University of Calgary
Nov. 14, 2017
University of Calgary students launch DeliverUs, an on-campus meal delivery service
If you’ve ever wandered through the most popular study areas on campus during the weeks leading up to mid-terms or final exams, you’ve noticed that there’s not an empty chair in sight. Students scout out their seats early and hold onto them as long as they can — often forgoing nutritious meals for something out of a nearby vending machine. Walk through an office hallway on campus at any time of year and you’ll see faculty and staff eating at their desks to avoid crowds at on-campus food outlets.
A group of resourceful students noticed this and recognized an opportunity to build a socially-oriented enterprise on campus. Third-year chemical engineering student Pouyan Shojaei and his co-founder — high school friend and fourth-year business student Jason Meng — developed an idea that would meet an everyday need of students, faculty and staff while creating a stronger campus community.
The duo teamed up with software engineering students Artin Rezaee, Satyaki Ghosh, and Sam Ao to build an app — called DeliverUs — that would change the way people get food on campus. DeliverUs allows users to order fresh food online and have it delivered directly to their study location or office on UCalgary’s main campus. At the same time, it gives cash-strapped students an opportunity to deliver those orders and earn money on a daily basis.
Micro-delivery right on campus
“There are a number of food delivery apps out there already,” says Shojaei, “but none that focus on micro-delivery right on campus while helping students earn cash in their spare time. Not only does this help keep students on task during study time, and faculty/staff focused during their work day, but it also helps to build a stronger community by connecting people, nourishing them, and supporting one another in the process.”
Houston Peschl is one of several faculty members at the Haskayne School of Business who helped guide the student team along their entrepreneurial journey. A UCalgary alumnus and former manager of The Den, he knows the food business well, and knows how to advance new ideas in that sector quickly. He met Shojaei and Meng when they began visiting his office together last year, seeking insight and direction.
“They had an idea and an initial business model, which I challenged as they progressed,” he says. “They had to determine who would pay for their service, especially given that students generally have little disposable income and thus are very picky about their expenditures.” So, he put them in front of a focus group to test and refine their pitch.
University of Calgary
Life-changing experiences while launching a business
“Campus is a safe environment to try new ideas and evolve your thinking — it makes entrepreneurship accessible to all and inspires other students to try it as well,” he says. “The lessons our students are learning through this experience are life-changing, whether or not they succeed with their first attempt at starting a business.”
Mohammed Keyhani, also a faculty member at Haskayne, encountered the DeliverUs co-founders in his Entrepreneurial Thinking (ENTI) 381 class, where they worked on developing business ideas from the ideation phase to prototype and pitching. “They were very serious about learning the tools, methods, and techniques of entrepreneurship,” he recalls. “They also seemed to be involved in some healthy competitiveness with some of their peers, which focused their efforts.”
Keyhani coached the pair as they developed their idea, helping to identify their key challenges and flesh out the concept. He was also one of the earliest testers of the app. “I was delightfully surprised at how systematic they were about testing their concept,” he says. “It was heartwarming to see students implementing and seriously following the testing and feedback-heavy approach that I advocated in class.”
Boost from Summer Incubator Program
Shojaei and Meng were given the opportunity to further develop their concept when they were invited to join the Summer Incubator Program, powered by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, and the Faculty of Graduate Studies at UCalgary. This non-credit program allows student entrepreneurs to spend the summer in The Inc. (Innovate Calgary’s newly developed incubator space) and receive support to help launch new ventures. The program includes access to co-working desk space, mentorship, and special programming.
The beta version of the DeliverUs app is now available on Google Play for Android users to download from Nov. 14 through to the end of December exams (an Apple version is also in the works but not yet ready for release). Food will be ordered from MacEwan Hall vendors and delivered — for a small additional fee — to buyers across main campus.
In recognition of the value of test-marketing a new product, the DeliverUs team is offering a 15 per cent discount on these early orders with promo code FeedMe (enter when ordering). Share your experience on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter, tagging DeliverUs to show others how UCalgary students are making a real difference every day.
Tips and tricks for budding entrepreneurs
Mohammed Keyhani, assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Haskayne School of Business, thinks there are a few key takeaways from the DeliverUs team’s approach that would also be useful for other entrepreneurially minded students at UCalgary:
- Read up on the ‘lean startup’ methodology: Even though it has some weaknesses and contingencies, this approach has had a profound influence on entrepreneurship practices around the world. The heart of the approach is to remove unnecessary risk and uncertainty through systematic testing, feedback elicitation, and customer discovery.
- Have lots of conversations about your idea: Many entrepreneurs avoid discussing their ideas with others because they are either afraid of the ideas being stolen, or because they think they should be focusing on developing their product rather than engaging in social activities. Talk to as many people as you can, especially those with knowledge and expertise that can help you on your path. Most people will not steal your idea and will try to be helpful. You may realize that you were spending your time on product development the wrong way and need to change your entire strategic direction.
- Take advantage of the stage you are in your life: Most university students are at a stage of their life where they can afford to bootstrap and live on low income, they can find a good amount of free time, they have lots of time to experiment and fail and try things again, they have access to knowledge, expertise, resources, etc. available at the university, and they can enlist others like them to join in their endeavours without having to pay them a salary. These features make the student stage of life ideal for entrepreneurial experimentation.
- Show an openness to learning: Many budding student entrepreneurs are protective of their reputation and think they have to have a great product in hand before they can show it to others. The problem with that approach is that you are too invested in it by the time you start getting feedback, you come across as arrogant, and you make it hard for others to help you. The best entrepreneurs start the learning and seek feedback earlier in their endeavours, demonstrate a lot of openness to learning from others, and intentionally avoid seeming over-invested in a narrow vision for their business.
About Global Entrepreneurship Week
Innovators, trend-watchers, futurists and entrepreneurs will convene at the University of Calgary Nov. 14-18 to mark the 10th anniversary of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), a worldwide event involving millions of people in 170 countries. Read more about Global Entrepreneurship Week.