Giacomo's business is breaking new ground in the way that we conduct and manage dining experience in the restaurant industry.

Exeter student business to transform restaurant industry

An Exeter student studying IT Management for Business is breaking new ground in the restaurant industry.

Italian born Giacomo Poppi first conceived the idea for his business, Alitica, in his second year at university. The concept for the business is an inexpensive sensor that determines customer activity within dining environments. Using vibrations, the sensors deliver processed data and insights to directors and managers through a visual dashboard. Costing around £3 per unit, per month for restaurants to rent, the sensors (which are cleverly disguised under the table) connect the customer and waiting staff. Through data analysis, the system derives information about service efficiency, staff performance and customer service.

Giacomo previously received a grant and won several competitions for his unique product including a £4,000 initial start-up grant from Think:Try:Do at the University to help him to carry out market research and optimise the quality of his produce. He also received £1,000 from a competition related to his studies “ITMB Pitching Competition 2015” and a further £1,000 for winning the coveted Microsoft Imagine Cup, which allowed him to connect with Build, a digital development partner, to develop the analytics engine.

In 2016 Giacomo approached a variety of restaurant chains to conduct product trials, which would involve placing sensors across restaurants and cafes, ascertaining the type and variety of data that could be drawn and define Alitica’s business case. An Italian restaurant chain, Old Wild West, who currently operate 300 restaurants in Italy, were hugely impressed and have come on board as a major client for the Alitica team. The chain has invested more than £20,000 into aiding the development of 300 sensors alongside webcams to conduct trials across three of their restaurants, and have also been assisting the team with its marketing.

Over the next three months, the Alitica team will collaborate with Old Wild West to determine the needs of the restaurant industry and review the potential of the information collected from the sensors in transforming the restaurant business. The trial will play a crucial in the same, revealing what further investment in Alitica could stand to accomplish.

The next stage for Alitica is to roll-out their sensors across restaurants in the UK and beyond. They are already in conversation with several international restaurant chains including Cote Brasserie and Prezzo.  

Giacomo has high hopes for the future of his business as he explained, “Restaurant chains are increasingly becoming data-driven organisations. We understand how vital the value of data is when competing in a market where customers prefer to eat out more frequently, at lower costs. Our system provides a centralised platform to analyse information across hundreds of restaurants. Our sensors provide live data about behaviour and interactions within restaurant environments. This is then aggregated with existing data-sources and visualised in dashboards for organisations to act upon. It’s not intended to affect ambience or robotise dining occasions, but rather optimise service and efficiency, therefore promoting a relaxed, inviting dining experience.”

The team is also in the process of developing an extension of their system, allowing customers to interact with restaurants and cafes through a simple swipe gesture. Silent notifications will appear on customer devices, giving them the option to order, call staff or pay at the table depending on the stage of the meal they are undertaking.

For Giacomo, entrepreneurship has been a tremendous learning experience. He revealed:

 “For those interested in starting their own business, I would say be cautiously confident – prepare for risk but sustain belief in your product and yourself.”

Giacomo continued: “The entrepreneurial vibe in Exeter is strong and that’s why graduates and start-ups are choosing Exeter to develop and grow their business. I’ve had tremendous support from the University via Joe Pearce, Business Support Manager and David Solomides, Expert in Residence who have provided essential contacts and advice helping get the business to where it is today.”

Joe Pearce, Business Support Manger said: “Giacomo and the Alitica team have shown the essential commitment and passion to develop their business idea, starting by investigating their market via initial testing. This ongoing research activity and the insight it provides of the marketplace has already secured significant support for the company. Helping shape and encourage these young start-ups just when they need it most, is vital to create exciting the tech firms of tomorrow.”

Date: 12 September 2017

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