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Birdwatching Goes High-Tech with UCSB Grad’s New Birdeez App

Entrepreneur gives even novices an edge in identifying winged wonders

Last fall, Jeff Simeon stood backstage, waiting to go before more than 1,000 people to make the biggest presentation of his life.

The UC Santa Barbara grad and entrepreneur was about to speak at the DEMO Conference in Silicon Valley about an app he and two others had built just months earlier.

The centerpiece of his show — an American Kestrel, a small falcon with beautiful orange plumage — had shown up just minutes earlier with its handler.

Simeon’s app, whimsically named Birdeez, helps novice birdwatchers identify birds they find with the bare minimum of information. By entering the bird’s size, shape and color, users can identify what kinds of birds they’re seeing and even map where they spotted the bird.

All three took to the stage to present the idea, and the presentation was a success.

“The bird was just as cool as could be,” Simeon told Noozhawk.

Simeon himself was confident, too, although he admits being a “nature-focused tech company” sounds more than a little incongruous.

But the young entrepreneur said he’s all about making nature more accessible to people, even if they’re using an iPhone while outside.

“We want people to realize you don’t have to go to a zoo to see amazing animals,” he said.

The journey toward the formation of the app began when Simeon, who graduated from UCSB in 2012 with a master’s in environmental science and management, partnered up with current students Patrick Toerner, an economics undergrad, and another partner, Thomas Kuo, electrical engineering doctoral candidate, to work on the project.

The trio won the UCSB Technology Management Program’s New Venture Competition they proposed the idea, and decided to keep working away on it.

Through a Startup America Partnership, the group was selected as one of four teams to present at DEMO, and have since completed and submitted the first version of their app to the Apple iTunes Store, where it’s available for iPhone and iPad.

Simeon admits they’re “very much new entrepreneurs” and contacts from the DEMO presentation were one of the biggest perks.

After DEMO, Simeon was contacted by David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, who wanted to talk. In addition to the exposure and the practice of presenting, Simeon said they got a really great app out of it and a lot of media attention at the time.

“I was so worried about getting our app finished, that the next steps after that weren’t on my plate,” he said.

“We’ve had opportunities to meet people who are really competent in business through our contacts through UCSB,” he added. “This is a birding hotspot.”

The crew just released an updated app, which Simeon said has a cleaner interface and also features more than 200 species of birds from across the United States. It’s available for $4.99.

“That goes right to our focus of the beginning birdwatcher,” he said.

Simeon said there are plenty of birding resources out there, but most are aimed at the more experienced birder.

“We are very much a field guide,” he explained. “If you see a cool-looking bird, we want to provide the value that you can figure out what it is right away.”

Children fall into that category of beginning birdwatchers, as well, and Simeon has been able to use the app with elementary school groups on nature walks.

“What this technology does a lot of times is help people disassociate,” he said. “You’re not really paying attention with what’s going on around you, but this can enhance that natural experience.”

Simeon said he’s noticed that kids treat the app as a game, recording the biggest number of birds they can find. Simeon himself recorded four species of birds on the way to his car before meeting with this reporter.

“You’d be amazed, especially in Santa Barbara,” he said. “We have a great urban forest.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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