Excellence in Journalism 2014 | Nashville, Tenn.


Young entrepreneurs with a ‘flare’ for QR codes

By The Working Press

By Olivia Ingle
The Working Press

When Ian Bowman-Henderson entered journalism school at Ohio University, he had dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent.

An example of the QR codes the company offers. Use a smartphone application to scan the image for more articles, photos and tweets from The Working Press.

But three years later, eight months shy of graduation, he found himself debuting his own company, Flare Code, at the Excellence in Journalism Convention journalism expo on Monday, with his career path heading in a slightly different direction.

Flare Code creates QR (quick-response) codes that take users to a Web page with aggregated content on a particular topic. Bowman-Henderson began the start-up with his friends and classmates Niklos Salontay and Tony Mannira.

The company’s first client will be The Post, a student newspaper at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. QR codes will be attached to each edition of the paper. When scanned with a smartphone, the user will be taken to a Flare Code-hosted website that displays updated information and stories from the paper. It also allows readers to comment and communicate directly on the site.

Salontay, a magazine journalism major with a concentration in English and computer science, said the inspiration came in December 2009 when he and Bowman-Henderson, also a magazine journalism major, were looking at Esquire magazine.

Niklos Salontay hung out at Flare Code's booth on Monday night. The Ohio University student is one of a group that launched the tech start-up, which attaches scannable QR codes to products. Carolina Hidalgo/The Working Press

The magazine had a QR code attached to an album review. When the two journalists scanned the code with a smartphone, it took them to music on the Internet.

“We both wanted to do something like that,” Salontay said. “We decided we could do it together.”

Salontay and Bowman-Henderson took an independent study course and presented their findings at a research exposition at their school, where they won first place.

“Right then, we knew we had something,” Salontay said.

Ian Bowman-Henderson speaks to visitors at Flare Code's booth on Monday night. Carolina Hidalgo/The Working Press
The team found graduate students at their university who could help them develop coding and the company took off. This summer, the company received $265,000 from TechGrowth Ohio, $20,000 from 10 Times Accelerator and an additional $23,000 in grant money, Salontay said.

Bowman-Henderson serves as president, Salontay as chief executive officer and Mannira as the chief brand officer.

Jennifer Austin, a student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and news director for St. Cloud’s television station, said Flare Code interests her.

“It caught my eye,” she said. “It struck me that my station is trying to work more closely with the college newspaper. I think it would be cool to put the code on the paper to link to our station.”

Sarah Smith, a freelancer for Patch.com, said she hasn’t thought much about how companies like Flare Code work but can see the impact they could have on accessing information.

Bowman-Henderson said he wanted to start the company because of his journalistic obligation to synthesize information and make it more accessible to the public.

“The job of a journalist is not just to create content, but to use information to inform people, which is what we do,” Bowman-Henderson said.

He said he thinks restricting himself to “capital-J journalism” would be a waste of him going to journalism school.

“You have to value yourself and know that you can do many things,” Bowman-Henderson said.

Mannira, who has a double major in digital media and graphic design, said the idea is about taking different outlets and bringing them together to gain knowledge on a subject.

Salontay said his goal with Flare Code is to revitalize print journalism.

“You can combine the intrinsic value of print with the functionality of digital content,” he said.

He said the Internet has made journalism more viable and powerful, and he wants to connect people to make a common understanding.

“We’re still communicators,” Salontay said. “Everything we do will still be related to that.”