The Story of Sooligan: From San Fran to Super Bowl Via NWA

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 12:00 am  

Sooligan co-founders Nikka Umil (left) and Natasia Malaihollo at the ARK Challenge Demo Day.

When Sooligan co-founders Nikka Umil and Natasia Malaihollo graduated from Cal-Berkeley last spring, the former was headed to Brazil to study economics, the latter to law school at Georgetown.

But as in any good story, twists and turns awaited.

They admit their California friends and family thought they were crazy to relocate their startup venture to Fayetteville last fall to participate in the inaugural Ark Challenge startup accelerator.

“Yes, they did; most people did,” Umil said. “Actually, there was an article written about us on a startup blog, and it was advertised as ‘What were these girls thinking?’ But we believe it was a beneficial move for us and Sooligan.”

Sooligan is a social media app that makes it easy to find and share information about any city in the world. The name is derived from the concept of a positive, social “hooligan.”

“The typical Sooligan user is someone who likes to share information about what he or she likes or doesn’t like in a city,” Malaihollo said. “It can be about anything, from local restaurants and shops to weather, traffic and even school-related issues. The other Sooligan user is someone who just moved or traveled to a new area and is looking for local information. Sooligan uses several tools that generate conversation between these locals and newcomers, and others who are seeking information about a city.”

Those tools rely on “unique keyword algorithms” that make it faster and easier to find and share local information. Think of a localized, more interactive Facebook or Twitter.  

The Sooligan girls, or N-Squared as they came to be known among the northwest Arkansas startup community, will officially launch their product to the world as part of the Super Bowl’s social media setup for the big game on Feb. 3. But before that big, official launch, they’re making Sooligan available this month to hundreds of University of Arkansas students who signed up in the fall.

For now, Sooligan remains officially based out of the Iceberg co-working space in Fayetteville, but after the Super Bowl, Umil and Malaihollo expect to be even more mobile, taking their product to 20 of the “largest and more socially active” universities in the U.S.

So, why Arkansas? Umil said they researched startup accelerators and discovered not only the Ark Challenge but other factors that helped recruit them to Arkansas and convince them that Fayetteville was the best place to grow.

Those factors included a booming startup scene, a state commitment to growing startups and, of course, access to a cluster of Fortune 500 companies and all the orbital startup activity surrounding them.   

The high expectations born of that research were met and even exceeded, she said.



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