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Students Prove Their High-Tech Prowess with Bump

David Lieb and Jake Mintz, first-year students in the Full-Time MBA Program, have grabbed headlines everywhere from television to techie magazines to the New York Times with the introduction of Bump, an application that lets iPhone users exchange contact information with the bump of a hand. Instantly popular, it became the number-one free apps for social networking on the iPhone app store by the end of April.

To make it work, both users open the application on their phones, then bump their hands together gently. “You can transfer all your contact info — phone numbers, email address, website. The whole process takes less than 10 seconds,” said Lieb.

Lieb cofounded Bump Technologies LLC this spring with Mintz and Andy Huibers. Lieb and Huibers had come up with the idea as engineers at Texas Instruments. “In 2005 when I was working as an engineer at TI, I met some new colleagues and thought, I wish there were a way to automate contact info exchange, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it using the mobile phones we had in 2005,” Lieb said.

In 2008, he came to Chicago Booth, where he met Mintz, a fellow TI engineer he and Huibers had not met before. Lieb said, ”I found myself entering lots of phone numbers again, but I realized that all my friends also had iPhones. During an accounting class in the fall, the idea hit me for how we could do it.”

 The iPhone  — or iPod Touch — made it possible because those devices have accelerometers. “The phones don’t talk to each other directly. An accelerometer in each phone responds to the bump and contacts a central server, which matches everything up. Pretty clever,” said a story praising Bump in Discover magazine, which has a video clip of the application in use.

Once the team developed the software, Lieb said, Apple made it easy. “You download the free development kit online. You pay a $99 fee and put your app up on the iPhone app store.”

The Bump team is working on a premium version. “To make money, we’re finalizing a paid version that will let you send photos, share multiple persons’ contact info, maintain multiple profiles in the Bump app — one for work, one for business, one for school, etc.,” Lieb said. The premium version will cost between 99 cents and $3.

Media around the world have picked up the story, from the Bangkok Post to the Chicago Tribune, which proclaimed Bump “very simple, very impressive, and very cool.”

Additional media attention — and funding — for Bump Technologies could be on the way, since the team has entered the Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Plan, Chicago Booth’s annual business competition. Winning teams receive a cash prize, legal services, professional consulting, and incubator space at the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. The finals are set for May 28.

— Patricia Houlihan