BY RANDY LANKFORD
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
His curious nature, entrepreneurial desire and determination to protect children drove Porter to create Appddiction Studio, a San Antonio-based mobile applications development company, best known for its “Stop Bullies” app.
“I was working in the information technology department at the San Antonio Express-News,” explains Porter, “and I could see how quickly applications for hand-held devices were growing. It was obviously the fastest-growing segment of the development market. So I taught myself how to develop mobile apps. It took me about two years to learn it on my own.”
The first apps Porter’s company created were for preschool children to teach them the alphabet, shapes, colors and how to count. And while that work was rewarding, it wasn’t enough for Porter. Driven by ever-increasing news accounts of bullying and childhood suicides, Porter developed his anti-bullying app that has spread across the nation.
“I wanted to help prevent those suicides, so I did some research,” he explains. “I talked to a lot of school administrators to find out how kids were reporting bullying.
“In most schools a kid has to go into the office, or put a note in a shoebox or a locker somewhere to report bullying. I felt that was pretty antiquated. Most kids today either have a smart phone or want one. And the main reason parents give their children smart phones is to make sure they’re safe and at school.”
Porter’s concept was to give children a way to immediately report incidents of bullying to school administrators, in real time, accompanied by video footage or photos of the event.
“Now,” says Porter, “instead of finding out about it hours or days later, school officials can respond immediately and it’s not just one student’s word against another’s. There’s documentation, proof so schools can be more proactive and preventative in tackling bullying and other incidents.”
Shelly Smede, principal of Eagle Rock Middle School, vouches for the value of the program.
“The Stop Bullies app by Appddiction Studio and Tim Porter has received a warm welcome in our middle school. Students who would never visit the office to get a paper ‘bully report’ will send in a report via their smart phones from home. We also do the Safe School Ambassador program at Eagle Rock, and Ambassadors have used the app as a means to connect with administration, reporting exclusion, bullying, and even a suicide threat. We ended up sending police officers to a young lady’s home to do a welfare check, and her family was incredibly grateful that a classmate was able to send us a picture of the Facebook messages she was sending that discussed her desperation. We also received pictures of threats that a boy from a high school across town was making to a female student in our building. We sent the pictures to his principal and the threats have stopped. Even though we’ve only had the app for less than a month, I cannot imagine our school without it. A few days ago, I told a community member about it and he said, ‘Why don’t all of our schools have this?’”
Introduced in 2011, the app is already credited with preventing three suicides among students who were being bullied.
“I’d estimate we’re currently protecting more than 35,000 children,” adds Porter who funded the startup of the company through his 401(k) retirement account. With $415,000 in sales, Appddiction has grown to six employees, mostly programmers, who are developing school and campus safety apps to go along with programs serving federal, state and city governments.
“Our campus safety app is being implemented at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio and the University of Miami in Florida. It alerts students of any emergencies on campus and allows them to connect to campus police without knowing the phone number. You have access to university policies and procedures, how to react in an emergency and how to contact university administrators. More and more universities are expressing interest in that app as a way of protecting students and staff.”
Appddiction is also creating an app to enable school districts to assess individual school campus safety procedures without cumbersome and time-consuming paper work. Porter believes early safety assessment and preparedness, along with effective responses to threats, are, like his recovery from his injuries, possible with determination.
“It’s all in your mind. If you have the intestinal fortitude you can do anything. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 fingers or not.”