Lunch in a ColdSpace: UB students try to bring refrigerated vending space to campus
Elijah Tyson used to bring his lunch to campus every day. His intention was to save money and eat healthy, but instead, he pulled out a crumpled up, lukewarm lunch to eat.
Tyson, a senior business administration major, met Abid Alam and Hnu Thaper in Delta Sigma Pi, a professional business fraternity. Together, they found a solution to Tyson’s lunch problem: ColdSpace, a refrigerated vending machine for students to store their food on campus.
The “smart vending machine” has reservations for both monthly subscriptions and one-time uses on its mobile-friendly website. Each user gets a six-hour time limit for their storage in the vending machine. After their time is up, the user will receive a text message prompt, asking if they would like to purchase an extension.
The students were inspired by their own struggles with eating on campus. Unlike many sophomores living on-campus, Thaper and Alam found meal plans too expensive and opted instead to prepare lunch from their dorms.
“Me and Abid were like ‘hey, we’re going to save so much money’ and then all of a sudden we realized there was no place to store our food,” said Thaper, a senior accounting major and vice president of ColdSpace. “I would literally carry a brown bag around and my backpack would smell like PB&J or turkey sandwiches, and we knew there had to be a better way.”
The trio surveyed hundreds of students to see if others shared their interest and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“[ColdSpace] is a great and innovative idea that not only can save students money, but enable them to eat healthier and be more in control of what they consume on a daily basis while away from home,” said Desmond McKoy Jr, a senior business administration major.
Part of ColdSpace’s appeal is making their vending machines secure, affordable and easy-to-use, according to Thaper. He explained that the vending machines will offer both monthly subscriptions and one-time-use charges for customer convenience, and each compartment will be locked with unique passcodes that will be texted to the customer’s phone.
“What we’re offering you is peace of mind, you have nothing to worry about because we will keep your food cold, clean and safe,” Thaper said.
This isn’t the first time Tyson was inspired to bring healthy living to campus. Last year, the student entrepreneur began UB Barbarians, a club to help students to become more fit and active.
Rohin Sethi, the team’s business advisor, said the ColdSpace team has shown “tenacity towards surveying the public.” Sethi, an analyst at Capital Partners business solution, said this makes them unique to the other entrepreneurs he has advised.
“Their outreach to students, administration, manufacturers and technologists, is above and beyond any undergrad entrepreneur I have advised,” Sethi said. “I like to imagine what this team would accomplish if school and work was not sucking up their time.”
Multiple departments on campus have expressed interest in ColdSpace machines for their buildings. The team reached the semifinals in this year’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition and were awarded the "Winners of the Western New York Region - Services" award in the New York State Entrepreneurship competition. They will be pitching their idea in Albany later this month during the final round of the competition.
The team was disappointed when ColdSpace didn’t make it past the semifinals of The Panasci Competition, but Tyson said the loss was a blessing in disguise.
“Sometimes when you’re in the starter phase of an idea, too much success can be a hindrance towards you really evaluating yourself as a team and your product and what its capabilities are,” Tyson said.
Tyson hopes that ColdSpace can take what they’ve learned in the Panasci competition to improve and win more business competitions in the future. These competitions can help ColdSpace raise the money they need to build a prototype of their “smart vending machine.”
Sethi believes the best way to bring these vending machines to campus is to make the team’s product unique enough to patent.
“They are in the midst of developing the technology for the user interface and refrigeration compartments,” Sethi said. “Moving forward, they need to ensure that this technology is unique and patentable, especially if they are using a vending machine shell.”
Lindsay Gilder is the assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org