Spencer Shulem, left, and Jake Orens are teaming up to launch Onus, an online app that allows employers to offer — and track — employee incentives for completing certain tasks. The Santa Barbara startup, which won an entrepreneur award from Santa Barbara City College, is about to debut its pilot.  (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Barbara teenager will target small businesses and the productivity of employees in a technology startup born out of his own tendency toward distractions.

Spencer Shulem plans to launch a free pilot version of a mobile app called Onus — meaning “responsibility” — to be tested by 30 local businesses with 100 employees or less.


The idea, designed with the retail industry and hourly employees in mind, has already gained angel investors and a $1,000 award after being named the most viable business to come out of Santa Barbara City College’s Enterprise Launch class late last year.

Onus serves as a goal-driven incentive manager, allowing business owners to use a smart phone or computer to set objectives for employees, who then can earn rewards for crossing tasks off the list.

Incentives for jobs completed — such as up-selling — could be a gift card, parking space or vacation time.

“The potential is endless,” said Jake Orens, a 22-year-old UC Santa Barbara senior majoring in economics accounting and communications and family friend who has signed on as Shulem’s chief financial officer.

If all goes well, Onus will officially launch in late April with a monthly fee model.

Shulem’s confidence comes from polling 50 local small-business owners, 100 percent of whom said they didn’t have a similar service to track productivity. Nine out of 10 told the Dos Pueblos High School graduate they would use Onus to foster a competitive spirit and keep employee (and customer) motivation high.

“Any Santa Barbara company can sign up for free right now,” said Shulem, noting the first-year cost would be $5 per month per employee user. “The real goal is how viable we can be in the next year. It’s a unique idea in an industry familiar with the concept. We’re filling a gap in the market.

“We add that little juice for your day.”

A huge plus is that employers don’t have to be present to track work being done, said Shulem, adding that creating a mobile app sets Onus apart.

Shulem, a designer for Procore Technologies in Carpinteria, created the first iteration of Onus when he was 14 to help stay focused while working with a math tutor, who programmed initial coding. Together they also created a pill reminder medical app.

“It was like a way to keep me on track,” said Shulem, whose father, Steven, is the longtime owner of Santa Barbara’s Strictly Vacations travel agency.

Shulem and Orens hope to make Onus a full-time gig by the end of 2015 — with plans to enhance the app’s features — and are in the process of trying to raise $500,000 in the next few months.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at gpotthoff@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.