Rutgers graduate develops crowd-based food app
Life after graduation could be a question mark for some, but one alumna used her interest to catapult her own venture.
Bola Olayanju, a School of Arts and Sciences graduate, acted on an interest her mother shared with her when she was younger.
“I love cooking,” Olayanju said. “I grew up watching my mother cook and developed (an) interest in creating different delicacies from a young age.”
Her interest in food led her friends to ask for some recipes, she said. Once she noticed how much her friends liked her ideas, she decided to kick-start a website in effort to share her experiences.
When things began to pick up, it began to create an online community, she said.
“This grew very quickly and I enjoyed every bit of the process,” she said. “I never thought much of it until I started getting requests from businesses to advertise on the website.”
Despite her passion for cooking, Olayanju does not consider herself a big foodie. She would rather skip a meal if it means she would be avoiding an “unpleasant experience," she said.
“I remember waiting to be seated at my favorite restaurant several years ago, and I told my husband I wish I could get a recommendation on alternative places to eat from my friends without having to call (or) send messages (to them),” she said.
Olayanju recalls the spark plug that led to seek a time-efficient service that was not yet on the market.
“When I was taking care of my father who had a special dietary need, I had to spend so much time online searching for information,” she said. “I wished for a time efficient way to find recommendations from people I can trust (and) a digital space where people that know can connect with people that really want to know.”
With various food services available on the market, she was confident her service would provide a different kind of help for those who sought it.
“FoodNiche is a patent pending application that is focused exclusively on food,” she said. “We connect people to trusted contacts, nutrition experts, restaurants and food brands, making it convenient to find valuable information needed to enhance their dining experiences.”
It was separate from services that only provide reviews for local businesses, she said.
Olayanju was also a driven undergraduate student, said Susan Engelhardt, an executive director for the Center for Innocation Venture of Emerging Technologies and a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“Olayanju was a student in 2014 with a keen interest in learning how to commercialize her FoodNiche e-platform,” Engelhardt said. “The biggest motivation for me is knowing the importance of good food to overall well-being and seeing the need for a convenient way to find such information from trusted sources despite busy schedules.”
Olayanju’s vision was energetic and clarified, she said. It caught her attention and she decided to mentor the young student’s venture.
“During our discussions over the last two years, Bola and I have discussed everything from consumer access to corporate sponsorship, membership, levels to marketing and product launch and investment funding.” she said.
Engelhardt was not the only one to realize the potential Olayanju’s idea had.
“I’m a strong believer that successful new businesses are more the result of the right people than the right idea,” Martin Zwilling, founder of Startup Professionals, Inc. and FoodNiche advisory board member, said. “Olayanju is one of those people, and I love to work with smart people.”
He enjoys learning new things from the entrepreneurs he has gotten a chance to work with, he said.
“(Olayanju) actively listens to recommendations and makes appropriate changes, without being defensive,” Zwilling said. “Bola is a true entrepreneur.”
The public will have to wait until the platforms opens and is available on mobile apps, the entire team cannot be more excited to get the service out there, Olayanju said.
“We have over 100 restaurants signed up already pre-launch,” she said. “We are in discussion with some food brands and the feedback from brand managers have been quite impressive as well — noting that being able to provide promotional materials to their target customers is a huge metrics for them.”
Julian Jimenez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @JulianTheMenez.