As a technologist, Jal Irani seeks ways to put his skills to work in support of local businesses. One of those was making websites for bars and restaurants. As the Towson University computer science professor built up a number of clients through the side work, he started noticing a pattern.
“They all wanted loyalty or rewards [programs] to go along with their apps,” he said, “So I thought, why not make one big one that encompasses all of the restaurants in Baltimore?”
Irani teamed with cofounder Derek Battle to build, and the result is Flave, an app that’s designed to provide incentives for eating at local restaurants. By taking a photo of their eats, users can earn “Flave Cash” that line them up for potential deals or to win a gift card. It can also be donated back to restaurants. And with those photos and other tools, Flave offers a way to browse local spots based on preferences.
After getting attention in a public beta as a way to support local restaurants during the pandemic, the app earned a mention on RealLIST Startups 2021. Now, it’s live on both the App Store and Google Play.
The startup also recently received $100,000 through TEDCO’s Rural and Underserved Business Recovery from Impact of COVID-19 (RUBRIC) program, becoming one of 45 tech businesses in the state to receive the funding. It will help Flave market its service more widely, through both digital approaches and in-person partnership events. With these approaches, Battle points out that the company itself is spending at local restaurants.
As they grow, Battle said the team’s “North Star” is to be an “ally to the industry.” The company doesn’t charge restaurants to use its service — which the cofounders say make it distinct from restaurant discovery apps that essentially build their own business models on businesses that pay for prime listings. And it offers the photos back to restaurants as marketing tools. They have a group of about 30 early adopter restaurants that have been helping to test new features and providing feedback, and they’ll continue to seek it out their views along the way. As with many software products, the app is launched, but it’s not done yet.
“As we build this user base, we’re going to constantly test and identify what people want,” Battle said.
Along with supporting local restaurants, the company has also embedded with local tech resources and talent pools. It was a recent grad of Towson University’s StarTUp accelerator, and is now based at the program’s space. Among its team, engineers have all graduated from Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Towson and the University of Maryland. Over the summer, it was among the 10 companies who brought on a high school intern from Baltimore City through Baltimore Tracks‘ program.
“We’re a fully Maryland-based company,” Irani said, proudly.
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