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The term "carbon footprint" is used left and right, but who actually knows the size of their carbon footprint?

JouleBug founder Grant Williard didn't. His idea to create a social, mobile sustainability gaming app was born after he used numerous online carbon footprint calculators five years ago. His results weren't pretty.

Today, his JouleBug app is inspiring fun rivalries between individuals and communities as they initiate sustainable behaviors. Users complete different tasks like "Bin to Win" for recycling, "Tech Whiz" for turning their computers off and "Bottle Rocket" for refilling a reusable water bottle in return for points and badges. Users compete against others in their community to earn the most points.

The app has early revenue coming in from universities and cities, which pay an annual subscription fee to customize JouleBug for their students or residents. And the pace of downloads has picked up since Apple featured the app on Earth Day - Williard expects to hit six digits any day now.

But growth should accelerate when a new version of the app launches this fall. It lets communities and organizations sign up for free and add features from an a la carte menu. He expects cities and universities to latch on to the lower price point, and for JouleBug to become the app of choice for promoting eco-friendly behaviors around the nation.

The back story

What started as a two-person team three years ago, is now a bicoastal team with about half a dozen employees. The app's development takes place at HQ Raleigh and the creatives (sales and marketing primarily) work out of San Francisco. Williard says he splits his time between the two offices.

Williard is well-known in the Triangle tech community. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, then worked at a few design firms in Charlotte before going back for his master's degree at State. In 1984, he started I-Cubed, which developed and sold educational design software (Today, it's an enterprise IT consulting firm). He sold it to Adobe in 2005, and immediately dove into the sustainability movement.

When the idea for JouleBug came along, he found a partner in San Francisco developer James Wicker, who also sold a company (Navisware) to Adobe in 2005. They launched JouleBug at South by Southwest in Austin in 2011, earning some early press.

A Triangle accelerator and generous funders

At the time, it was a very simple app to reward sustainable behavior, what Williard describes as "an ugly baby but the parents of that child thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world." That changed after JouleBug was selected to participate in the Cherokee Challenge green-tech accelerator in early 2012, receiving $20,000, mentorship and office space in Raleigh. That led to $400,000 in funding from an undisclosed set of investors.

Williard and Wicker hired a team, redeveloped the app and secured some early client relationships. Williard won't comment on the exact number of universities and cities that have subscribed, but he says there's a large following in Texas. Texas A&M University and the University of Texas and the cities of Austin and Houston are using the app. Williard says the Texas rivalries have helped JouleBug take off.

Future plans, and how the Triangle fits

So when will JouleBug partner with Triangle schools and cities?

Williard says the Triangle's rivalries are not unlike those in Texas and there are talks underway.

"Universities like to analyze things," he says. "It's a little slower than we would like. For a small startup, it takes a while to convince the higher-ups to invest."

JouleBug took part in Raleigh's CityCamp in May and is providing its API to the city for integration into a map on its Open Raleigh site, "so the city can see where its citizens are doing what sustainable actions," Williard says.

Williard's big mission is to make users understand that sustainability can be fun, and isn't something to feel guilty about. He hopes that will make it appeal to many different audiences.

"I think that we have a broad spectrum of users, from deep green people that are very environmentally conscious to those that are kind of skeptical," Williard says.