As welcome week came to a close, University of Michigan students walked away with free t-shirts, tote bags and other swag. For students looking for more freebies on campus, three students created an app to consolidate and share these activities with student users. The app, called MDex, allows campus community members to post information about upcoming events that offer free food and merchandise. Students who have downloaded the app receive notifications when new events are posted and can see relevant information — including location, time and the freebies offered.
Engineering junior Julius Stuhec, LSA junior Charles Zhong and LSA senior Pranav Thotakura created the app and released it on Aug. 23. In a group interview with The Michigan Daily, Stuhec said they aimed for the app to connect the campus community in a fun and inclusive way.
“Our mission at MDex is to optimize community connections, and we use (freebies on campus) as a vehicle to optimize those connections,” Stuhec said. “There are a lot of resources on campus, and we aim to connect students to them in a free, pre-organized feed. The way we do that is by sourcing (giveaway events) on campus.”
Stuhec and Zhong said their experiences as transfer students inspired the idea of MDex. Zhong said he and Stuhec felt they became part of the campus community through free events.
“We got incubated through the campus learning community, and at the same time, we made other connections through multiple school events,” Zhong said. “But we found that a lot of transfer students and freshmen are struggling in finding these events and resources. So we just decided to create a central hub (of) information to allow these students to find these events and resources.”
Thotakura, Stuhec’s former roommate, said he was inspired to join the duo after missing out on free offerings at other campus events.
“I think (Stuhec) bounced the idea a few times, and I thought it was pretty interesting,” Thotakura said. “It was great to see it grow from a prototype to a fully working model. A lot of the inspiration from it was also us missing free stuff in general. During the (2023 winter semester) we missed the LSA sweatshirt drop, and that was truly a sad time.”
After deciding to make the app, Stuhec said the group set a release date for the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year, which they found difficult to complete.
“We started in March, to learn how to create an app (and) build an app, and took that idea through the summer,” Stuhec said. “Our goal was to launch it for the school year, which was pretty tough because we started in March, and launching an app can range widely. You have to learn a bunch of different items to build an app, but we made it happen.”
Since launching, MDex has received over 1,700 downloads. In an Sept. 12 update on the app’s website, the group claimed to have had over 100 different organizations post information about their events.
In a statement to The Daily, LSA junior Brandon Palomino-Alonso said the app has helped him find food around campus.
“MDex, while still rough around the edges, has become my main source of finding free stuff,” Palomino-Alonso said. “It’s honestly the easiest way to find events. There have been a few cases actually where I was hungry, looked on the app and found some quick grub.”
LSA freshman Ayah Dagher told the Daily she appreciated that the app frequently updates event information.
“The posts are frequently updated and have all the info you need to check it out,” Dagher said. “(It’s) honestly a really great resource, especially on such a large campus.”
Stuhec said he believes the app’s unique way of sourcing campus events sets it apart from other platforms. Rather than adding and finding events manually, the app functions more like a social media platform where organizations can submit information about their events and receive approval to post to a central feed.
“Organizations have the ability to post on our app,” Stuhec said. “There are a lot of different fields they go through (and) it’s really as easy as ordering an Uber ride. You answer a few fields, we verify that your event is legit and once it’s approved it’s posted to the app immediately. Users are instantaneously notified when a new free item drops on the app. Sourcing the free things, that’s the secret sauce of MDex.”
Zhong said the app also gives visibility to smaller organizations and departments whose events may not be as publicized as much as larger events.
“We also want to provide visibility to organizations, including student clubs (and) school events, and also, recently, small local businesses, including local restaurants (and) local stores” Zhong said. “I think all of this stuff is not only good for students using the app but also good for those organizations to make these clubs more well-known to students.”
Though the app just recently released, Stuhec said the creators hope current student users will tell others about it.
“If we build a good product for students, it will snowball through the community and more students will join,” Stuhec said. “Our main focus right now is less on marketing and more so on building the best possible product that we can have for students, especially first-years and transfer students.”
As the group looks forward, Stuhec said they’re working on implementing feature requests from users.
“In terms of feedback, we’re receiving a high (number of) requests that people want more customized and filtered feeds,” Stuhec said. “We’re working on an update that will probably launch sometime soon that will allow students to customize their feeds to their interests (and) majors. That is probably one of the biggest requests that we’ve gotten thus far and so we are working on developing that.”
Stuhec said the group has plans to push their product to campuses nationwide. They’ve registered themselves as a business under the name FreeDex LLC, which Stuhec said will be the future name of the app once it leaves the University.
“We would like to expand to every campus in the (United States),” Stuhec said. “That’s our short but long-term goal after we have a solid product here at (the University), just to expand this community of MDex users all across the U.S. and hopefully connect students cross-campus. We have some ideas of how we want to approach that and that could be really exciting.”
Daily Staff Reporter Joshua Nicholson can be reached at email@example.com.