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University of Missouri

Failing Forward

MU students turn class competition into life lesson.

Safe Trek app screenshots

The Safe Trek app has been downloaded more than 5,000 times. Image courtesy of Safe Trek.

Getting mentioned in a BuzzFeed listicle and going viral often go hand in hand. But for the team of MU students who created the Safe Trek smartphone app, its mention on BuzzFeed appeared a little prematurely.

Created by Zach Beattie, Natalie Cheng and Zach Winkler to ease parents’ concerns about campus safety — a topic that frequently came up during Summer Welcome sessions, says former leader Beattie — Safe Trek connects a user’s phone to a local dispatch center and allows the police department to track the phone’s location if the user feels unsafe. The concept won them the spring 2013 Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Windows 8 Student Competition. But when more than 700,000 people read the BuzzFeed article “26 Products You Can’t Believe Don’t Exist Yet” in September 2013 with Safe Trek at No. 18, the app wasn’t yet available for download.

“All these people were coming to our website, but we weren’t ready,” says Beattie, a senior business major.

The team didn’t see it as a failure, though. Beattie and Winkler, BS CS ’13, who now works for Intuit on the TurboTax team in California, formed Safe Trek LLC and continue to work on the app when time allows. Cheng, a senior journalism and marketing major, and Beattie work together as one of four co-owners of Quirks, a consignment shop for student-made crafts in the MU Student Center.

“Doing things like this has totally changed my outlook post-graduation,” Beattie says. “When I do little projects like this, things that I’m not making a living off of but I do because I really enjoy it, I have a different spark and energy.”

Now that Winkler has been in the real world for almost a year, he sees the benefit in these homework assignments turned side projects, even the ones that don’t become the most downloaded in the app store.

“The real value comes form working on a small team with people from different backgrounds — journalism, business, computer science — and seeing how they think and their points of view,” Winkler says.