Nonprofit going mobile with help from local firm

A screenshot of the mobile app.

A screenshot of the mobile app.

A Richmond-based college advising program is getting its first mobile app developed for free after winning a local nonprofit’s inaugural contest.

App development company NS804 is contributing upwards of $100,000 worth of services to develop an app for locally based Great Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), which was named the winner of a contest organized by NS804, Commonwealth PR and nonprofit communications service ConnectVA.

NS804 founder Nick Jones and his team are working on the prototype and hope to have the finished version ready by September.

Jones partnered with Brian Chandler of Commonwealth PR and Liz Lungut of ConnectVA to organize and promote the contest. Chandler had previously provided public relations work to NS804, and Jones was referred to Lungut and ConnectVA via social media.

“I figured giving my time was the best way to give back, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” Jones said. “That’s where Brian and Liz really came in.”

Seventeen area nonprofits applied for the contest, including the Richmond Ballet, WCVE-FM Community Ideas Station and the Virginia MS Society. Those 17 were vetted by Jones, Chandler and Lungut, with the NS804 staff picking the winner after finalists were chosen. Jones said none of the applicants have mobile apps.

To enter the contest, the nonprofits submitted three-minute videos shot on mobile devices explaining their missions. GRASP, the winning organization, complements in-school advisors by assigning college counselors to 72 high schools in the state.

More than 7,000 high school juniors and seniors currently participate in the GRASP program. GRASP coordinators wanted an app to help remind students of upcoming college counseling appointments and deadlines. In addition to those functions, Jones is designing the app to be used by parents and students entering their freshmen year of high school to chat with counselors, keep tabs on their top colleges and apply for scholarships.

“I’ve learned just as much about this (college application) process as the kids we’re designing the app for,” said Jones, a father of three.

While it’s still being developed, Jones and Chandler estimated that NS804 will spend between $100,000 and $175,000 in human capital and server costs to build and host GRASP’s app. Jones built a new database for GRASP to better leverage the app’s capabilities and will update the app for future mobile operating systems.

“They will not incur a single cost for this application, ever,” Jones said.

Jones and his team are building the iOS app on Apple’s Swift programming language. They are using Java for the Android version.

The nonprofits not chosen to receive NS804’s services this round can reenter for a future contest. Jones said he hopes to run two iterations of the contest each year.

Lungut, of ConnectVA, lauded NS804’s efforts to put the contest together.

“This is exactly what we need in the nonprofit community,” Lungut said.

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