Arpit Sheth (MEng ‘18) Builds the Future of Local News

What is your source for local news in your hometown? Likely it’s a local broadcast station with a website that is filled with advertisements and only allows you to view a few articles for free. Additionally, most local news stations are owned by national companies that regulate content.

From left to right: Vu Francois, Arpit Sheth, Marco White, and Kirollos Morkos

Arpit Sheth is solving this problem through developing a new source for local news. Crater is an emerging app that allows anyone to shoot footage on their phones of local news events and post stories for their communities. Crater assists community members in posting stories through the app’s video editing tools and story templates. E@D spoke with Arpit to learn more about this crowdsourcing approach to local news.

How did you get the idea for Crater?

At Cornell Tech, I worked on a semester-long project with the local Roosevelt Island community for the Remaking the City class with professor Tapan Parikh. Through this experience, I learned about the importance of social capital and how to build disruptive technologies in partnership with local communities.

But, I worried that the current state of our media channels and social media is redistributing our attention towards echo-chambers, bubbles, and globally viral noise. This is becoming our status quo, and if it continues unchecked, we risk poor community engagement and deteriorating social trust. The urgency to challenge the status quo was apparent to me.

Based on my passions and experiences, I sought to assemble a team that could leverage technology to make creativity more accessible and achieve social impact at scale. As a team, we saw an opportunity empower grassroots reporting with a fun and creative approach to mobile video stories. Given our creative passions and technical skills, we felt an undeniable duty to bring engaging content to the most important places to us: our homes and communities.

How did you build your team?

The Crater team is made up of four Cornell Tech graduate students, Vu Francois (Tech MBA ‘18), Kirollos Morkos (MEng CS ‘18), Marco White (MEng CS ‘18), and myself, Arpit Sheth (MEng CS ‘18).

The problem I wanted to tackle was important enough to warrant recruiting some of the most creative problem solvers I knew. We are cross-functional engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs, so each of us contributes a tremendous amount of diversity in backgrounds, perspectives, and skills. One thing that amazed me when talking to my co-founders early on was how much resiliency we all exhibited through past experiences. That’s going to serve us well through the ups and downs of early-stage entrepreneurship.

Why is local news important to you?

We live every present moment of our lives “locally.” If I don’t know what what’s going on around me, am I really living in the moment? Being aware of my surroundings and engaging with the local issues and interests that affect me and my community makes me feel empowered. If more of us felt that way, imagine the big (and small) changes we can start right here, at home.

I believe local news that’s personal and engaging can help us achieve that. What inspires me is that our younger generation is one of the most passionate when it comes to social causes. Plus, with our phones and cameras, we’re a generation of natural creators. Given the right tools, local news for our generation can be be community powered, fun, and creative.

What stage of creating the company are you currently at?

We currently have a prototype coded up, and are actively working towards finishing up core product features. We’re on track to launch an alpha version of our app early this summer. In a couple weeks we will also be incorporated as a company because we want to hit the ground running right after graduation.

How has Cornell Tech contributed to your growth?

Personally, the Studio curriculum at Cornell Tech has given me the space to do challenging work and step up to the plate as an entrepreneurial leader. More than just the education, we have access to phenomenal professors, faculty, and industry practitioners who are very accessible for advice and mentorship. And, in such a collaborative space like this, personal growth often translates into team and company growth.

What has been your biggest challenge so far; how have you managed that challenge?

Recently, our team got into an emotionally intense conversation about moving forward as a company post-graduation. It was scary because all semester we had been working well as a team, but all of the sudden, it felt like not all of us were on the same page.

We met up the next day with calmer emotions and systematically walked through each of our concerns. Ultimately, the tensions boiled down to the fact that we had all been working so hard to juggle our startup as well as coursework, that we had not paused to give each other feedback. Having this tough conversation productively and respectfully was important. It built better trust within our team.

What is your long-term vision for Crater?

Right now, we’re working on building grassroots video reporting tools. Down the line, we want to build a community platform for people to discover and engage with local stories. As we grow, we want Crater to continue leveraging technology in fun and creative ways to bring communities together.