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Alumni entrepreneurs hope Facebook app makes a ‘Splash’

Northeastern graduates Sean Naegeli and Lyle Stevens founded Apifia, a business that develops web apps such as SplashScore, which connects influential social network users with businesses.. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

As students at Northeastern, Lyle Stevens and Sean Naegeli filled notebooks with one business idea after another, planning their future careers as entrepreneurs before they even graduated.

Today, the two alumni — Stevens graduated in 2009 with a business administration degree and concentrations in entrepreneurship and management information systems, and Naegeli graduated in 2011 with a degree in industrial engineering — are moving those ideas from paper to practice.

The duo recently founded Apifia, a web-based social application development company. The young entrepreneurs are currently developing their first venture for Apifia called SplashScore, a Facebook application that measures online social influence and pairs leading users with companies that want to promote their businesses.

Stevens and Naegeli received financial support for Apifia from IDEA: Northeastern’s Venture Accelerator, which helps students and alumni create, develop and accelerate new businesses through coaching, mentoring and gap funding. To date, the program has awarded more than $130,000.

Stevens, Apifia’s CEO, described the logic behind SplashScore: “We’re finding the big fish in the small pond,” he explained. “The users with the highest scores are the ones who already go online and talk about a good movie they’ve seen or a great new product they’ve tried.

“They’re already talking, people are already listening and now we’re helping connect businesses to these influential users.”

SplashScore, he said, turns Facebook posts, “likes” and comments into a game, rewarding more active and influential users with a higher score. The application, which ends its beta-testing phase later this year, enables companies to identify the highest-rated users, who they can then target for their promotional giveaways, such as free movie tickets or discounted sneakers.

The incentive for the companies is that SplashScore’s highest-rated users will generate buzz via word-of-mouth. “The users with the highest scores are the ones who not only post about what they’re interested in and what they’re doing, but start conversations and influence their friends and followers, too,” said Naegeli, Apifia’s chief operations officer.

SplashScore users are not obligated to make positive comments about the products or promotions they receive, said Stevens, “but if our users get a good product or see a good movie, they’re going to talk about it to a big, engaged audience.”

Stevens and Naegeli hope that Apifia — a hybrid word that combines “app,” “epiphany” and “idea” — will grow into a larger venture and serve as a springboard for more interactive web apps like SplashScore.

They’ll be busy trying to find ways to carve out time to grow Apifia. Stevens is an enterprise IT project manager at Raytheon and Naegeli is a member of the business transformation team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“Apifia is something we think is only going to grow,” Naegeli said. “We think we’ve found a great place in the market to create a really strong business.”