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Sunday, December 10, 2023

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Hailey Valladao shows a prototype of the Well app. Hailey Valladao shows a prototype of the Well app.

ZIP Launchpad, Apple Help Students Develop App

The on-campus incubator and tech giant teamed up for a three-day Design Lab.
By Delaney Weidner

San Diego State University senior Hailey Valladao has long dreamed of designing an app to assist with clean water solutions. ZIP Launchpad, which teamed up with Apple to host a three-day accelerated app development experience, is helping bring the dream to reality.

During the Design Lab event, held virtually Aug. 2-4, Valladao and team member Steven Kha, a junior majoring in computer science, learned how to design a user-centric app that could help bring solutions to communities with poor quality drinking water. 

A mechanical engineering major with an emphasis in bioengineering, Valladao has been involved with the Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP) Launchpad, an on-campus incubator that helps students launch startup companies and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, for four years. She began exploring agile product development and eventually became an engineering intern, prototyping other teams’ designs. Now, she is pursuing her own ideas.

“My team is called Well, and we’re working on empowering historically excluded communities to access clean water and affordable solutions,” Valladao said. “It was something that I was really passionate about, I’ve been working on that for about a year now.”

ZIP Launchpad helps students like Valladao who are passionate about solving a problem with resources and guidance to bring their ideas to life. Once accepted into the free, extracurricular program, student-entrepreneurs receive a range of support including legal advice, non-dilutive funding, step-by-step entrepreneurial workshops and rapid prototyping services. The program’s first Design Lab based on Apple’s framework was another way to provide students with valuable hands-on experience.

“Apple’s help was invaluable,” said Cathy Pucher, ZIP Launchpad executive director. “[They] helped us prepare and learn how to facilitate the lab as well as coached us during the lab.”

The accelerated three-day workshop showed the Well team how to navigate the entrepreneurial world of app development. Much of the focus was on the opinions of end-users, the ones who will one day be using the app. 

Day one of the virtual event brought in people both from San Diego and other parts of the U.S. who were experiencing moderate to severe water quality issues in their homes. The goal was to discuss and understand what they experience daily in regard to how the issue of drinking water quality impacts their lives. 

On day two, the Well team, with support from an experienced IOS designer, designed low-fidelity mock-ups of what their future app would look like. By using feedback from end-users and help from the team at Apple, the team was able to determine what end users preferred, from layout to functions of the app. 

The last day of the event was dedicated to designing a real, clickable app screen. By the end of the workshop, the team had created roughly 15 pages of the app. 

Valladao hopes that this app could one day be the source of factual information about tap water based on one’s location. 

“There are around 16 million people in the United States that are still affected by poor drinking water quality,” Valladao said. “The vision is to be able to bring some Band-Aid solutions that can mitigate some of these effects, being able to reach as many people as possible and provide some of these solutions at a low cost.”

Though the app is still a work in progress, the skills learned in this event have been invaluable to Valladao and her team. 

“This is stuff we would never do in my classes,” Valladao said. “It was really cool to be in a full-fledged, professional environment, and get advice from people who had been in the industry for decades already.”