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Miller School Student Creates App to Link Neighbors with Common Interests

Catherine LaSpina, an M.D./M.B.A. student, shares her journey in pursuing a passion project that she believes “creates real communities of people and facilitates tangible human connection”

After three years of living in her off-campus apartment building, Catherine LaSpina realized that she hadn’t had the time to meet a single person. Today, she has a little more time on her hands as she nears the end of the M.D./M.B.A. dual-degree program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the Patti and Allen Herbert Business School.

Miller School student Catherine LaSpina is developing an app to connect neighbors with similar interests.

“I’m interested in the intersection of business and medicine, and I am intrigued by tech startups and how medical product development works,” said LaSpina, who hails from Ohio. “I think intellectual capital is often siloed within medical communities. A lot of physicians have great ideas because they see how to improve their practice, but then they’re very busy and don’t have the business acumen to translate their ideas into marketable products.”

LaSpina’s interest in business led her to develop a mobile app named “Narty—The Neighbor Party.” Downloadable in the Apple Store, Narty helps users easily meet neighbors in their apartment building or dorm who share common interests. With just a few steps, users can find a workout partner, a fellow sports fanatic, or even another working mom who is interested in play dates.

“Narty has two main features to meet your neighbors by either joining interest groups exclusive to your building, or through mutually exclusive swiping,” LaSpina said. “This app creates real communities of people and facilitates tangible human connection.”

“Instrumental” Support

The journey leading up to the release of her passion project has been supported and aided by various University departments. LaSpina acknowledges The Launch Pad and the Miami Herbert Business School as being “instrumental” in her path to creating and implementing Narty. She recently won capital funding for her business at the University and eMerge Pitch Night Competition and has met with Brian Breslin, director of The Launch Pad, many times to cultivate the app.

“Everyone at UM has been super helpful,” LaSpina said. “Breslin helped with some financial templates and things like that for the pitch competitions I’ve participated in.”

LaSpina recently placed in the top five at SPARK Hollywood, a pitch competition presented by the Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the City of Hollywood. Though she didn’t win any seed money this time around, she was grateful to gain experience and get her app recognized.

Before enrolling at the University, LaSpina said she was ecstatic to pursue the joint-degree program because it prepares her for a future as a physician, while it also teaches her the complexities of business management, leadership, and policy. Though the number of students in the program is small — there were five students last year — the knowledge she has gained is enormous.

“The intersection between business and medicine is becoming ever more important and to be able to study at the business school and medical school was perfect for me,” LaSpina said.

Inspiration at Home

Growing up, LaSpina’s parents inspired her and her siblings to be their own boss but also to pursue an education.

“My parents are business owners, and neither of them went to college,” she said. “They really built their business up from nothing, so they’re super supportive of me pursuing this project.”

From clubbing to being a plant parent, Narty has interest groups for all, and LaSpina encourages her fellow ’Canes with access to the Apple Store to download the free app. Now, in her final year of medical school, she is applying to residency programs while also continuing to build Narty and spread the word about the app.

“I’m really trying to target very hyperlocal markets right now, and I’m also targeting building managers to get permission to put Narty flyers up to advertise the app,” LaSpina said. “All while balancing medical school.”

LaSpina has already fulfilled her M.B.A. program requirements and will soon graduate with her M.D. She is interested in how health policy, health administration, and innovative health care startups can shape a better health care system.

Tags: Brian Breslin, Catherine LaSpina, Miller School of Medicine, Narty, SPARK Hollywood, The Launch Pad