Kyle Musco and Andrew Komar want to dial wireless Internet access up to the next level. And they've had a lot of success lately convincing other people to buy into their vision.
The two York College seniors were selected this year to take part in Ben Franklin Technology Partners' TechCelerator program for budding tech entrepreneurs.
The two-month program culminated in a competition in which participants pitched their businesses to a panel of judges. The entrepreneurs with the most promising ideas got funding. The others got a thank-you and a handshake. Musco and Komar won a $3,000 grant.
Not only that, Ben Franklin awarded them an additional $6,000 to build a prototype for their project.
"They had a very clever idea," said Dick Heddleson, who directs Ben Franklin Technology Partners' regional office in Harrisburg. "They're clearly intelligent and they're eager to work."
Musco and Komar, both 22, have a real company now. But two years ago it was little more than an idea the two Kappa Delta Phi fraternity brothers came up with for a business pitch competition at York College.
After the two failed to make it to the competition's final round, they reached out to the organizers to find out what they could do to improve their presentation. Their "stick-to-itiveness" so impressed Jeffrey Vermeulen, executive director of the college's J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, that the field was expanded to let Musco and Komar compete in the finals. They walked away with first place, a $1,000 grant and free office space at the Brown Center's business incubator.
Vermeulen said the two embody the kind of entrepreneurial spirit he is working to foster at York College.
"These guys have a knack for solving problems," Vermeulen said. "If I could look into the future, I think they'll be successful."
Musco, a computer engineering major from West Chester, Pa., and Komar, a criminal justice major and business minor from West Manchester Township, formed a company called Moena. The name is an acronym based their fraternity's motto, which translates to "May the spirit never die."
The two are working to expand York's existing free, public wireless network called "Y-Fi." The idea is to install wireless access points at more businesses in downtown, Royal Square and WeCo. The devices plug in to the router for the store's computer and create wireless Internet access of up to 600 feet. Get enough businesses to install the devices and you can create an umbrella of free coverage that would extend to much of the area, the thinking goes.
What Musco and Komar are doing builds upon at least one earlier initiative to build a public Wi-Fi network in York, but their effort is different in an important respect. Their network would generate revenue through the sale of ads. Computer or smartphone users who tap in to the network would see a panel pop up on the left side of their computer screen -- or along the top of the screen on their smartphone -- on which ads would appear.
Since September, Musco and Komar have placed wireless access points at seven businesses around York, including the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, York City Pretzel Co. 56 Urban Provisions and New Grounds Roasting Co. They're looking to sign up additional businesses at no charge.
"We're pretty confident this has the potential to go places, Musco said.
Bob Mock, who spearheaded Y-Fi's earlier iteration, which started in 2009, said he's not sure how much demand there is for further Wi-Fi access in the city.
Many people already have Internet access on their smartphones and a number of businesses already offer Wi-Fi access on their own, Mock said.
"It got to the point where it was self-sufficient," he said. "There wasn't a lot of desire for increased access points."
At its peak, Y-Fi had about 50 access points, mostly in the downtown business district, including Central Market, and also some in The Avenues neighborhood, Mock said.
He said his goal was not to create what he called "a ubiquitous network" but to install public Wi-Fi in more locations, and the project succeeded in doing that.
The York County Community Foundation funded the effort. The foundation, through the York County Economic Alliance, also provided $6,000 for Musco and Komar's effort.
Sharing is caring
Daniel Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor and the former CEO of media company Bloomberg, talked to a conference of business journalists in New York recently about what he called "the shared city" -- the idea of cities sharing resources through things like public Wi-Fi networks, co-working spaces and ride-sharing services like Uber.
Doctoroff is CEO of Sidewalk Labs and chairman of a company called Intersection. Intersection is working on a project called LinkNYC to replace as many as 10,000 pay phones in the city with connectivity hubs offering free, high-speed Internet and telephone service. The kiosks will air ads, which will help pay for the project.
Musco and Komar aren't focused on New York City. Their focus is on York city.
Musco is planning on devoting himself to Moena full-time after he graduates. Komar plans to apply to law school but expects to stay involved in the business.
"It's a challenge, but it's not impossible," Musco said. "If you want to do it, you can make it happen."
©2015 York Daily Record (York, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.