New Brunswick has developed ways to keep the downtown vibrant during the COVID-19 crisis, including closing George Street to traffic and allowing restaurants to add outdoor dining space and live music.

Bridgewater Courier News

Nihar Raval, a Rutgers University senior from Sayreville studying finance and supply chain management, was inspired by his 65-year-old immunocompromised mom to conceive a social distance app while grocery shopping two months into quarantine.

On Sept. 2, Bubbl launched with a four-member team all younger than 25. Raval said he hopes the free app can help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. by recognizing the businesses that are providing safe environments for their customers.

“Our app will help drive customers to the places that have safety measures in place while informing people about the places that have a blatant disregard for safety during the pandemic,” Raval said. “When you think of a bubble, you think of something that is clean and safe. We want people to associate our name with finding places that are safe to go to. Also, I like the idea of people keeping their personal space bubbl.”

Rachel Summers of Jacksonville, Fla., uses the newly Central Jersey-launched Bubbl app to determine where to find stores and establishments that practice social distancing and require masks to keep people safe during the pandemic. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Bubbl)

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Like Yelp or Google, Bubbl operates via a search, Raval said.

By looking for a restaurant, bar, coffee shop or store, you can find out if the establishment enforces the use of face coverings and recommended social distancing, he said. You even can leave a Bubbl review to let others know about your experience, he said.

“Bubbl will help you get around safely during the pandemic,” Ravel said. “You can instantly find out what other people have said about safety at places around you and you can jump into the conversation. You can be one of the first people in your town to help people stay safe and informed during the deadly pandemic. By leaving reviews of places in your area, you can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. And it will always be free.” 

With hundreds of downloads and thousands of reviews in its first week on the market, the free app is not expected to make Raval and his team any money. He said they did it more as a community service than financial pursuit.

Because the team did everything themselves, costs were so low that investors were turned down, Raval said.

“As we scale and attract more people, our operation and maintenance costs will consequently rise,” he said. “However, we’ll take that as a positive sign rather than a negative one. We will only raise money when we have no choice to do so in order to keep up with demand.” 

Nihar Raval, a senior from Sayreville studying finance and supply chain management, was inspired to create the Bubbl social distancing app by his immunocompromised mom. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Bubbl)

The Bubbl team also includes:

  • Natalia Sokolnicki, the 20-year-old lead designer who graduated from Woodbridge Academy for Allied Health and Sciences and is a Rutgers mathematics major who plans on going to medical school to become a surgeon.
  • Tejen Patel, the 25-year-old lead engineer and manager who Raval met while studying at the University of California San Diego during his first semester of college before transferring to Rutgers
  • Sujit Molleti, an 18-year-old Rutgers junior studying computer science who is president of the university’s Mobile App Development Club.  

“Without their hard work and dedication, we would not have had such a successful launch week,” Raval said.

A few Rutgers professors advised the team as it developed the app, he said.

While the entrepreneurial spirit at Rutgers Business School has helped hone his passion for technology business is uniquely exhilarating, he said his classwork, as well work experience at Johnson & Johnson and Prudential did not play a role in helping to build Bubbl.   

“I had to learn everything myself from reading books and listening to smart people speak,” he said. “However, I will say that Rutgers Business School encourages students to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. It’s a wonderfully positive environment and has distinguished professors who are very experienced and helpful.” 

The success of Bubbl depends on its community of users, Raval said.

As more reviews are left, the more effective and helpful the app becomes in keeping people safe, he said.

“Did you have an awesome outdoor dining experience or visit a newly reopened gym?” Raval said. “Let your community know on Bubbl so that other people can enjoy it safely as well.”


Bob Makin covers Rutgers for and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. To get unlimited access to his informative and entertaining work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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