May 27, 2014, BY Heather Johns

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Making someone's day just got easier, thanks to Brighten — an app developed by Bucknell grad Austin Kevitch '14.

Brighten allows users to send anonymous compliments to friends on the app, as well as to comment on any post. Kevitch got the idea while studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, after one of his friends passed away in a rock climbing accident.

"I noticed friends from throughout his life began posting on his Facebook wall, expressing their heartfelt appreciation and reminiscing on their positive memories," said Kevitch. "It would have touched his heart to see all of the sincere, loving posts people were writing about him."

Inspired, Kevitch and a friend performed a social experiment. "We bought a box, a pen and a pack of sticky notes, and left our newly created 'compliment box' on a table outside our campus house," he explained. "Within hours, the box was overflowing with anonymous compliments. It brightened someone's day each time they received a note, and we want to extend that feeling to as many people as possible."

The experiment was so successful, Kevitch was motivated to expand its reach.

"Brighten started as an idea to create a social app with a positive culture," said Kevitch, a management major. "While at Bucknell, I took a social psychology course with Professor Wade and learned about social norms. I had both social psychology and positive psychology in mind when designing the app."

Kevitch needed some help taking his idea from concept to design, then to reality. An invitation to be a Kairos Fellow and attend the annual Kairos Society global summit at the New York Stock Exchange was a step in the right direction, but the logistics were daunting — especially since Kevitch was still in South Africa.

"I needed to fly from Africa to NYC and back to Africa all in one weekend," said Kevitch. He wasn't sure how he'd get there and back, until four Bucknell alumni and the Bucknell School of Management helped sponsor his trip.

"I can't thank them enough," said Kevitch. "They really made me proud to be a Bucknellian, and I will certainly pay it forward one day."

Through Kairos Society, Kevitch was connected to an iOS developer in the Philippines. Kevitch designed the wireframes and the app specifications, and the developer coded the back end to help him build a prototype.

Brighten was launched in December 2013 in the App Store. "After the new year we had a couple thousand users, but kept it quiet so that we could test and improve Brighten based on the feedback of those initial users," said Kevitch. "We've improved and grown a lot since then, and the response has been awesome."

Kevitch graduated from Bucknell in May, and is working on several new features, including a new version of Brighten as a human resources platform for companies.

He believes the time is right for the simple but sincere app inspired by how people remembered his friend. "There's too much negativity online," said Kevitch. "We want to make it cool to be nice."