Penn State-founded app to relaunch, offer users easier access to pick-up sports

Patrick O’Connor, Dilanka Dharmasena and Farabi Sameer created the app First Pick, which helps users find pick up sports to play around the Penn State campus.
Patrick O’Connor, Dilanka Dharmasena and Farabi Sameer created the app First Pick, which helps users find pick up sports to play around the Penn State campus.

Farabi Sameer prefers doing work with his feet. An avid soccer player, he can be found on the west fields of Penn State’s campus most Fridays, playing pick-up games with friends.

But Sameer and two of his peers have nimble fingers, too. Together they’re set to relaunch their pick-up sports app, First Pick, on April 18. The app’s premise? With a few taps of a screen, users can spend more time at their game of choice rather than on their phones.

“Organization is much smoother,” Sameer, 20, said. “Something that should take five minutes can take five hours through something like WhatsApp or GroupMe because you’re constantly texting.”

Launched last summer, First Pick simplifies the experience of finding games to play around campus. According to the founders, Sameer, along with Dilanka Dharmasena and Patrick O’Connor, the app cuts out the spam found on other social apps such as Facebook or GroupMe. A single notification sent in the morning is all it takes to put cleats on the ground and boot the waiting game to the sidelines.

The best part? You only get notified, Sameer said, if you want to go to the game.

“You’re not getting crazy notifications throughout the day for things that are irrelevant,” he said.

With the relaunch, new features have been added such as a chat function and a space for private contests — or groups dedicated to games among friends or acquaintances. Logins via Twitter or a phone number have been added. The user interface has been redesigned from scratch.

The previous app had about 500 users and closed in January. Sameer said games were being organized through it almost daily.

“It’s a much cleaner design than before,” Sameer said.

The update will also feature a map functionality — a boon for adjusting freshmen or anyone who still gets lost on Penn State’s more than 8,500-acre campus. For those looking for immediate gratification, there’s a feed of user-created games going on in the moment. It is pick-up sports, after all.

The relaunch did not come without challenges. For Sameer, a junior in aerospace engineering, balancing both schoolwork and the startup is a complicated process, he said. To help, the three founders have since added a group of interns majoring in computer science, including Dan Patterson, Joe Macdonald, Steven Weber, Steven Gshwind and Ishaan Diwan. In marketing the app, they’ve reached out to Happy Valley Communications, a student-run public relations group.

The next steps involve expansion. Because it’s being launched a few weeks before summer break, Sameer and his co-founders are targeting those doing internships outside of State College. When the team returns in the fall, the next move is to decide if they want to expand city by city or campus by campus.

But with the latest relaunch, they’re staying on their toes. Just the way Sameer likes it.

“Sports is the one of the best ways to meet new people,” he said. “So when you go to your internship, why not use First Pick so you can play sports you like and end up making new friends in a different city? That’s one of the things we’re stressing.”

New beginnings abound for Bellefonte ultrasound business

She waves a magic wand and what was once invisible materializes into being. For families, it’s an enchanting trick of light, sound and wonder.

Jennifer Miller is neither Houdini, nor is she opening the next Hogwarts. But her new venture, dubbed Hide and Seek Prenatal Peek, pulls off a piece of modern sorcery. The elective ultrasound business gives expecting parents an early look at their baby’s chubby cheeks among other features that are beginning to take shape.

“Everybody wants that amazing bonding moment,” Miller said. “This is something that I think is planting those seeds.”

The business opened on Wednesday at 610 Willowbank St. in Bellefonte and will host a grand opening at noon on April 22. Miller credited the Penn State Small Business Development Center and small business consulting nonprofit SCORE in getting the business started.

Elective ultrasounds have become more mainstream as technologies advance and the images produced become clearer. Typically costing about $75 for a basic look at the baby and its gender, they can reach up to $300 or more for longer sessions complete with 3-D color images, stuffed animals with recordings of the baby’s heartbeat and more.

Yet they’re not a proxy for prenatal care from a licensed obstetrician-gynecologist or physician, a requirement for interested clients. Miller, who is registered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, said any concerns should be discussed with one’s doctor.

Hide and Seek’s services are by appointment only. Interested parties can schedule times via the business’s website or Facebook page.

“For the families, it really hits home for them,” she said. “People think it’s cute, but it’s way deeper than that: It’s the beginning of this deep bonding.”

Whiskey maker’s dream bottled again after closure

For Dick Griffin, the process of making whiskey is an art form. It was a lifelong dream realized in April 2016 when his Milesburg business, Griffin Whiskey, opened and others got to taste the old family recipe, one he had carried with him for more than 50 years.

But due to the health reasons, Griffin, 70, had to close the 517 Dell St. distillery in August. A fight with stomach cancer ended up in an extended recovery period. There wasn’t enough momentum, he said, to keep the business running under the added duress.

The equipment is still theirs. The corporation is intact. But “I just can’t do it physically,” he said. According to Griffin, who opened the craft distillery with two of his children, he had customers from as far as California try “Uncle Lum’s,” named for Griffin’s uncle Columbus who taught the younger Griffin how to clean a still and bootleg with the best of them way back when.

“We had a good business, I enjoyed Milesburg a lot,” he said. “I don’t know, I think we might have just fallen victim to the small business plague.”

There’s a sliver of hope for a revival. Griffin said since the parts are in place, he may try to reopen the business in a year’s time, but that it’s unlikely.

The quaint distillery was his fifth business. His dream, at first deferred, then realized, remains tucked inside the clear, corked bottles bearing his uncle’s nickname.

Though it’s bottled up again, he lived it. For Griffin, that’s enough.

“I learned my craft when I was about 15 years old,” he said. “I don’t think I make a whiskey the same way everybody else does, and I don’t think I ever could.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy