Safety app: CheckPlusBalance measures user's level of impairment
Despite all that, the iOS-based application for Apple's iPhones scored tens of thousands of downloads less than a month after its July 19 launch.
As with many things in the life of Boulder's renowned angel investor and entrepreneurial guru Marc Silverman, a lot of it comes down to serendipity and timing.
On the surface, the app is relatively simple. It's designed to test for impairment of functions that might put a user at risk when driving, using machinery or performing other actions that have an inherent hazard.
After taking a series of tests when sober and awake to establish a baseline, users can use the app anytime to measure their own performance. The test takes less than two minutes to complete, and uses a simple set of exercises to gauge measurable attributes such as memory, balance, time perception and reaction time. At the end of the test, the app displays a stoplight with a score of green (good to go), yellow (use caution), or red (stop what you're doing).
"This is a tool, like a thermometer," Silverman said. "You receive information and you make a decision based on that data. The necessity and beauty of a personal baseline is that you're only competing against yourself. You're not competing against Michael Jordan. The balancing act was to develop a system that is efficient, accurate and intuitive. It resonates with people because it's something that makes sense."
The development of the app originated with the passage of Colorado Amendment 64 last November, which legalized the possession and consumption of recreational cannabis in amounts of less than one ounce. The "driving while stoned" issue became even more critical in Colorado after the passage in May of a law which set a blood-level threshold of 5 nanograms-per-millileter limit for the active ingredient in marijuana, the chemical known to most users as TCH.
One might not normally expect Silverman, managing partner of seed-stage funder CoCap Group LLC, to be orbiting a trade traditionally fueled by pot traffickers and Phish fans. But legalization of recreational marijuana has created a significant market for secondary products related to the drug. Just a few years ago, Daily Finance reported, "With a potential market of millions, decriminalization of marijuana could open the door to a vast, largely untapped market for smoking paraphernalia, accessories and other lifestyle accoutrements."
To that end, Silverman partnered in his new venture with legalization advocate Lenny Frieling, a former judge and recent executive director of the Colorado branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.
Betty Aldworth, the deputy director of the Denver-based advocacy organization The National Cannabis Industry Association, said that more products like CheckPlusBalance are expected to impact the industry in states like Colorado.
"There is no doubt that as the era of marijuana prohibition ends and we move this highly popular consumer product from the underground market to the taxed and regulated market, we can expect to see tremendous innovation in service and product development for both consumers and industry," she said. "This could be another example of such a product, and we must applaud genuine efforts to make marijuana production, sale and consumption safer."
Silverman remains dedicated to principles around privacy and dignity, which he has used as rules for the development of his app. The app does not store personal information except for the baseline, and does not broadcast results.
"My agenda, first and foremost, is to encourage people to be responsible and do the right thing," Silverman said. "I am not looking for the presence of a substance in anyone's body. All the test knows is whether you're performing to your standards. We've taken great lengths to ensure that this application is accurate and efficient and objective and consistent."
Moreover, the app appears to be unique in its function. A cursory search of Apple's app store reveals a handful of custom breathalyzers that require external equipment and a lot of blood alcohol content calculators, but nothing as nuanced as Silverman's CheckPlusBalance.
Boulder's entrepreneurial crowd also might be surprised at Silverman's approach to his labor of love. Instead of outsourcing the development of CheckPlusBalance, the former engineer rolled up his sleeves and built the app himself. With a rich background of experience helping organizations such as NASA and Major League Baseball measure performance, he had the right set of skills for the job.
"I wrote every line of code in this app," he said. "I got help with the user experience and design side, but the underlying code is all me."
Silverman is insistent that the app can be used for much more than simply testing marijuana enthusiasts' performance before they hit the road.
"There are a wide variety of reasons for people to be impaired," he said. "We read about drugs and alcohol but there is also fatigue, stress, age and other legitimate reasons. And just because someone gets high in their home or needs to use medical marijuana doesn't discount them as people. It's not a matter of good or bad. It's a matter of responsibility."
For being one of Boulder's most sought-after business experts, Silverman has taken a unique approach to bringing CheckPlusBalance to market. After field testing it to about 100 beta users, the entrepreneur launched it on Apple's app store for free, where it has garnered thousands of downloads and positive feedback from the Colorado State Patrol, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Colorado NORML. The approach fits into Silverman's philosophy of "meaningful entrepreneurship."
"One of my messages to entrepreneurs is to do something meaningful, and not be frivolous," Silverman said. "There are opportunities to give back to the community in a meaningful way. I truly believe that at the end of the day philanthropy and meaningful entrepreneurship and capitalism are not exclusive. You can do really good things in the world and still make money."
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