Richmond startup places second in international contest
A Richmond startup placed second in a worldwide contest last Sunday in Milan, Italy.
Richmond-based restaurant tech company Tablee took second place in the 2019 Start Me Up Innovation Awards for its Tablee Tap, a device that allows restaurant patrons to page their waitstaff using a smartwatch provided by Tablee. Sponsored by Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), a global food service and hospitality industry group, the contest recognizes innovative new products from industry startups. The announcement was made during HostMilano 2019, an annual international trade fair for catering and hospitality businesses.
Tablee competed against two German companies: SCRAEGG, which took first place for a steam nozzle that whisks and heats eggs at the same time, and Print2Taste, which took third place for a 3D food-printing system. The panel of judges included FCSI professional members and the design director of Electrolux Professional, an international provider of professional kitchen appliances and commercial laundry machines.
Co-founded by engineer and former waitress Wendy Jiang, Tablee was part of Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs’ 2018 accelerator cohort. The Tap has expanded to six countries, including the United States, and has won several accolades this year, including being named by the Nation’s Restaurant News trade publication as one of nine tech innovations to watch for.
Tablee co-founder Brent Dillie said they’re proud of the win in Milan, but added, “right now, our energy is focused on growing the business.”
Tablee plans to end its seed fundraising round early next year. “We’re very healthy financially,” he said, while declining to disclose the company’s net worth. Currently the business has eight full-time workers, and a fluctuating number of part-time workers, as well as contract consultants.
Tablee Taps are built in China to keep costs down, Dillie said, and the company has placed 4,000 to 5,000 of them in restaurants, with clients paying about $250 to $300 a month for the devices and connected services, which include collecting data on the kinds of requests customers make regularly so managers can address them. Recently, Tablee hired distributors in Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia, although much of their focus remains stateside.
Before Sunday’s final, 27 companies entered their products, which were produced since Jan. 1, 2018, and entries came from Brazil, Egypt, Malaysia, France and the U.S., among other countries. Each of the three finalists had 10 minutes on stage to present their products and then answered judges’ questions.
First-place winner SCRAEGG will receive coverage on the FCSI website and its magazine, as well as on Electrolux’s media channels. SCRAEGG will also receive mentoring and consulting from FCSI members and Electrolux executives.
Tablee mainly gets bragging rights for landing second place, Dillie said, although he said it was good to present their product in a room full of food service professionals from around the world.
The judges were encouraging, saying Tablee’s product could have a global impact and could scale up quickly, Jiang said.
“It was really exciting to me that the judges said the product would be applicable in a European market,” Dillie said.