Entrepreneurial Fellowship Winner Targets Mobile Meme Market
Jan. 29, 2018
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Nearly every weeknight at 10 p.m., David “Nico” Lopez ’21 and his
team of five fellow-Illinois Wesleyan University students take a break from their
class studies to work on developing what they hope will become a functional, marketable
– and ultimately profitable – mobile app called “CaptionIt.”
The winner of Illinois Wesleyan’s $5,000 bi-annual Entrepreneurial Fellowship grant,
Lopez is utilizing the money – along with as many student and faculty resources as
possible – to grow his idea into a downloadable product for smartphones and mobile
“Illinois Wesleyan is our team’s main resource,” said Lopez, who is a freshman computer
science and physics double major. “The fellowship is a huge opportunity that they’ve
A native of Ecuador, Lopez found inspiration for the “CaptionIt” app from his long-distance
“My girlfriend is still in Ecuador, and we share these memes that we make of each
other or of friends,” Lopez said. Memes are digital photographs typically captioned
with humorous text and shared on the Internet or via social media.
“My girlfriend and I pair images that we take or screenshots, and we add funny text,
and then we have a website where we submit all of the memes we create,” Lopez continued.
“It’s a fun thing to do, and I asked myself, ‘Is there a mobile platform to do this?’”
Lopez could not find an existing game-like platform dedicated to creating and sharing
memes online. He then surveyed Illinois Wesleyan students to determine if a market
for such a product exists.
“Out of 200 students surveyed, 100 percent have seen a meme made about someone they
know,” Lopez said. “And, 70 percent of students are actually creating them.”
However, in most cases, users currently create personalized memes using a website
or a social media platform, such as Snapchat.
After identifying the opportunity, Lopez recruited a group of Illinois Wesleyan student
computer programmers and graphic designers to help with the startup project. Team
members include: Ania Bui ’18, Liuting Chen ’18, Ziyan Liu ’19, Michael Modaff ’19
and Joi Stack ’18.
“CaptionIt” – which will be a free app with potential in-app purchases – will not
only provide a meme-creation and sharing platform, but it will also function as a
mobile, social game similar in concept to the card games Apples to Apples and Cards
Since receiving the Entrepreneurship Fellowship during the fall of 2017, Lopez and
his team have been working more than 10 hours per week to develop “CaptionIt.” Along
with their nightly work sessions during the week, they also meet in Ames Library each
Sunday afternoon to communicate progress and strategize for the week ahead.
The programmers are developing “CaptionIt” with Google’s database software, Firebase,
and Apple’s mobile platform, Swift. The graphic designers have created a beta logo
and are working on the overall look of the app.
“We have an incredible team,” Lopez said. “They’re really smart, dedicated students
who are all very resourceful. If they don’t know something, they have the initiative
to contact teachers. I think that’s our main asset.”
Money from the $5,000 Entrepreneurship Fellowship is being allocated to fund developer
license fees and server expenses. Once “CaptionIt” is available for download, Lopez
said he and his team will also invest in marketing and updating the app.
“I’ve learned a lot so far,” Lopez said. “I feel like I’ve grown. This is one of the
most interesting things I’ve ever done, because it’s something that puts into practice
everything I know. Obviously, it’s testing my coding skills and learning skills, but
I’m also trying to be the best leader possible.
“I really want this project to be successful.”
Lopez is the fourth student to earn the Entrepreneurial Fellowship, which was established
with funding support from alumnus Marc Talluto '94. Previous winners include Claudia Richman ’19 for her lacrosse-themed apparel, Cameron
Loyet ’18 for his company Honey Moon Chocolates, and Tim Leiser ’16 for developing
an app to help nonprofits track volunteer hours.