How Canyon Ventures helped load an app through the depths

OZZI’s Isaiah Lopez demonstrates his travel safety app at Canyon Ventures.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Looking back, Isaiah Lopez calls it a “ridiculous idea” — a huge risk to give up your constant gig of developing enterprise security applications to go independent in 2018.

While he got off to a good start with a Department of Defense contract in just six months, the pandemic halted travel. And as things started to improve in 2021, the political tide turned and the government ended its small business tech contract program.

So Lopez launched OZZI, his own travel safety application that provides street-level safety and health information to users worldwide.

“Entrepreneurship consists of many ups and downs,” said Lopez, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OZZI.

The highs finally came when OZZI moved into the Canyon Ventures Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the incubator of Grand Canyon University, in the first quarter of 2022.

“Canyon Ventures has softened the blow. Having the support we need to get through after all these setbacks has been a game changer for our business,” he said.

“I love the Canyon Ventures environment; we can share ideas,” Lopez said of 30 companies in Building 66. “I work with Branch 49, who helped us develop a more streamlined marketing script, and Noggin Boss to put my logo on guard, and Neon with digital advertising.”

Lopez speaks about the attention his company logo, Noggin Boss, is getting.

GCU students were also a big part of his growth.

Senior Business Major Adam Valadez helped build OZZI’s data operations, tracking metrics and developing insights into raw data.

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“I got a lot of hands-on data experience to complement the theory from my classes,” said Valadez, who is due to graduate in April and has a resume highlight to land a job in business analytics.

Valadez also helped build social media promotions at the company’s Canyon Ventures office.

More social media is emerging with a class at the College of Arts and Media that OZZI included in a case study of building community in the digital environment.

“I recognize it as a weakness,” Lopez said. “I can’t tell you how lucky and privileged I am to have 12 minds thinking about it all the time to help us think about it.”

Building communities around safety is difficult on social media, he added, and requires a certain vulnerability to identify. “It’s not fun at all, and that’s our challenge in the consumer space.”

Robert Vera

GCU students get a lot back, says Robert Vera, founding CEO of Canyon Ventures.

“Education is now more of a commodity, you can get it online in many places. But Canyon Ventures offers you mentoring and access to professionals,” he said. “We’re also starting to expand our businesses into the greater Phoenix area, and they’re creating jobs and hiring our students.”

The students also work with a company that fulfills a social need.

“I think security is a service as the world becomes more unpredictable,” Vera said. “OZZI gives you access to resources to give you more information about what’s going on in these communities.”

Consumers can certainly scour the web for news of riot hotspots and even scour government sites for travel advice, but Lopez said it’s difficult to get local information.

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“OZZI goes to the city and street level to provide more information on safety with a rating system for medical infrastructure, available security services, kidnapping and terrorism risks and more,” he said. “If you go to a place like Mexico, you go to Cabo, you go to Cancun, those local places.”

Travel safety app OZZI rates the safety of areas like Rio de Janeiro.

For example, Ozzi recently issued a real-time travel alert in a Mexican city rife with antitrust violence. It gave users information about civil unrest in Peru in case they travel to Machu Picchu.

If you visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, he said, opening his map on OZZI, you’ll see a color-coded rating of a neighborhood a few blocks to the east, showing you probably don’t want to walk there at night. Or in Rio de Janeiro, you’ll find that it’s probably good to have enough cash on you, as using the downtown ATM has a history of criminals robbing travelers at the kiosk.

Not only does it issue travel alerts when you go to a high-crime area, but it also gives you information on how to book accommodation in an area without a high crime rate.

The idea was fueled in part by co-founder Vince Bicicchi’s love of travel and his wife’s fears of the danger in places they wanted to go, Lopez said.

It especially helps women, who may be at increased risk of being harassed, and those who are cautious about travel to gain confidence, given that 60% of the population has not left the country, he said.

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“Nomadicism is taking a huge leap forward with remote work, taking your independence into your own hands, and women are leading the way in many ways. We are excited to support this mission of self-discovery for people of all genders.”

Available in the Apple and Android app stores, Lopez said his early-stage startup was also backed by Canyon Ventures, which connected him with investors.

“We love what GCU does for the city,” he said.

Grand Canyon University senior author Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


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