published Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Local developers intensify app buzz

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    Tim Shults, a Chattanooga-based developer, released Lokewl, a website and smart phone app that shows where discounts are in the Chattanooga area, with the help of local event 48Hour Launch.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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Whenever Boyd Patterson, an assistant district attorney, finds a moment between prosecuting bad guys and wrangling juries, he buries himself in his new mobile startup, Litigator Technology.

The Hamilton County prosecutor who recently made headlines for his dogged pursuit of an allegedly negligent health care worker, found the traditional method of jury selection a bit clunky.

It starts with the laborious job of selecting a 12-man jury from hundreds of candidates. The paperwork-intensive process usually requires several packs of sticky notes, a handful of flimsy file folders and a lot of patience, he said.

So he created an app for that -- JuryStar.

For $40, JuryStar for the Apple iPad replaces Patterson's post-it notes with an intuitive interface that organizes jury selection questions, stores biographical information and even keeps track of who's sitting where in the courtroom.

"Everyone is an expert in something, and there's still a wide-open market for apps," said Patterson, CEO of Litigator Technology. "You don't need to have a lot of money, and for this you can do it in Chattanooga."

APP CRAZE

He's not the only Chattanooga resident to catch the software bug.

Chattanoogans from all walks of life are turning to application development to make money, solve a problem or just to have fun.

"It doesn't matter where you are," Patterson said. "In the realm of ideas, one person can make a difference."

If even a few of the millions of Apple faithful decide to purchase an app, the financial rewards can be huge.

That's what drew Robert Dykes III and his father, Robert Dykes Jr., to sink thousands into developing a photo organizer.

The elder Dykes, who runs a kitchen and bath supply store in Siloam Springs, Ark., worked with his son, a Chattanooga paramedic, to conceptualize FotoLinc.

The 99-cent app sorts photos as users shoot them, saving customers the task of going back and retroactively tagging pictures.

"I keep a lot of photographs for work, and I got sick of switching between programs," the elder Dykes said.

It cost them $6,500 to develop the app -- relatively inexpensive in a market where some apps can cost more than $50,000 to create -- and they could end up spending as much as $15,000 when upgrades are factored in.

That means they'll need more than 15,000 users to download the program before they turn a profit.

But that's just one of many concerns for the first-time developers, who seem to enjoy the father-son time as much as the prospect of profitability.

"Everything is a challenge, but it's been fun working with my son," the elder Dykes said.

LIFTOFF

The Dykeses performed most of the research and work on their own, but other developers have taken advantage of Chattanooga organizations that help entrepreneurs ship their first product.

Informal gatherings such as 48Hour Launch, loosely organized by a consortium of nonprofit groups such as Company Lab and Create Here, have helped propel concepts such as Lokewl -- a site that offers local deals from area retailers -- from concept to product.

Tim Shults, co-founder of Lokewl, said he hopes to turn a profit next year as his subscriber base ramps up to 3,000 by the first quarter of 2012 and more merchants sign up to offer deals.

"We're not a typical daily deal site; we're more about everyday deals," Shults said.

His free iPhone app functions similarly to Groupon, but with a focus on Chattanooga-area merchants.

"This will always be our home base, but we are looking to expand to different markets," he added.

Shults developed his business plan with help from Sheldon Grizzle, founder of the Company Lab, and with input from other entrepreneurs in the area that form a sort of high-tech support group.

"I've been wanting to do something like this for a while, I just haven't had an avenue or a kick in the pants to get this up," Shults said.

Of course, creating an app is the easy part. Turning an idea into a viable source of income takes more work, as Chattanooga's app pioneers are finding out.

"We put on several different hats, from accountant to marketing to development to user care and merchant care," Shults said. "We had no clue how much work was still ahead of us."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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