Purdue students to interview for Y Combinator, an international startup funding program

April 23, 2014  

Toucan app developers

Purdue students, from left, Jack Hammons, Thomas Kilbride, Viraj Sinha and Luke Walsh have developed the Toucan app to allow users at fast casual restaurants to order and pay for food securely on their smartphones. The team will interview Sunday (April 27) in Silicon Valley to pitch their work to Y Combinator. (Purdue Research Foundation photo)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Four Purdue students who have developed an app that could streamline the process of ordering and paying for food at fast casual restaurants have been invited to present before Y Combinator, a prestigious international program for funding startups, when they travel to Silicon Valley next week.

The app, called Toucan, could change the way the $173 billion worldwide fast casual restaurant sector interacts with customers.

Jack Hammons, Thomas Kilbride, Viraj Sinha and Luke Walsh will meet venture capitalists Sunday (April 27) during an interview in Mountain View, Calif., to pitch their idea to the Y Combinator team.

"We're looking to bring restaurant menus into the 21st century," said Walsh, an electrical and computer engineering major from Kansas City, Kan. "Restaurants that are Toucan-enabled would have their menus on the app. When customers pull up the menu on their phone, they can securely order and pay for their food without standing in line."

Sinha, a computer science major from San Jose, Calif., said restaurants also could benefit from the app.

"As customers use the app, we identify buying trends and preferences. The data we gather could help determine who is more likely to order which restaurant item, which means we can personalize menus for each customer," he said. "It could be possible to encourage each customer to spend as much as 10 or 12 percent more per order, which is how we can show restaurants that we provide value."

Kilbride, an electrical and computer engineering major from Portland, Ore., said the idea for Toucan came during a trip to Toronto last fall.

"During Thanksgiving break, I saw several people waiting at a drive-through, and I wondered why they couldn't order food from a smartphone. It seemed it would be a more streamlined, efficient experience," he said. "When the Toucan team was developed, we expanded the idea so it could fit the user experience in a variety of restaurants, not just drive-throughs."

Hammons, also an electrical and computer engineering major from Kansas City, Kan., said interviewing for the Y Combinator program in California would benefit the team in several ways.

"We're a technology-based product, and Y Combinator is among the best accelerators for this type of startup. Being granted an interview is a milestone that we are proud of because of the prestige," he said. "If we are invited to join the program and spend the summer in Silicon Valley, we would receive extensive mentoring and an initial financial investment in exchange for a small percentage of the company."

Toucan has a mobile site, GetToucan.com, where restaurant officials can submit a form to add their menus to the app. The site also has a form for customers who want updates when restaurants in their area are using the app.

"We are working to integrate with major point of sales systems and will launch our public beta this fall at HotBox Pizza in West Lafayette," Walsh said. "We are hoping to bring even more restaurants on board for our beta so we can receive as much feedback as possible."

Sinha said Purdue has developed a strong culture to encourage student entrepreneurship, which has benefited Toucan and other student startups.

"We have had access to the Anvil, a student-run business incubator on campus where we refined and polished our idea, identified our target markets and opportunities for growth, and established what we need to get a viable product to market," he said. "We competed in the inaugural Boiler Mini-Accelerator Competition, or 'Boiler,' where we made our first contact with HotBox. We also received a lot of expert guidance about our app during the eight-week Boiler competition and thought through several challenges."

A video about Toucan is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGjUhaLmAao 

Writer: Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, sgmartin@prf.org

Source: Luke Walsh, 913-231-2322, lukewalsh@purdue.edu

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