What began as one PhD student’s excitement over a QR code tattoo has transformed into a budding startup.
Madeline Lockhart, an NC State PhD nuclear engineering student from New Mexico, still remembers a viral video she saw in 2021 of someone who had tattooed themselves with an actual QR code.
The tattoo was a novelty, but it got Lockhart thinking: what if a QR code could represent a person essentially as a digital business card?
That’s part of the impetus behind her startup SKANZ.
Having attended so many conferences and presentations, Lockhart knew many struggled to retain the business cards and information from the many people they would meet. And plenty of students wouldn’t even have their own business cards to provide.
After ordering a temporary QR code tattoo for herself, Lockhart realized that in order for this to work, one would need a platform to manage the QR codes as well.
So she started looking for developers to build out a platform and officially incorporated SKANZ as a business.
Then, she set her sights on Raleigh Founded, which regularly hosts events with many individuals looking to connect in easier ways.
That’s when it clicked: Lockhart could create a tool for entire groups to come together more effectively.
“Instead of just the one-on-one connection, it became, how do I connect a whole room of people and give them the context for that connection,” Lockhart said.
LinkedIn had a feature that allowed users to connect with people near them using their Bluetooth, but there was no way to have any useful context about who the other people were, she said.
At the same time, event organizers weren’t able to keep track of retention rates or even sometimes which guests showed up. And attendees struggled to get their business cards to everyone they’d like to.
SKANZ is the solution to all of this.
As a QR connection management platform, SKANZ is designed to be flexible, allowing users to build out their own profile connected to an individual QR code. This fosters easier networking among business professionals, especially at events.
But that’s just the beginning of what’s in store for SKANZ, Lockhart said.
In the future, she can envision artists will use a SKANZ QR code to connect people to their catalog of work and contact info. At car shows, SKANZ’s QR codes could replace the Instagram handles on some of the vehicles.
While people are quick to give others their website or business card now, they are also quick to forget the name or even end up misspelling it. With SKANZ, this is no more.
Starting out, SKANZ is charging event organizing businesses a subscription rate. There will always be a free version, but the startup is incorporating Pro features to improve the overall user experience, Lockhart said.
To date, SKANZ has reached almost 500 users. As the community grows, Lockhart said she’s met some of her best friends through SKANZ.
She’s also transformed from an idea-centered approach to an action-based mindset.
“In the startup community, I’ve very much tried to go from a thinker to a doer,” Lockhart said.
Anyone can have the intellect and creativity to think of a good idea, Lockhart said.
“The difference is who can actually take those ideas and execute them,” she said.
Instead of seeing the pandemic as a challenge, Lockhart feels the timing was ideal to begin a networking event-based, community-building tool. After all, SKANZ is contact-less, digital and accessible.
“I’ve been able to be a part of that resurgence of events and just meeting people and rebuilding some of those groups that were really hurt and divided by the pandemic,” Lockhart said.
When Lockhart looks at SKANZ’s overall trajectory moving forward, she sees a tool that can really help people get engaged and build their own communities. It’s not about getting rid of other methods of in-person connection; it’s about fostering it, she said.
“At the end of the day technology is not going to replace relationships,” Lockhart said. “It’s not going to replace in-person interactions. But technology can connect people who would never have met each other or connected. And it can bring communities together that are spread out all across the world.”
As Lockhart has taken advantage of her NC State connections, both by partnering with the Andrews Launch Accelerator Demo Day on Aug. 30 to gather more users on SKANZ and becoming a strong presence at Raleigh Founded overall, she feels certain that her move to North Carolina was meant to be.
“I believe that things work out the way they’re supposed to,” Lockhart said. “I came to North Carolina for a reason, and this was a big part of it.”