What if AI could create a custom app for small businesses…in just 30 minutes? – USC Viterbi


Tooraj Helmi, Founder and CEO of Apsy (Photo/Courtesy Tooraj Helmi)

Alexis Messina came up with the idea of ​​a social media platform where beauty enthusiasts could share ideas, review cosmetics and shop for skincare, makeup and hair care products. The burgeoning entrepreneur envisioned an online community that would “foster organic relationships based on trust, an intersection of Yelp and instagram.”

Messina, a 23-year-old senior at USC Marshall School of Business, wanted to find someone who could build a complex web application for him quickly, inexpensively, and most importantly, professionally. Last year, the founder and CEO of chime beauty placed a notice on an entrepreneurship website Marshall looking for an app developer who could turn their vision into reality. With such a job costing up to $60,000, she said, Messina was hoping for the best.

Luckily for her, Tooraj Helmi, MS EE ’03, responded.

Helmi’s startup, Apsi, leverages artificial intelligence to create custom apps at a fraction of the cost of those developed by similar companies. Apsy also promises to do it faster and with more functionality, thanks in large part to Helmi’s technological know-how, which he is further refining and deepening as a doctoral student under the guidance of Professor Nenad Medvidovic.

Reflecting Apsy’s potential, the startup was named a finalist in the 2020 competition Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competitionor MEPC, the first business model competition for USC Viterbi.

Helmi met with Messina several times to discuss the design and features she wanted for Chime Beauty. Then he and his team, which includes Alex Kwamin, VP of Sales, and Paulina Vargas, VP of Experience, got to work. After six months, they had created a web-based social media platform that allows users to post product reviews, follow and message each other, and receive recommendations based on personalized preferences.

“They did an amazing job. I’m so excited and proud of the product they helped me create,” said Messina, who indicated that Apsy will soon be developing a mobile app for their business. “It’s exactly the design I wanted and the functions, and it only costs $5,000. I highly recommend Apsy.”

Apsy harnesses artificial intelligence to create custom apps at a fraction of the cost of those developed by similar companies (Illustration/Chris Kim)

Apsy harnesses artificial intelligence to create custom apps at a fraction of the cost of those developed by similar companies (Illustration/Chris Kim)

Target startups and small businesses

Apsy targets startups and small businesses with limited app budgets, typically between $3,000 and $15,000, Helmi said. These companies often struggle to find reputable developers who can build a quality app at these prices.

Paul Orlandodirector of the USC Marshall Greif Incubator and associate professor for the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studiessaid Apsy’s business strategy made sense.

“There are a growing number of small businesses that need an app, but don’t have the resources to have an in-house app development team or the resources to hire outside. Apsy solves this problem,” said Orlando, who mentored Apsy in the USC incubator. “As a result, businesses can focus on what they do best while benefiting from an inexpensive native application sooner and at lower cost than otherwise.”

Apsy recently created a web application for Volynt, a company that uses AI to turn smartphones into biometric home screening tools to drive health awareness, testing and doctor visits. Volynt co-founder Hazel Mann, a USC Marshall alumnus, said she paid less than $10,000 for the complex corporate application. In contrast, another company said the work would cost at least $100,000 and take at least 10 months, seven more than Apsy.

Since developing an app is the biggest expense for most startups, Mann said, new businesses could greatly benefit from collaborating with Apsy.

“It could emancipate so many businesses and allow them to become a reality when otherwise they would just be an idea,” she said.

How Apsy Works

To begin the process, customers meet with Apsy’s designers to find the look and functionality of the app they want. Customers choose a general design from a library of templates and modify the user interface to their specifications. Leveraging AI vision, an algorithm quickly produces code to create the look of the app.

To develop app functionality, such as the ability to stream a video or make a purchase, a designer sends a description of the desired functionality to an algorithm that relies on natural language processing and AI to work its magic. A deep learning model extracts the keywords and converts them into code “based on a library of thousands of application programming interfaces, which is basically part of the back-end that we created,” Helmi explained. . “Some examples of API capabilities include the ability for app users to create a comment, send a message to another user, or place an order.”

Apsy filed a provisional patent for the entire process and methodology. Helmi said he hopes the company’s entire app building process will be automated by 2023, up from around 60% today.

Apsy is already profitable, reports Helmi. The company currently has 10 customers worldwide and recorded sales of nearly $200,000 in 2021. Looking ambitiously to the future, Helmi forecasts that Apsy could hold more than two-thirds of the global mobile app market. startups and small businesses over the next five years. He hopes to open Apsy stores in college towns and other areas with high concentrations of startups. As expected, customers could have a prototype developed in 30 minutes.

To achieve this, Apsy wants to raise $1 million and spend a large part of it on advertising and brand development.

“Our competitive advantage is a set of patented tools that use complex artificial intelligence and automated algorithms to generate code,” he said. “Building such a platform requires advanced knowledge of NLP, vision AI and advanced algorithms, which we have, as well as the ability to offer a [better] application at a lower price.”

Published on June 1, 2022

Last updated June 1, 2022

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