If you are the parent of a college student, or if you are a college student yourself, you know just how expensive the university experience can be. When it comes to cost, sometimes it’s enough to make you want to cry out, “hey, throw me a bone here!”
Enter RoverTown, a growing St. Louis startup that, in fact, incorporates the slogan, “throwin’ you bones” into its distinctive light blue dog bone logo and other literature. The “bones” concept is prominently displayed all around the company’s offices, located in the T-Rex technology incubator building in downtown St. Louis.
RoverTown is a student discount program, and using it is about as easy as it gets. More than a million students at 70 colleges and universities across the country have already downloaded the RoverTown mobile app on their smartphones. They simply click on the app, select their home university from a scrolling list, then surf through coupons offered by dozens of local retailers. Then, they display the coupon at the point and time of purchase. Retailers scan a bar code embedded in the coupon and voila – the deal is done.
St. Louis University, Washington University, St. Louis Community College, the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses of Southern Illinois University, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis are among the local institutions of higher learning that have signed on to the program, which, co-founder Jeffry Harrison says, has it all over RoverTown’s two biggest competitors, The Campus Special and University Directories. That’s because both competitors are paper based – and bring with their products all the hassles of storing coupons, remembering to have a coupon book with you at all times, and the aggravation of expiration dates.
RoverTown’s users need only remember to bring their smart phones with them when shopping – the entire transaction at each retail establishment is paperless.
Harrison says the idea behind RoverTown came from many late night “white board” session between himself and co-founders Mike Philip and Mike Rzeznik. Mike and Mike were students at SIU Carbondale, while Jeffry was attending SIU Edwardsville. Harrison met Philip and and Rzeznik while all three were touring the SIU Research Park in 2011.
The three envisioned an alliance as a great opportunity to partner as sister schools: Harrison brought RoverTown to the SIUE campus, where it became a huge success in 2012.
RoverTown relocated to St. Louis after winning an Arch Grant in 2013, and Harrison notes, were it not for that award, his company likely would be located in Chicago, since RoverTown also was a winner of a non-monetary award in that city. Chicago’s loss was St. Louis’s gain. “Arch Grants has been a game changer for our company,” notes Harrison, whose company now boasts of 7 employees, but will soon grow employment to nine with the hiring of marketing manager and a coder, who will be brought aboard under the recently announced LaunchCode project initiated by St. Louis entrepreneur Jim McKelvey.
Visitors to the RoverTown offices are wowed by the display that Harrison calls up on his laptop computer – the one that provides data on every log on, and every transaction that is being made in the Rovertown system – all in real time. With the company’s RoverLink software, businesses that participate in the program can also get real time data on each and every RoverTown transaction conducted in their stores – a valuable commodity in helping them determine just how much “bang for the buck” they’re realizing from the program.
Jeffry Harrison will be Charlie Brennan’s guest on KMOX Radio in St. Louis (1120 on the AM dial, or at kmox.com) on Tuesday, September 10 at 10:50am, part of a series on St. Louis innovative startups facilitated by InnoVox STL