If a student receives $100 from a parent or guardian to spend on food, how much of it actually goes to sustenance, and how much makes its way to other uses?
To test a theory and possible startup solution, Lundquist College business administration students Mia Lopez and Alden Schatz surveyed students to answer that question. They also queried parents as to where they thought the funds were ultimately going.
While parents answered about $90 goes to food, students said that number was closer to $50. It’s precisely this discrepancy the startup, Waddle Meal Plan, hopes to address.
Launching on the University of Oregon campus fall term 2021, Waddle Meal Plans helps parents and guardians upload money to a free Waddle account. Though the UO has its own meal plan systems in place for campus-based cafeterias and vendors, Waddle Meal Plan will instead allow students to spend their funds at participating food establishments and markets.
What’s more, spending can be tracked by parents and guardians through the streamlined, easy to use, and highly transparent app.
As of summer 2021, Waddle vendors included the Eugene-based Subo Sushi Burritos and Shake Smart—a Duck Store-owned health smoothie outlet located in the UO Student Recreation Center.
When The Duck Store’s chief merchandising officer Brian Wright heard about Waddle Meal Plan, he knew it had to get involved.
“I thought this sounded like a promising, new technology solution for students and I thought it could be a great fit in our Shake Smart location at the Rec Center,” Wright said.
By fall term, Waddle cofounder Mia Lopez said the team hopes to have 20 food outlets and 1,200 students signed up.
In the meantime, Waddle is promoting their services through their website, on social media, and by canvassing campus with flyers and brochures, she said.
A privately-owned company that’s independent from the university, Waddle developed their app through a third-party contractor. The company also supplies an industry-standard payment terminal free of charge to participating food vendors, and Waddle only takes a commission on the sale when a transaction is complete.
The service is free to parents and students, and vendors only pay a small service fee for the processing terminal.
The Waddle concept is closely based on other successful programs at schools like the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with which the trio of students behind Waddle worked closely while developing their business.
They also partnered with Transact Campus, a leader in developing mobile-based, student-oriented technology solutions.
Along with the Waddle team’s important partnerships outside the university, the cofounders honed their pitch at several business case competitions, made possible by mentorship opportunities at the university and through the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship.
Waddle was a finalist in every competition they entered, and were semi-finalists at the prestigious Dreamer Pitch Contest. They also earned a RAINMaker grant from the local startup accelerator, RAIN Eugene.
For these reasons and more, the Waddle team are optimistic about the future of their scalable tech startup, with many possible applications at other colleges and universities, or even in the corporate sector.
Through resources provided by the University of Oregon, the company has received a tremendous amount of insight and advice, Waddle cofounder Schatz said.
October 1 update: Lopez and Schatz were also honored with a spots on the Inno Under 25 list, a feature of The Portland Business Journal's Portland Inno, which covers innovation in the Portland business region.
—William Kennedy, Lundquist College Communications