After tirelessly scrolling through Virginia Tech’s carpooling Facebook group in search of a ride home, Qasim Wani, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering, realized just how inefficient this 20-30 minute process truly was. With experience designing his previous apps and extensive help from the APEX Entrepreneurship Center, Wani decided to develop an app, HitchHiqe, to aid students’ search for long distance carpooling rides to and from Blacksburg.
Production and app development began in May of 2019. Wani spent around 1,500 hours working on HitchHiqe in which he said, “There were a lot of challenges when you’re building something from just an idea on a white board … and sometimes it feels like it doesn’t work. Sometimes I feel like I’m too young to just do it all by myself, but you find a way out.”
Wani, however, hasn’t spent this entire process completely alone. He received a Facebook notification from fellow Hokie Sai Gurrapu early on in HitchHiqe’s production in which Gurrapu expressed interest in helping Wani develop the app. He can also attribute some of his success to Virginia Tech’s APEX Center and its help with funding and marketing. Wani first came into contact with APEX at its kickstarter event in 2018 in which he struck up a conversation with a presenter about the possibilities of virtual reality. It was here that Wani started on the path of app development that eventually guided him toward his most recent app, HitchHiqe.
The app is designed to sort through the most relevant carpooling offers on Facebook and collect them on one platform so that Virginia Tech students can find rides home without having to go through every single Facebook post and message multiple people. The app saves students around 20 to 30 minutes in the process. Wani built the beta version of HitchHiqe in just three weeks. They then sent the beta version to Facebook and other companies to receive feedback regarding the app.
They eventually equipped this efficient system with precautions designed to ensure the safety of Virginia Tech student drivers and passengers. “The algorithms include screening for drivers so not anyone can be a driver for HitchHiqe unless they have a registered vehicle,” Wani said. “In order to register in HitchHiqe, you need to have an ‘edu’ account (as well).”
There are also safety concerns about the Facebook group that the creation of the app hopes to address.
“We actually got an email from one of the moderators from the VT parent’s group who said Facebook isn’t very secure for our kids, and we would like to endorse you (on our) platform,” Wani said, explaining the positive results of the app’s safety precautions.
Wani also received aid after pitching his idea at Hackathon at MIT last semester. The response at MIT was overwhelmingly positive. “We talked to one of the people there, and we have been in touch with them ever since; they have been really helpful,” Wani said. A couple of the features from HitchHiqe have come from their work at MIT and with Watson AI, a computer system developed by IBM capable of answering questions using AI and other analytical software.
The app has grown extremely fast; Virginia Tech has had 300 users who have driven over 8,000 miles while using the app. Wani intends to expand HitchHiqe to other schools; plans are in stone to expand to UVA and Radford by the end of February. “It’s popular here, and people really like it so we want to make sure that it is ubiquitous everywhere else,” Wani said.
Not only will HitchHiqe gain new locations, but it’s looking to expand its team as well. The Pamplin College of Business hosted an event in late January in which student startups and local businesses could recruit students. HitchHiqe currently is in the process of interviewing applicants for various engineering and marketing positions at the company in order to sustain the app’s growth.
Wani has also entered HitchHiqe in Pamplin’s Entrepreneurship Challenge later this month in which he is a semifinalist for the $40,000 prize in order to fund the app’s expansion and perhaps the monetization of the app in general. The app, as of now, is free of charge; the drivers set their own prices and make 100% of the profit. In the future, HitchHiqe may be structured in such a way that the app will charge an additional 10% from the rider.
“In the current age, carpooling has become more popular while long distance carpooling still isn’t that popular,” Wani said. “Hopefully, we can leverage today’s technology and make it safer for all students.”