Student Startup Madness

Student Startup Madness

Student Startup Madness (SSM), a national tournament-style competition for college student digital media startups, announced earlier this month that 64 startup teams from across the nation made it to the first round of the competition.

Six teams from Syracuse University are among them.

According to the SSM official website, competition culminates with the “Entrepreneurial Eight” national finals at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. Ultimately, on March 16, those eight teams will pitch at SWSX during the Interactive Events for the title of SSM National Champion.

(Latebreaking Note: the “Entrepreneurial Eight” have just been announced.)

All of the teams must be digital media ventures to stay consistent with the focus of SXSW, a series of film, interactive, and music festivals held every spring in Austin, TX.

Last year, Platypus TV, a startup from Syracuse University, made it to this elite group, proudly representing our campus. (To learn more about their experiences, visit their article on IDEA, an on-campus organization targeted to provide the necessary resources and connections for young ideas and startups.)

The Six SU Teams

Of the 64, the six in this phase of competition from SU are: Contact, CUSELIGHT, HoundDog, Out There Productions, S.R.T.E.X., and Ulocal.

We will be taking closer looks at some of these teams over the next couple of weeks. For additional information now, you can visit IDEA‘s spread on Student Startup Madness and on HoundDog!

Introducing HoundDog


David Kern

David Kern

Max Doblin

Max Doblin


Max Doblin, Co-Founder, CEO

David Kern, Co-Founder, Head of Operations



What: A mobile discovery platform that facilitates experiences and interactions between brands and consumers through social scavenger hunts.

Where: Syracuse University

When: Fall 2015

The Problem: Co-founders Max and David shared the central problem they addressed:

… consumers have developed an immunity against advertisements, which has forced brands to shift advertising tactics to be more creative, authentic, organic, and native. From pop-up blockers to mute buttons and premium services, Millennials have figured out ways to avoid traditional methods of advertising at all costs. HoundDog provides a platform for brands to connect with consumers in more interactive, engaging, community-based, competitive, and rewarding ways.”

Who’s Behind HoundDog?

Co-founders Max and David started out as close friends, meeting their freshman year at SU. Both share a keen interest for advertising and business as dual majors in  the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and in the Whitman School of Management. Max focuses on creative advertising in fields such as copywriting and strategy, while David has an emphasis in advertising management in fields, such as client acquisition, management, and relationship development. Combined, the pair share an interesting and unique combination of skills and interests that truly make this startup a standout.

Through studies both inside and outside the classroom, and through HoundDog, Max and David show that they fully understand the history and development of advertising through the digital era, as well as millennial consumers. They share:

Advertising isn’t about selling, it’s about building brand loyalty and introducing brands to consumers. While many have been taught the three main purposes of advertising to be persuade, inform and remind, we consider a fourth key purpose – engage. Engagement isn’t just a buzzword, it’s the brand’s ability to initiate and hold a two-way conversation with a consumer.”

Typical Business Days

Currently for HoundDog, there is no set schedule or typical business day. One thing for certain, the pair are keeping the exciting lifestyle of a startup while they are finishing their last semester as students. The team may start a day with a set schedule and a long to-do list, only to have it interrupted by spontaneous meetings and phone calls. Fortunately, these interruptions often benefit the business in one way or another, making up for the lost time.

In my opinion, getting through long days and crazy 60-hour weekly schedules show the determination and passion the co-founders share for their company. These characteristics also show future sponsors and employees how much the startup is more than only a company or a source of income; it is a product of innovation and engagement of ideas.

dog nose

Why the Name?

What exactly is HoundDog? And what does it do? Max and David share their vision for their company:

We wanted to create a name that was ambiguous to a degree, but would make sense once understood. The name of the business roots from hound dogs, which are types of dogs that assist hunters by tracking or chasing an animal being hunted. If you flip that in a more friendly way, it makes sense, because HoundDog’s users essentially hunt for clues and rewards.”

The pair present tremendous attention to detail while managing to maintain their mysterious aura. HoundDog is certainly intriguing and captures your immediate interest, making you eager to learn more and join the hunt.

How Does it Work?

Alongside the mobile app, users sign up for what I like to call a modern-day scavenger hunt. Brands can set up the following tasks for users to accomplish and complete in a hunt:
– GPS check-ins
– hidden QR-code scans
– user-generated content
– shares on social media
– trivia questions
– integrated branded content

Typical ideas and tactics of e-commerce and advertising are essentially gamified, which is the process of applying “game philosophies” and “game mechanics” through ordinary contexts to promote problem solving skills and engagement.

These tactics help brands garner loyalty, welcome and engage new consumers, and generate buzz in the social space through a stronger online presence.

While the ultimate goals may be similar to current company marketing strategies, this approach is completely different. Instead of forcing potential customers to view advertisements on social media, HoundDog encourages users to search for more information about a particular company through attractive incentives. Brands then reward consumers with new experiences, purchasing rights, early releases, free products, and/or discounts in unique ways.

HoundDog’s Experience in SSM

Taking part in Student Startup Madness has opened opportunities for the startup, significantly increasing their network. The team made it to the first Round of 64; then advanced further to join the Round of 32. That’s an honorable feat and the title will bring more connections down the road. More specifically, competitions such as SSM provide valuable experiences and practice as the pair perfect their pitch and gradually gain more and more confidence as business owners.

What’s Next for HoundDog?

The team is continuously working on developing its mobile app, competing in other business competitions, and developing more local hunts.

In the next couple of months, HoundDog will be holding hunts on the Syracuse campus. Currently, awesome brands are interested in sponsoring what Max and David call “micro-hunts.” These hunts are on a first-come, first-serve basis with a limited number of participation spots. Interested students should send their contact information to:

Startups on any university campus have dedicated students that are both full-time students and full-time employees as young, entrepreneurs. Want to learn more about HoundDog or how you can join a scavenger hunt? Leave your comments below!