A distinguished panel of venture capitalists, CEOs and industry experts
weigh in on presentations from aspiring entrepreneurs involved in the
annual USF Fintech Business Plan Competition.
The finalists, competing for investment dollars, have already survived a winnowing process by professors at USF's Center for Entrepreneurship on the lookout for
creativity, new use of technology, sound planning and business
The winner of the 2011 competition: Teburu, an online ordering and reservation system for restaurants.
Japanese for "table," Teburu is the brainchild of Greg Ross-Munro and his business partner, Leon McIntosh, of Tampa. Ross-Munro and McIntosh describe their aha! moment as taking place at the USF College of Business
sometime in 2010.
"We were both working on building a contract software engineering company called SourceToad
, selling custom web and mobile applications to clients who were already 'restaurant guys'," says Ross-Munro.
The idea bubbled-up when a few SourceToad clients inquired into what might be holding back this type of online ordering and reservation technology from entering the industry. Ross-Munro and McIntosh embraced their query and embarked on a deep dive into the challenge. Their research pointed them toward the complexity involved with integrating third-party applications into a restaurant's native point-of-sale system. This primary insight would lead them toward the development of Teburu.
Embedded in research, they came to appreciate the "stickiness'' of a well-designed restaurant app. "One of our colleagues downloaded the Chipotle
app, and because of the convenience, and he ate nothing but chipotle for two weeks (earning the physical form to show for it!)," says Ross-Munro.
Feeling as if they were nearing "proof of concept,'' the SourceToad developers took on the challenge fulltime, and set their sights on a 2011 general availability launch of Teburu
"We learned that the way to do it was to build it like a regular web service, where all the menus were controlled in a central location, and the mobile apps would just be gateways to those back ends. This way, it becomes affordable for everyone. You don't have to be Papa Johns and drop a million dollars to become technologically competitive. Fifty dollars per location per month can get you on an equal playing field with the big boys."
The judges agreed. A Cross-Disciplinary Approach
Open to all students in the University of South Florida
system, the competition is cleverly designed to elicit innovative ideas from students in all disciplines, as opposed to just the business schools. This cross-disciplinary approach to innovation embraces the concept of cognitive diversity, and in doing so, taps into a diverse pool of regional brilliance. The companies are real (legal incorporation is an entry criterion) and they are vying for real investment dollars – exactly 15,000 of them.
Sean Lux, a faculty member at the USF Center for Entrepreneurship
, sees the business plan competition as a method of supporting young entrepreneurs in Tampa Bay.
"The prize Scott (Riley of Fintech
) provides is much more valuable than most people realize,'' Lux says. "Seed capital is so rare that many of these ideas wouldn't get funded regardless of quality."
The Teburu team believes the time is ripe for their restaurant app.
"The restaurant space is ready for innovation, and by creating an easy-to-implement solution for restaurateurs, we are positioning as a revenue generator, instead of a cost center and technology adoption headache."
In fact, they think there's room to grow beyond a seat and an order service. They see themselves as a burgeoning content platform, and eventually, a full service online management system for restaurants.
"The space for growth in a vertical market like this is staggering," says McIntosh, "There are so many little things that we could make simpler for restaurant owners once we're in the front door. We're now just getting the mobile side finished up, and that's going to allow small- and medium-sized restaurants to have their own custom mobile ordering apps for their customers for next to nothing, and that's just the start. Soon we'll be able to offer owners every bell and whistle the giants have paid millions of dollars for -- that's the disruption we're intending to create."Content Promotes Engagement
To go one step further, McIntosh and Ross-Munro see themselves as building something that will allow patrons to conveniently consume not just the food a restaurant provides, but also the digital content that they choose to create. For the restaurant, this content promotes engagement and impacts the bottom line.
The perks for consumers aren't fully fleshed out at this point, however, one could imagine access to special menu items for "fans," a free drink here and there, or perhaps preferred seating, etc.
What's next for Teburu
As of May, they are launching in 55 locations, most notably, Pita Express
in Tampa and Gondolier Pizza
The team sees this local launch as a test bed for a national rollout strategy that will land Teburu in not only mid-sized U.S. restaurants, but also in mom-and-pops with more than three locations. They believe custom apps with custom branding makes a restaurant special, and offers up a chance to avoid being just another notch in the "GrubHub
The team has also applied to the St. Petersburg-based business accelerator, Gazelle Lab
, in the hopes that the idea will continue to spark interest and gain support in the Tampa Bay region entrepreneurial community. Nathan Schwagler is a freelance journalist, creativity researcher and visiting instructor of entrepreneurship at USF St. Petersburg who will buy you a cup of coffee or a delicious pint if you promise to tell him something interesting and on the record. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.