Food via Fooala

A local tech start-up with an idea born "Down Under" is a boon to hungry 'Burghers.



When Carnegie Mellon student David E. Chen was studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, in 2008, he was frustrated by how difficult it was to find restaurant menus online to order meals for pick-up. Several restaurants had websites with menus, but it was time-intensive to go from site to site. "The problem wasn't that there weren't enough restaurant sites," Chen says. "There just wasn't one site that had menus from a lot of restaurants that would also let me order take-out."

An idea was born, and that idea is now realized as yet another Pittsburgh-based tech start-up.

Fooala (a combination of "food" and "koala") is not designed as a Web destination for consumers. Rather, the Fooala team partners with restaurants and websites to work behind the scenes on the site. Visitors can peruse the menu and click to order items for pick-up. One stop, no hunting. Check it out in action at pittsburghmagazine.com/restaurants.

After he returned from Sydney to CMU to continue his studies in information systems and human-computer interaction, Chen sought the help of the university's Project Olympus, which assists students with their entrepreneurial endeavors. Chen and his co-founders, Zachary Cancio and Todd Eichel (students from Duke and CMU, respectively) were then accepted to South Side-based AlphaLab, a program of Innovation Works, one of the most active seed-stage investment groups in the United States. This organization invests in technology companies that, according to the website, have the "greatest likelihood for regional economic impact."

AlphaLab offers a single 20-week program for up to six companies at a time, providing each with office space, funding and the opportunity to work with advisers and fellow entrepreneurs. The range of start-up companies includes those in newer technologies, Web, entertainment and mobile spaces, says Mike Woycheck, an AlphaLab technology analyst.

The entrepreneurs come from a variety backgrounds, Woycheck says, from university students to those who have reached seniority in their careers. "Being together in one space at this early stage of each company's development allows the AlphaLab participants to exchange knowledge, problem solve and feed off the energy and passion they all share," Woycheck says.

The program includes meetings with the AlphaLab team and other advisers who provide guidance on business development. Woycheck says the process is inspiring to watch. "We see individuals with exciting ideas and a dream to make their business happen. They just need the assistance to make it a reality. Watching that evolution is amazing."

Chen says the AlphaLab experience, as well as having the ability to check in with advisers, was "tremendously helpful." As Chen goes on to say, "AlphaLab had the experience and the higher level perspective that, being so close to Fooala, we couldn't have. They helped us make so many connections in Pittsburgh-we don't know what we would have done without them."

With talks beginning with college publications and sites in other locations and smartphone apps in development, the Fooala future looks bright, Chen says. "We had an idea for a service that would be beneficial to all the parties: from the restaurants, to the publication's website to the consumer. It's happening, and it's exciting." 


For more information on Fooala, visit fooala.com.

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