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SparkMatch dating site idea wins Rice Launch

By Zara Khan     9/30/13 7:00pm

A novel take on the dating website idea won first place at the Entrepreneurship Summit held Sept. 21 by Rice Launch, the entrepreneurship organization on campus. The winning team, composed of bioengineering graduate student Meghana Govindarao Appurao, Brown College senior Karen Ding, Jones College sophomore Francie Hessel, Master of Business Administration student Scott Schubert and statistics graduate student Duncan Wadsworth, engineered a project to create a dating website that would match people based not only on the compatibility of their personalities, but also on their genetic composition.

Ding said she suggested the idea, called SparkMatch, to her team on the day of the summit, an event at which students were able to compete in teams to develop a venture and promote it through an elevator pitch-style competition.

"I was at first concerned that they would think [the idea] was silly and strange, but fortunately, they liked it and thought it'd be a lot of fun to present," Ding said. "The topic popped into my head after a teammate suggested testing poop for the healthiness of one's gut microbiome. I replied, 'What if we did saliva?' I also have some personal experience with the 'kiss of death' and have done prior leisurely browsing on the topic of DNA and sexual selection."

The "kiss of death" to which Ding referred was mentioned in the pitch for the project, which cited a 2007 study finding that  66 percent of women and 59 percent of men reported experiences in which they were initially romantically interested in someone but ceased to be attracted to that person after their first kiss.

"SparkMatch would partner with the dating services market to send match-seekers a kit to swab their saliva, which can be genetically analyzed to pair up better biological matches," Ding said. "SparkMatch then takes this data and sells it to researchers who can use it to map diseases, traits and risk factors."

Hessel said she felt the idea, though unusual, had the potential to win. She said teamwork was the factor that pushed her team to victory.  

"We thought [the concept] was so weird and fun that it just might have a chance," Hessel said. "Our team of Rice undergrads and grad students ranged in age from 19 to 33, but we managed to work really well together. It might have helped that we all have backgrounds in the life [and] natural sciences." 

Ding, a sports medicine major, said she agreed with Hessel's assessment of the idea and of the strong cooperation between


"We worked fantastically together, especially since we came up with the topic on the day of [the summit]," Ding said. "That allowed everyone to contribute. We had a fantastic time with this fun topic, and we think we had an edge because of our particular topic - people's ears perk up when they hear about dating, and people make purchases based on emotion and then justify [them] using intellect and logical reasoning."

Hessel said participating in the Entrepreneurship Summit was worthwhile.

"I'm currently a pre-med student, but I'm not 100 percent sure," Hessel said. "I participated in the summit because I wanted to expose myself to another option I might be interested in - namely, business. It was a different, fun experience, and I'm glad I did it."

Ding, who said she had previously tried her hand at entrepreneurship through an online bakery venture and an Etsy shop selling homemade jewelry, said she is enthusiastic about continuing to work as an entrepreneur.

"Entrepreneurship is something I've barely dabbled in, but it's definitely something I want to get into in the future," Ding said. "I also participated in the summit last year, and both years, it was inspiring, fun and a great learning experience. It's a fantastic opportunity to get to know others, to brainstorm and work in a team, to learn from mentors and to hear innovative ideas from

other teams."

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