With the knowledge of how to run a business well
on its way, the next step was to nail down the big idea.
After discussions with some business and programming
friends, Helgerson felt he had a strong idea with practical
application. The idea: a simple app to alert individuals
of vacant seats in a movie theatre. Using near–field
communication (NFC), the app would allow movie
theatre patrons the ability to see which seats were
taken based on a phone’s proximity to that seat.
If there was an NFC capable phone in the seat,
then the seat would be marked as taken on
“So I began to think. What if we used
NFC to distribute pertinent information
to universities instead? And that’s
when the light bulb went off,”
With a sound idea and
knowledge of the market,
Helgerson felt he had the
core of the application
figured out. However,
there was one key
from this dream, and that was a seasoned programmer to put
it all together.
Enter Naveen Rokkam – a computer science graduate
student at USD.
Placing in the 98th percentile on his international exams,
Rokkam could have gone to any of the top 20 colleges in the
United States. However, it seemed to be fate that brought
Rokkam to the University of South Dakota.
Already successful in his homeland of India, Rokkam
was responsible for a $5 million project and the head of an
18–person team working for technology company, SAP. But
his heart was with his wife, who was completing her graduate
degree in health administration at USD. Deciding it was
time to come to the United States to be with her, Rokkam
essentially created an algorithm for himself out of parameters
he found to be particularly pertinent to his college search. Of
these parameters were “most entrepreneurial friendly” and
“most innovative from an entrepreneurial perspective.” South
Dakota seemed to be the perfect fit.
“The Midwest was my target region,” Rokkam said. “I
researched the most entrepreneur friendly states and states
that are spearheading entrepreneurship. South Dakota topped
After speaking with a few USD professors, Rokkam was
sold. He decided to forego his interviews from the likes of
Duke and Penn State, and elected to continue his education
at USD. It was spring break 2015 when Rokkam received an
email from a man he had never heard of, somebody he would
later find to be one of his closest associates.
“In sort of a last ditch effort, I sent out an email to a
bunch of programmers, and out of all the responses, Naveen’s
response piqued my interest the most,” Helgerson explained.
When the two met, Rokkam told Helgerson that not
only what he was trying to do was possible, he also expressed
enthusiasm for the project and offered many ways to make the
idea more efficient.
With consultation from Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D.,
dean of the Beacom School of Business, and assistance from