University News

Students to launch new buy-and-sell platform

Website to connect students selling used products, such as furniture, clothing

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

After months of planning and testing, students are launching Souk, a new campus website that aims to connect students buying and selling used products.

Last year, the start-up won Spark, a venture competition hosted by Brown Student Agencies that encourages students to identify a problem they see in the Brown community and create a project to solve it.

The website — accessible to all students with a Brown email address — aims to efficiently link sellers of used goods to prospective buyers by offering filtering, condition rating and location features in a safe and secure manner, said Amia Oberai ’16, founder and co-designer of Souk. To upload an item for sale, students will simply post pictures of the item, rate the condition of the item and offer a brief description. Potential buyers can then filter all available items based on categories and locations on College Hill. Clicking on an email icon begins a direct correspondence and transaction between the interested buyer and the seller, she said.

“There is a very big need for a system like this, and I do think that Souk can really address it,” said Bianca Eyales ’17, director of business development for BSA.

Oberai was inspired to create Souk, named after the Arabic word for “marketplace,” by the need on campus to buy and sell furniture. During Summer at Brown after her sophomore year, Oberai was living in temporary housing and wanted to purchase a cheap desk. She found it difficult to navigate the “low functionality” of Facebook outlets to find what she wanted, she said.

After seeing a couch abandoned on the roadside by a college student, Oberai thought that “there must be an easier, better way to get furniture from people who are selling what they no longer want,” she said.

Because starting a project on her own “seemed a bit daunting,” Oberai sent out a mass email to students concentrating in Computer Science asking if anyone was interested in helping her develop the website for the Brown community, she said. Shortly after, she assembled a student group that entered — and ultimately won — the BSA Innovation Spark Competition.

The prize granted the team funding, guidance and marketing efforts from BSA, Oberai said.

“They developed a product, and our job is to help introduce it to the Brown community,” Eyales said.

BSA is “in charge of ensuring that there’s a way for (Souk) to integrate into the Brown community and also a way to market it and make people aware that it exists,” Eyales said.

The startup’s greatest challenge is getting an independent project off the ground during the “ebb and flow of the semester,” Eyales said. The venture requires discipline to stay on strict schedule and complete programming, design and coding for the website “on top of classes,” Oberai said. But BSA has helped them to “stay on track when feeling overwhelmed,” Oberai added.

There have been attempts to start this idea before. Last semester, Sarah Lettes ’19 created a Facebook group called “The Swap,” in an attempt to facilitate sales while promoting environmental sustainability on campus. Lettes tried to emulate a buy-and-sell Facebook group that was popular in her community in Atlanta, GA, but “it didn’t really catch on here,” she said.

While Lettes thinks Facebook is easier in a lot of ways due to its accessibility, near-universal use and notifications, Souk is “addressing the same needs” evident on College Hill, and she hopes the new website will reach the widespread use of other sites such as Brown Book Exchange, she said.

But the students working on Souk believe the website’s features, particularly the search bar and security, distinguish it from groups on Facebook by creating a safer, Brown-specific version of Craigslist. “It has the potential to really change how this kind of exchange on campus occurs,” Eyales said.

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