The deck is stacked against fledgling musicians. That's what inspired Ridgefield resident Andrew Denaro to create his app, OpenMic, that aims to connect local performers with fans around the country. "Ninety percent of artists don't get heard," Denaro told The Press. It's a disparity that Denaro hopes to shrink in the ever-changing music industry. "Technology is definitely able to increase artists' exposure, and it has been subtly doing so over the years, but I don't really think it's reached the extent of really creating artist equality," Denaro said. "That's something that we stand for," he added. He's not alone. Denaro started the venture with three other Rochester Institute of Technology classmates - Aaron Stadler, David Egan and Daniel Boaitey. Stadler work as the company's chief technology officer, while Egan and Boaitey serve as back-end developers. How it works Denaro graduated from Ridgefield High School in 2015. Now 21, he said he took a year off studying software engineering at RIT to focus on the startup. In high school, Denaro worked with a local musician, managing the artist's social media presence. But Denaro said he quickly found out how hard it is for an artist in a small town to build and maintain a following. Without the plethora of open-mic nights and venues afforded more urban areas, the options to build a fan base and "make it" in the woods of New England are limited. Drawing from that experience, OpenMic will connect artists with their fans via "the stage," Denaro explained - a digital venue that will let users stream local artists' performances. The app will also let users follow their favorite local artists and find new acts based on their preferences. "It makes performing more accessible to artists," Denaro said. Booking a venue to play is a lot harder than most people realize, he said. "It takes already having a following - you need to be able to promise that you can sell a certain number of seats, it takes funds, and really it takes industry connections." OpenMic would allow artists who might not be technologically savvy to stream to their audience right from their phone. "The audio quality we've seen from an iPhone is actually pretty good," Denaro said. The app will also feature a live digital venue, which users can stream 24\/7. Denaro doesn't think his app will compete with open-mic nights and other local music venues. "I actually want to work with these local venues," he said. "While someone's streaming, they can say that they're broadcasting live from a specific venue, so it's advertising," he said. "It's always better to work with businesses than against them." Lip balm As a high school student, Denaro got his first taste of business selling lip balm that he concocted in his parents' kitchen. During his business class, he asked classmates to rate different packaging designs for "Livestrong Lip Balm" for product development. He's been hooked on entrepreneurship ever since. "That's really where my passion is," Denaro said. "I never really envisioned myself working for someone else, or working for a company." "When I'm working for someone else's idea, I can't really get behind it as much as I can when it's my own vision," he said. Mini Silicon Valley Despite the trouble he had helping his high school client break into the music scene, Denaro sees the town as a perfect venue for a tech startup devoted to the performing arts. "Ridgefield is a great place for arts and culture," he said. "I mean, we have the Ridgefield Playhouse, we have the Prospector Theater - this is going to sound sappy, but just the artistic beauty that Ridgefield offers, I think that [creates] more artists." In time, he thinks the area could support a tech industry of its own. Something like a "mini Silicon Valley," he said. He pointed out that the city of Danbury had recently made a pitch for Amazon to build its second headquarters there. And his idea is gaining traction on other fronts as well. In October, OpenMic was accepted into the CTech IncUBator program at the University of Bridgeport. The program rents office space to entrepreneurs at a favorable market rate, and provides access to talent and resources from the university. Denaro said his colleagues will continue to work on the project remotely, while he begins recruiting new talent from the Bridgeport area. "What I always try to tell my team is that everyone that started before us has been new to it as well," Denaro said. "So we can't be afraid to do something new." To get involved with OpenMic, email Andrew Denaro at firstname.lastname@example.org.