This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
With support from the National Science Foundation-funded INNoVATE program, computer scientists Benjamin Young co-founded Nexercise in 2011. The company, which offers a smartphone app that rewards exercise with discounts and free items such as energy bars, all natural groceries and workout DVDs, came about in part as a result of Young's own struggle with weight after he graduated from college.
In describing the application, Young said that he hoped it would inspire people to exercise not by promising them faster times or longer distances, but by promising them something more appealing to the non-athletic — free stuff. Since its launch, Nexercise has received numerous accolades, including the People's Choice award for BB&T Regional Companies at the University of Maryland's Cupid Cup business competition, and the Capital Access Network Company of the Year award.
Young received his bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Virginia in 1997 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business executive MBA program in 2009 as a Palmer Scholar, meaning he was in the top five percent of his class. It was during Young's time at Wharton that he met his Nexercise co-founder, Gregory Coleman.
Young participated in the INNoVATE program, an entrepreneurship training program run by the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School at the university's Montgomery County Campus in Rockville, Md. The program is intended to help arm post-docs with the technical and business skills they need to launch life-science companies.
Learn more about Young as he answers the ScienceLives 10 Questions.
Name: Benjamin Young
Field of Study: Computer Science
What inspired you to choose this field of study?
Computer software is one of the few fields where you can create something useful and compelling out of just writing — I'm referring to lines of code. As a high school student I really enjoyed art and as I grew up computers became my virtual canvas.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Really follow your dreams. Don't just make them dreams, but visualize them and then actualize them. Life is about taking risks, and when you take risks, think, "will this really affect me a day from now, a week from now, or longer?"
What was your first scientific experiment as a child?
I'm not sure, but I blew up many things as a child.
What is your favorite thing about being a researcher/product developer?
Getting positive feedback. I love it when someone uses our product, becomes truly passionate about it, and then shares that excitement and tells us how we have impacted his or her life.
What is the most important characteristic a researcher/product developer must demonstrate in order to be effective?
Removing "confirmation bias," which is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions. Too often, we look for supporting evidence, instead of trying to actually disprove our hypothesis. It's too easy to go out and get people to tell you they believe in your product, but then when they don't use it, you wonder why.
What are the societal benefits of your research/product?
Our product will help American's trim their waist lines by making fitness fun!
Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher/developer?
I hate to sound cliché, but Steve Jobs. I'm a true proponent of elegant simplicity and usability.
What about your field do you think would surprise people the most?
With computer software, what the layperson may think is complex is often easy, and what appears simple is often quite complex. You can't judge complexity by its impact to the user!
Translation: It's almost impossible for someone in the field to interpret how long a software task should take.
If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?
What music do you play most often in your lab or car?
Silence usually. Or my dynamic playlist on my iPhone that plays only four and five star music that I've rated. It's full of almost every genre of music!
Editor's Note:The researchers depicted in ScienceLives articles have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.