Jenny Liu, 20, and Kevin Modzelewski, 20 / Eclectyk
At MIT, Prof. Hal Abelson’s classes have gained cult-like status because of his award-winning work in computation. One of the requirements in his mobile-applications class is that students come up with a viable business plan. The idea that rose to the top of the heap this year: a pitch by Jenny Liu and Kevin Modzelewski for a mobile wallet.
“We see replacing a user’s wallet with a phone,” Liu explains. “We want to take the wallet out of the picture entirely so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of taking out all your cards and looking for the right one.”
It sounded easy enough-all consumers had to do was place their phone over an RFID reader at the cash register-but their idea presented some challenges. Namely, how do you consolidate and organize all the different cards that people carry into one application that works on the phone? And what sort of security do you guarantee the user? The partners spent the better part of two semesters coming up with solutions, and were asked to demonstrate their application-called Eclectyk-at the NFC Developers Summit in Monaco in April. (NFC stands for Near Field Communication, a technology that Nokia among others is trying to promote.)
But as important as it was to develop the software, much of Eclectyk’s future will depend on whether RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) takes off. Not widely prevalent, it is slowly gaining wider acceptance at retail shops. Commercial outlets such as 7-Eleven, CVS, Petco, and McDonald’s are beginning to use RFID scanners at their cash registers.
For now, they don’t yet have any funding or revenues. Liu and Modzelewski are trying to build business relationships, as getting companies to use Eclectyk will determine the success or failure of the application. “If I knew how complicated it would be to navigate a business in a space dominated by large network operators and banks, I probably would never have attempted to take this further than a class project,” says Modzelewski.