Student Helps Bring Geek Culture Together with Cosmunity App
April 4, 2017
A social networking and marketplace app designed by software engineering junior Zac Cooner is gaining traction with the geek culture community, and he credits UT Dallas with giving him the foundation and freedom to make that success possible.
The Cosmunity app — aimed at the demographic of frequent convention attendees with hobbies including anime, comics, gaming and cosplay — allows users to share pictures, find friends with similar interests, sell memorabilia and learn about new events.
Cooner is co-founder and COO of Cosmunity, which has been featured in TechCrunch and Forbes, which described it as being “innovative for its focus” on this niche. He credits UT Dallas with assisting his career development from its initial phases through today.
“I switched to computer science in my second semester at UT Dallas,” Cooner said. “My first course, Programming Fundamentals, is the lowest-level programming course offered. So it’s fair to say that I received my initial training through UTD.”
Cooner earned an Academic Excellence Scholarship from UT Dallas, and has completed five semesters. For now, he has deferred his enrollment and scholarship to devote himself full time to Cosmunity.
Sarah Stuart, assistant director of UT Dallas’ Academic Excellence Scholarship Program, said that many students benefit from short-term internships or other real-world experience as part of their preparation for entering the workforce.
“A large number of our AES recipients enter UT Dallas with significant amounts of college credit from high school, which often means they are on track for a timely graduation,” Stuart said. “We want to encourage those students to seek out opportunities for professional development by taking advantage of our student-friendly policies.”
The Cosmunity app allows users to share pictures, find friends with similar interests, sell memorabilia and learn about new events.
Cole Egger, Cosmunity CEO and co-founder, pointed to the UT Dallas Seed Fund as another way the University supports ventures like theirs. A program under the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the fund teaches the business of startup venture capital, and provides support through grants and investments. It works hand-in-hand with Blackstone LaunchPad, founded in fall 2016 with a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation as a campus-based entrepreneurship program designed to support and mentor students, staff and alumni.
The Cosmunity team has applied for funding through the program, and has been short-listed as a strong candidate with potential as the fund looks to make its first award.
“Blackstone LaunchPad is committed to helping UT Dallas students and startups have access to the tools, resources and talent they need,” program director Bryan Chambers said. “The UT Dallas Seed Fund is a growing opportunities fund designed to support early stage student and alumni ventures.”
Cooner and Egger believe their app can seize upon an underserved, growing community in a way that mirrors the success of sites like Twitch, aimed at gamers, and Etsy, a marketplace for creative entrepreneurs.
The UT Dallas Seed Fund
The Cosmunity team has applied for funding through the UT Dallas Seed Fund, which invests exclusively in technology startups founded by UTD students, faculty, staff, alumni and other program affiliates. For more information about the fund, go to its website.
“We attended a couple of conventions together, and we felt something was missing in that community. We saw an opportunity to meet that need — that’s where Cosmunity came from,” Egger said. “As we watched how services like Etsy and Twitch exploded, you see that these niche communities have grown to massive numbers.”
Cosmunity is forging a unique path with its all-encompassing nature, according to Cooner.
“Currently, there is no single platform that connects the entire ‘geek’ community,” Cooner said. “Cosmunity is championing the audience — a wonderfully diverse, global melting pot of culture, content and connections — by developing a holistic platform to suit their needs.”
The Cosmunity team has raised $400,000 in initial funding. Cooner emphasized the value of entrepreneurial experience with no safety net as part of his education.
“It’s a much different ballgame to develop a real-world product, connect with your users in a meaningful way, and iterate on feedback, compared to receiving a homework assignment where you have guardrails,” Cooner said. “With Cosmunity, it’s my responsibility to be creative and solve problems on the spot. That’s really helped me develop an acuity for real-world business and development.”
Cooner sees a bright future for Cosmunity — though he is keen on keeping the details to himself.
“We’re focused on helping community members connect with people, maybe not based on mutual friends as on other networks, but tailored more around your interests,” Cooner said. “I’ll leave it at that — I’d like to surprise people with what we have in store.”