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J.D. Brown Center partnership with startup Episo gives Engineering and Computer Science students design and development experience

YCP Engineering JD Brown Center
From left, Professor Don Hake, Rob Jones, Dan Reightneour (back), Alexander "Smitty" Smith, Mat Jones.

A team of four York College of Pennsylvania students from the Engineering and Computer Science Department is working on a special project that fulfills more than a class requirement: They’re the first group of its kind at York College to build a video-based web platform for a real client.

Alexander “Smitty” Smith, Mat Jones, Rob Jones and Dan Reightneour make up the squad. Smitty is a junior in Computer Engineering. The others are juniors in Computer Science.

A startup called Episo will present the platform to Drexel University’s film school as well as other universities later this semester.

It’s a chance for York College to showcase some of its work to a few of the country’s biggest technology schools.

The right team for the job

The four students first put their minds together at York College’s inaugural hackathon, YCP Hacks. It was in those late nights at the Yorktowne Hotel that they discovered they worked well together.

“It’s tough to find a team that syncs up as well as these students have done,” says Don Hake, a York College instructor in the Computer Science program, who selected the students based on their exemplary performance in his Software Engineering course.

They also seemed like the perfect fit for one of Hake’s professional contacts.

Greg Sampson, who works at Red Lion Controls and has provided work experience opportunities for York College students, came to Hake when a new startup venture needed development but didn’t have the funding to get off the ground.

“We knew right away the students who would be perfect to take on this project,” Hake says. “They each had done something special for their Software Engineering projects that demonstrated they could handle the heavy workload and were up for the challenge.”

A partnership based on innovation

Marnechia “Marnie” Alexander was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania when she developed the idea for Episo (short for Episode).

She was assisting a Channel 6 ABC producer during an internship when they stopped in a content storage room. She wondered what happened to all the content after it ended up in that space.

The producer’s answer: Nothing.

Marnie conducted some extensive market research and found a void in the market.

She wanted a solution for media companies to acquire “novel” content. She also wanted to help content creators get discovered.

That's when she formed Episo.

Marnie says the opportunity to have York College students develop Episo's platform seemed like the perfect fit.

“I could not help but to think about how Nike and Toms had started by hiring and bringing on students and interns, respectively. We all know the level of success of each of the companies,” she says. “I am amazed by how the students interact with one another and share how they envision the process and flow of Episo.”

Experience that helps students stand out

J.D. Brown Center Executive Director Jeff Vermeulen recognizes the partnership's benefit.

"The experience students gain working with early stage ventures is valuable,” he says. “They apply their education in the real world, fast-paced startup environment. Often, they’re shoulder to shoulder with the founders and decision makers."

In fact, Sampson, Hake and the Episo team were brainstorming on the underlying structure of the website. It’s just one of several meetings where the founder, faculty and students could collaborate in the Kinsley Engineering Center’s Senior Design room, a space dedicated to these types of projects.

It can embolden the students, too, Vermeulen says.

“It inspires students to seek their own entrepreneurial path, creating a job for themselves doing something they love,” he says. “Or, they learn how to create value for themselves in the context of working for an existing company."

‘The next big thing’

The project is one the team didn’t even think to pass up.

“As soon as I saw the opportunity,” Smitty says, “I knew there might not be another one like it.”

They each bring something unique to the process.

Mat handles the design, domain and classifications used on the backend. Smitty designs the website and maintains page links. Rob works on the video player. Dan manages server storage.

More than anything, they agree, they’re “learning how to learn.” They aren’t afraid to ask questions or voice suggestions.

The team recently presented the work they’ve done so far on the project, and they are far exceeding Sampson and Alexander’s expectations for how quickly and professionally the work would be done.

“We’re creating something from the ground up,” Mat says. “It’s pretty incredible to think we’re part of something that didn’t exist before. Our whole careers could be about making the next big thing.”