Inside the Incubator: Spotlight on Sidekick

Get to know NextCorps incubation client, Sidekick, which is using technology to bring people together in the real world.

Based on an interview with Sidekick Co-Founders, Laura Krebs Illig and Robert Illig.

About Sidekick: Fostering Authentic, Meaningful Human Connections

Sidekick is a mobile app that seeks to do something powerful — combat loneliness and social isolation by giving people a tool to develop real-world friendships. More “social catalyst” than social media, it’s about getting people off their phones and onto an adventure with new friends nearby.

Sidekick app screen shots

Laura Illig
Laura Illig, Sidekick Co-Founder and CEO

Founded by husband-and-wife team, Robert Illig (COO) and Laura Krebs Illig (CEO), the Sidekick app allows users to make connections in a few ways. The ‘Discover’ feature serves up a feed of recommendations of nearby people, groups, and events that match your interests, while the ‘Explore’ feature functions as a search engine and allows you to set your own filters, including age, gender, location, and interests. There’s also the ‘Kickit’ feature, through which you can post an open invitation to engage in a fun activity.

“We’re all about helping people get into the real world, doing real things,” said Laura. “Many young people know this is a challenge for them. They know they’re doom-scrolling, they know it would be better for them to get off their phones and go out and meet people — but they don’t know how to do that effectively. We’re hoping to enable people to feel like they have an alternative. You can still use your phone to start the process because that’s where many of us are comfortable, but the end result isn’t just more doom-scrolling and more online chatting.”

Driven to Address the Loneliness Epidemic

Robert Illig
Robert Illig, Sidekick Co-Founder and COO

“During my time as a teacher, I witnessed students getting more anxious and more unhappy,” said Robert, who spent over 20 years as a law professor at the University of Oregon. “I’m fed up with social media and angry about the impact it has on people. Laura is more concerned about loneliness, but together we reach the same conclusion — something has to change.”

Almost 50% of adults today have three or fewer friends, and over 60% of young adults report feelings of serious loneliness.

“It’s great to have online friends and all these ways to connect digitally, but it can lead us to feeling more isolated,” said Laura. “There’s a ton of research that there’s something different that happens when we’re actually in person, and it’s something that we as human beings can’t live without.”

Sidekick Successes and Milestones

The Sidekick app was released for iPhones in early April 2024 and the team is now focused on growing its user base. Because Sidekick is a platform for local connections, they’re using a concentrated “land and expand” approach, starting with targeting two densely populated groups in Eugene, OR: students at the University of Oregon, and doctors at the Lane County Medical Society.

“We’re also in conversations with some churches and smaller universities. Essentially, we’re doing a test here to show this works and collect information on early adopters,” said Robert. “From there, we plan to fundraise and launch in other cities. Laura and I both have ties to Rochester, and we hope to establish a Sidekick presence there in the near future.”

The strategy is to sign up large groups of users at a time, so Sidekick is engaging university and medical society leaders while also seeking out ambassadors and raising awareness through events like campus donut giveaways. About 400 users have already completed profiles, while many others have downloaded the app but not taken the next step.

Sidekick donut giveaways

Find Your People

The Sidekick party is just getting started. If you’re eager to trade endless scrolling for genuine connection-building, grab your phone (we know you have it handy) and download the Sidekick for Friends app.

Interested readers can join the “NextCorps Community” group on Sidekick here (accessible from iOS devices only).

Do you share in Sidekick’s desire for a new approach to online social connection? Explore their website for ways to get involved and support their mission, or reach out directly to CEO Laura Krebs Illig.

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