Splitsy Founder Earns Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Brad Starnes hopes to make sharing bills easier, sparing friendships in the process

Student Entrepreneur of the Year Brad Starners's startup venture, Splitsy, began with a personal struggle.

Throughout college, Starnes recalls multiple occasions where sharing expenses with roommates and friends became problematic. Once on a summer trip, he covered dinner for 12 when the restaurant wouldn't split the bill. His friends paid him back, but it took weeks. After several years of trying multiple arrangements to share utility bills with roommates, his relationship with one of them became hopelessly strained.

"We actually spent two months where we weren't talking because of bills," recalls Starnes. "I almost lost a really good friend because of this problem."

He knew there had to be a better way. That's when he created Splitsy. Unlike existing payment apps, Splitsy allows roommates to be billed directly for their portion of the bills. It partners with 15,000 billers nationwide, including T-Mobile and Evergy. Each month, Splitsy collects each person's per-set portion and then pays the biller on the group's behalf.

In 2019, Starnes, a UMKC information and technology student at the time, enrolled in the Bloch E-Scholars program for credit. The Bloch School program supports entrepreneurs as they take their ideas from concepts to fully-fledged businesses.

Starnes graduated with his bachelor's degree in information technology in 2020. He had a job offer from health care company Centene Corp. in St. Louis, where he interned. However, he couldn't make peace with the idea of letting Splitsy sit idle.

"I was kind of getting irritated that I was not going to be doing what I wanted to do, which was Splitsy. At that point, I decided, 'I'm tired of this being an idea,'" said Starnes.

Starnes turned the offer down and enrolled in the Bloch MBA program. He focused his energy on growing Splitsy and finishing his MBA at an accelerated pace. By 2021, Splitsy had earned funding from Digital Sandbox KC and won the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge. Starnes was also honored as the 2021 Student Entrepreneur of the Year by the Bloch School.

While Starnes admits going to school full-time and building a startup at the same time can be challenging, it has its benefits.

"Every semester during my MBA, there were things I learned in my classes that I could directly apply to what we were doing with our team at Splitsy," Starnes said.

Of course, experience has been a teacher for Starnes, too. He has faced setbacks, including running out of cash and signing on with vendors at unmanageable terms. But now that he has overcome those barriers, Starnes is proud of what it has taught him.

"I'm just proud of all of the knowledge that I've gained so far and where we've gotten," Starnes said. "At this point, no matter if Splitsy works or not, I've gained the knowledge and expertise to prepare me for what's next."

Splitsy is actively growing its beta user base and raising funds for use for customer acquisition. Starnes plans to launch Splitsy on Google Play and the Apple Store in the coming months. He also hopes to add new features, like allowing users to split one-time costs.

As for the strained friendship that started it all, Starnes counts himself among the lucky ones.

"Thankfully, we're in a much better place now, actually much better than when we were roommates," he said. "Not everybody has the same opportunity to regain a friendship with a roommate that you almost lost."

After all, Starnes said, having close friends and family to share his successes with means the most. 

"Not only was I being rewarded, so were family and friends who were supportive of me from the beginning," he said. "It was nice to be able to share that with the individuals who helped us for so long. Just to be able to say 'thank you.'"

Learn more about Henry W. Bloch School of Management

Published: Jul 20, 2022