Hooking up can be hard to do. That’s especially true if you’re living with your parents like the majority of young professionals in Latin America. Enter RoomVa, an app that allows young Latin American smartphone users to secure a private room for the night and some “quality” time. It’s Hotels Tonight with an erotic twist.
As they say, sex sells – even in business plan competitions. RoomVa tied for first place with baking mix startup Simple Mills in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’ New Venture Challenge held on May 30. Both teams walked away with $30,000 cash and in-kind prizes, including office space in Chicago’s downtown startup hub 1871.
For RoomVa co-founder Diego Santa Maria (Booth MBA ’14) the New Venture Challenge proved key in getting his idea off the ground. The former McKinsey & Co. consultant came to business school with the intent of starting a business. After comparing notes with other Latin American MBAs, he recognized the lack of private space and robust mom-and-pop hotel industry throughout the region provided a perfect market opportunity.
While most of these hotels are needed on a spur-of-the-moment basis, few have an online presence. “They don’t have access to technology or good advertising,” Santa Maria explains. “You may know one or two hotels you’ve gone to before, but when you arrive there it’s full, so where do you go next? You don’t want to go to a dirty place or one that’s too expensive,” he says.
RoomVa provides photos, descriptions, and customer reviews for more than 600 hotels in one place, so there are no unpleasant surprises. It also allows users to book their rooms an hour in advance. Since launching six weeks ago, the startup has processed 200 reservations. A week after a Peruvian newspaper featured the app, it was downloaded some 1,000 times.
In 2013, RoomVa won Dashfire Launch, a 10-week summer program that selects one MBA team from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management or Booth for a $35,000 award in mentorship and services. Santa Maria and his co-founders Hendrik Chasse (Booth ’14) and Peruvian Mauricio Paiva plan to continue the business after graduation.
Santa Maria’s advice to entrepreneurial MBAs? “To anybody coming into an MBA program with a business idea, using any class they have available to develop the idea would be great because you have your academic requirements, but at the same time you can think in a different perspective about your business,” he says.
Founded in 1996, the New Venture Challenge process spans an entire year and helps MBAs prepare their businesses for launch. It kicks off in the fall with team building and networking; in winter, teams apply to the business or social enterprise classroom round where they perfect their startup ideas for the finals competition in the spring. On May 29, the nine finalist teams in the business track presented their pitches before a panel of judges including entrepreneurs, investors, and venture capitalists for a total of $100,000 in cash prizes.
Autobike, an automated gear for bikes, came in second place; crowd-sourced loan service CreditServe came in third; and HighStride, a personalized training app for runners, came in fourth. Hello Tractor, which rents tractors to Nigerian farmers, took the $30,000-grand prize in the social enterprise track, while Moxie Leadership Academy, which provides summer programming for girls in low-income communities, came in second.