A couple years ago, Nicholas Creegan was trying to order a beer overseas.
He didn’t speak much of the local language, and the waiter didn’t speak English. And Creegan didn’t recognize the names of any of the beers on the menu.
“So I found myself using very simple, descriptive words, and that resulted in me picking a beer that was exactly what I would have wanted to order,” he said.
That idea — using terms like hoppy, light, dark or fruity to sort beer — grew into a plan for an app that could crowd source beer recommendations and help people discover new brews.
And now that idea is the winner of the $3,500 top prize at the University of Richmond’s business pitch competition.
Creegan, a senior from Boston, is developing the Taps app with Dillon Kerr, a friend from home who is a senior at Connecticut College. They plan to continue development when they’re both home next month during the holidays, with the hope of launching a beta version early next year for testing among local users.
“We don’t want to release the app until we have a big database,” he said.
The app will let a user plug in a variety of terms commonly used to describe beer. If the person typed in “dark, dry-roasted and malty,” the app will refine its results with each word that is added, and might suggest the user try Guinness, an Irish stout.
If the user likes Guinness and wants to try a similar beer, the system will suggest ones with similar characteristics — say, the Dark Starr Stout from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet.
“Our goal is to add the ability to geolocate,” Creegan said. “If a fan of Strangeways (Brewing) goes out west, we’d like him to see beers that match what they like from Strangeways.”
Charles Merritt, chief marketing officer of Knox Payments, served as a judge for the contest, which was held two weeks ago.
“Nick articulated a product that could definitely become a scalable business and one day expand beyond simply serving those of us who want to taste a new brew,” Merritt said. “His concept also demonstrated the potential for creation of new underlying technologies with their own applications outside of his business.”
Second place in the contest went to Eliza Breed and Brooke Wilson, who will split $1,000. They developed an online dating app called The Look that is designed with women in mind.
Third place and $500 was awarded to Killian McGiboney. His concept, Future by Drones, wants to showcase high school athletes by filming them with drone-based video cameras.
The other judges for the contest were Kevin Passarello, chief operating officer of Pong Research Corp., and Bryan Bostic, founder of 2B Technologies and Smartbox.
Creegan said he hopes the app helps beer drinkers broaden their horizons and discover options, whether in a bar or at the store.
“There are so many options in the beer world as a whole, and especially in craft beef,” he said. “The idea is to create a way to explore.”