A self-described “eHarmony for roommates,” RoommateFit was started by University of Pittsburgh alum Justin Mares after encountering problems with a former dorm roomie. Mares says having a “classic horrible roommate” showed him how a bad match affected his experience at school. In fact, a Michigan State University study revealed that conflicts among roommates contribute significantly to freshman dropouts. Students who lived in clashing environments were unhappier and had lower GPA’s. Incompatibility among roommates also impacted housing staff and admin.
Realizing that conventional questionnaires given to incoming students were too vague and ineffective, Mares thought that online matching technology, such as that used by dating sites, would do a better job. He approached 100 college administrators with his idea and got their approval. Using a $2,000 prize from the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Mares developed RoommateFit with the help of a psychologist.
In 2011, a pilot was conducted at Ohio University. The program matched roughly 1,000 freshmen based on their personal habits, opinions, and communication styles. A survey at the end of the school year found that 40 percent of the students chose to stay with their roomie the next year. Jeanne Hacker, associate director of residential housing at the university, says, “RoommateFit has been fantastic, and we’ve seen a substantial decrease in roommate conflicts.” Related complaints from parents dropped as well.
Following the success of the pilot project, Mares applied to startup incubator AlphaLab and got accepted. With startup funds and office space, he landed contracts with Ohio University, Northern Kentucky University, and Southern Polytechnic State University. The educational institutions pay a license fee of $2 to $3 per student and are given the option of setting up branded Facebook groups where students can interact with future roommates and classmates.
Mares is now working on a consumer version of RoommateFit, which will be free initially.