Highland is the only community in the region to have gigabit level Internet, and the first Highland Gigabit Challenge business plan competition produced three winners who are pleased to be moving their operations to the city.
The first-place winner, Squarefruit Labs, received $15,000. The runners up, Seated App and EatKidFriendly.com, both received $5,000 awards. All three will also receive office space, high-speed internet service and professional services including accounting help and legal advice.
Squarefruit Labs is the brainchild of three SIUE engineering graduates: Chico Weber, Venkata Bolisetty and Gizem Altintas. The company is focused on developing, implementing and deploying next generation 3-D printers and integrating them with robotic technology. They planned to be operational by Feb. 1.
“The interest we’re getting right now ranges from early-stage entrepreneurs to some large corporations,” Weber said. “We have had discussions with scientists, researchers from Washington University, student groups and a hydroponics project for a non-profit. We even have a fashion design project we’re working on that is going to expand in 2016.”
EatKidFriendly is a website that will focus on kid-friendly restaurants, allow parents to write reviews and enable restaurants to interact with customers. Brandon Lance said he and his wife, parents of young children, came up with the idea for EatKidFriendly.com from a recent dining experience. Some restaurants, he said, don’t cater to families.
“They don’t have children’s menus, or high chairs or things like crayons to keep the kids occupied while waiting.” The Lances thought it would be great if you knew that in advance so “you didn’t end up paying $10 for a plate of plain spaghetti noodles.” Lance said he planned to be operational Feb. 1 and intends to market the site both to restaurants and directly to parents.
“There will be ads on the website and they’ll be targeted at parents,” Lance said. “We’ll also offer a premium business level, so that businesses can not only promote themselves but interact and correspond with customers. For example, if they were getting negative reviews, they could address those. If they wanted to add a menu special or deliver a special custom message to certain customers, they would be able to do that as well.”
Berner’s Seated App is still in the design phase. A computer programmer working full time at Lockheed Martin while attending SIUE, Berner will be using the support of fellow students to launch the company. The app will be marketed to restaurants as a web-based tool designed to reduce customer waiting time and improve seating efficiencies.
“The idea is allowing customers to book a table at a restaurant from their smart phone and arrive at the restaurant when their table is ready rather than sitting in a waiting room for a half hour or 45 minutes,” Berner said. “We’re hoping to launch it in early 2016.”
In addition to the tangible rewards of the competition, all agreed that there was value in simply working through the process — developing a plan, organizing it, submitting it and pitching it to the team of judges.