Hospitality app comes out on top at UD’s Hen Hatch
NEWARK — As a sign that businesses are finding a foothold after the immediate effects of the pandemic, SkipRope rose above the rest of the pitches featured in the UD Hen Hatch 2022.
The smartphone app, which uses blockchain technology to securely sell “smart” tickets, received $4,750 in a cash prize, $2,500 in reimbursable funding to support participation in third-party entrepreneurship competitions, as well as the Audience Choice prize of $1,000. SkipRope also received 20 hours of business advisory services from Placers.
The Hen Hatch competition, open to entrepreneurial University of Delaware students, concluded on Dec. 1. The pitch competition is highly competitive, culminating months of competition between teams that have worked for years on their product.
For SkipRope’s co-founder Alexander Pugliese, the Hen Hatch win was a dream come true. He plans on using the prize money as direct capital to re-investing into the app, including obtaining trademark and incorporation.
“That’s a lot of money, and it was money we didn’t have,” Pugliese said. “Hen Hatch was definitely something I’ve always wanted to do my whole college experience, just to go and pitch the business. It’s amazing that the UD Horn Entrepreneurship program offered something like that. They really try to help their student entrepreneurs bring their dreams to life.”
SkipRope was a spinoff of another venture Pugliese and others first worked on during the UD Summer Founders program, Web Three Consulting. But when advisors told the group that the idea was too broad and to focus on one industry, Pugliese leaned on his background in hospitality to find web-based solutions for a problem.
“It took time, just talking to people, and we realized there was a problem right in Newark: the long lines at bars can be between 15 minutes and 2 hours,” he said. “People we interviewed said they would pay anywhere between $5 to $200 to cut the line. That was the opportunity right there.”
SkipRope offers “smart tickets” in limited amounts on the behalf of select venues, through blockchain to eliminate fraud. SkipRope does not set the price of the tickets, it serves as a middle-man between venues and customers; Pugliese said this is to enable flexibility for restaurants and bars in different states.
Some of Pugliese’s family own restaurants in New York City, like Serendipity 3, which has been in business for 65 years, and his great-uncle, Joe Paglianite, is one of the founders and co-owners of Grotto Pizza.
“My connections don’t want to give me connections yet, because they want to see if I can prove myself,” Pugliese said. “Right now, we have four letters of intent with two in Delaware and two in New York. Our app is set to launch on the Apple Store in the next three weeks. If anything, UD Horn helped me get in contact with the Deer Park Tavern, after trying to get in touch with them all summer.”
SkipRope first tested the concept in both states through a physical card, which also had high demand. The highest offer for one card, Pugliese said, was for $750. These cards offer a year-long membership, and once the app is live, the plan is to transition those VIPs to a smart ticket in a digital wallet on the smartphone.
“That proved the value was there — if you emphasize scarcity, people will want it because these tickets make people feel special,” he added.
Looking ahead, SkipRope plans on a grassroots marketing campaign, with possibly hosting events in select markets to incentivize people to buy tickets on the app that offer perks like a performance or an open bar.
“It’s not really about public relations, it’s to get people to download the app. Really, business is all about solving problems. Look at pizza. Pizza has been around for a long time – but if you can make a really good pizza compared to your competitors, you’re going to make it,” he said.
Six finalists at the UD Hen Hatch were judged by a panel that included Annemarie Tierney, founder and principal of Liquid Advisors Inc.; Von Homer, Delaware State University professor and co-founder of HX Innovations; Bob Dietzel, co-founder and principal KMRD Partners Inc. Risk Management & Human Capital Solutions; Terri Kelly, former CEO of W. L. Gore & Associates; and Ken Anderson, senior managing director of Wakanda Global Trust.
Finishing second for total value for UD Hen Hatch’s post-revenue track was CompSciLib, an all-in-one computer science platform that offers tools and assistance for students. The company, founded by John Ye and David Bichara, was awarded $4,250 and $2,500 to support in future competitions. Other awards included in-kind gifts of five hours of accounting services from Belfint Lyons Shuman, $500 in gift cards from Shoprite, and a year-long AAA Mid-Atlantic membership.
Third was Stem So(ul)cial, a hybrid-style community for Black people in STEM founded by N’Dea Irvin-Choy and Camille Smith. The prize awarded was $1,850 cash prize and $2,500 to support participation in third-party entrepreneurship competitions, as well the in-kind gift of a year-long AAA Mid-Atlantic membership.
Topping the pre-revenue track at the UD Hen Hatch was Dear Volunteer, a website designed for volunteers to find, filter, and sign up for volunteering opportunities, founded by Isabella Duarte. It received $3,750 in cash prizes, 10 hours of business consulting services from Placers, $1,000 in Shoprite gift cards.
It was followed by Agreen Tech, a company that develops advanced antibacterial and deodorant products, founded by Yuefei(Mike) Tao, which won $3,400 along with 5 hours of accounting services from Belfint Lyons Shuman. Little Bob Technologies, a crowd-investment platform for community-based solar projects in low and middle-income areas founded by Garrison Davis. It was awarded $2,000 cash. All three pre-revenue track competitors also received $2,500 in reimbursable funds for competition expenses in the future.