Impresso Labs, a startup based at EPFL’s Innovation Park, has developed a professional networking app that contains only verified profiles. It is one of five Swiss startups selected to be showcased at the Web Summit 2019 - and the only one from French-speaking Switzerland.
Impresso is a new professional networking app designed to help people establish business contacts. Now available on Google Play and the App Store, it is modeled after both LinkedIn and Tinder, although with a few key differences. "Our app has no messaging service, no ’swiping’ and no spam," says Ben Beh, the founder of Impresso Labs. "We wanted to build a platform where users - all of whom have been verified - can set up face-to-face professional meetings."
Once users register on the app, they can search other user profiles and send contact requests to specific individuals. A geolocation feature limits searches to people in the same area. Users who send a contact request must state what they are looking for - a partner for a specific project, a job opportunity or professional advice, for example. The other person can then accept or refuse the invitation. If they accept, the app reveals the phone number of each user. "It’s like when people exchange business cards," says Beh. "Our app communicates contact information, and that’s all. It’s up to the users to call each other and set up a face-to-face meeting if they want."
Users who accept requests receive credits in the form of XIMs, which are electronic coins used primarily in video games. For each accepted request, they receive credits roughly equal to the price of a cup of coffee. The company plans to eventually incorporate blockchain technology into its app whereby the XIMs will be converted into a cryptocurrency.
Only verified users and CVs
The app’s main advantage is that it’s designed to ensure all users are real people and not internet bots; they must provide a portrait photo and a copy of their ID when they register. This policy helps build trust in the app. "I have hundreds of contacts on LinkedIn," says Beh, "but I doubt all of them are really worth keeping. Professional networks are effective only if your contacts are individuals you actually know and not just virtual profiles. With our app, users can build a professional network quickly and easily, selecting only people they’ve met in person and who can bring something to the table. Whether they are looking to develop their careers, scout new business opportunities or simply meet new people, Impresso can save users precious time."
In the future, recruiters will be able to use the app to check job certificates, degrees and other professional credentials - a highly useful feature for screening job applicants. Beh explains: "Based on conversations I’ve had with major recruiting firms, HR staff spend a lot of time sorting through applications, checking whether the statements made on CVs are accurate and contacting references. It can actually take up to two weeks just to be able to speak with someone who is listed as a reference." But eventually job applicants will just have to send recruiters their Impresso profile, since the documents will have already been checked and references verified. "We’re not there yet, though," says Beh. "Recruiters first need to see that they really can trust our app."
The app’s developers are also working on adding blockchain technology to Impresso through a feature being designed in conjunction with EPFL’s Decentralized and Distributed Systems Lab (DEDIS), headed by Prof. Bryan Ford. That will enable the app to store data in a decentralized way, providing greater security for users’ information. "The technology we are considering - such as Omniledger, Calypso and Skipchain - will change how users’ data are stored, shared and deleted. Of course, we will also make sure that the app complies with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation," says Beh.
For now, Impresso Labs is focusing on professional networks and recruitment. But it could expand its concept to other industries as well, such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, where user data are shared with third parties.
About Web Summit 2019
Web Summit is an annual global conference where professionals discover the latest developments in internet technology. The 2019 edition, held in Lisbon on 4-7 November, attracted some 70,000 attendees from over 160 countries. This includes several EPFL professors, such as Wendy Queen, Carmela Troncoso and Marcel Salathé. One of the Summit’s highlights is its program showcasing promising high-tech startups. Of the 1,475 young firms that applied for this year’s program, only 135 were selected. Impresso Labs was one of the five chosen from Switzerland, and the only one from the French-speaking part of the country.