,000 investment from the local business Powerpack.

GiftE is a free interactive app for users to store, trade, send and donate their gift cards, according to student Jash Desai.

Desai said he came up with the idea last year as part of the incubator program when he noticed that he had dozens of gift cards laying around that had mostly expired or long gone unused. 

“I was like, there has to be a better way than lugging around all of these and forgetting about them all the time,” he said.

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Desai said the app has a social component and a financial component, like the popular money sending app Venmo, but for gift cards. Gift cards are a huge industry that is only projected to grow, he said, so it made sense to take them digital. 

“It’s kind of like a social media style where you can search up other people’s profiles and look at their wishlists,” he said. “It’s also an online marketplace where you can trade gift cards with people that you know.”

The team, which includes Desai and his fellow rising seniors Emily Weiner, Nina Velacheri, Radhika Gautam, Amir Aleghaband and Leo Weihe, spent the year working on the business. The app is set to launch in August, and Desai said it is is geared in part toward helping support local businesses.

The app will offer subscription services that gives businesses access to the Nifte Notice feature, which pings gift card holders who have outstanding balances with participating companies when they are near a physical store location with a reminder to use the gift card. The app also collects analytical data about consumer habits that stores can access as part of a subscription package, Desai said. 

The team has already partnered with Westlake businesses and regional chains, including Texas Honey Ham, Tyler’s, Tiff’s Treats, Tony C’s and Rudy’s.

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There is also a charitable component to the app, which allows users to donate to teachers or nonprofits that have profiles in the system. The team is working with the Eanes school district as well as some schools in Austin so the community can donate gift cards to teachers. With the August launch, the team hopes  teachers will get on the app in time to request gift cards to help them stock their classrooms for the upcoming school year. 

“Teachers are always asking for things to help spruce up their classroom, or school supplies for the students themselves,” Desai said. “We also allow people to donate directly to nonprofits and charities.” 

Desai said the group is also working with Austin Pets Alive, Dress for Success Austin and the Miracle Foundation. 

The app’s target market is teenagers and young adults, who Desai said are most likely to receive gift cards as presents, as well as adults with kids in that age range who are most likely to give gift cards. 

The students will also have the chance to keep working on GiftE through the Westlake accelerator program next school year.

Katina Kenyon, the team’s mentor, said she was incredibly proud of what they were able to accomplish. Kenyon co-founded her own software company, Applaudo Studios, and serves on the board of the Westlake Innovation Fund, which supports the incubator program. 

“The future is bright. Having these brilliant young entrepreneurs and being able to work alongside them during the school year is not only promising to me but their ideas and their energies were limitless,” she said. “Watching them and their creativity was a highlight for me.”