Dartmouth students serve up ergonomic tray
This summer, Dartmouth College students Shinri Kamei and Krystyna Miles are working full time to launch their business Tray Bien LLC.
As sophomores this year, the 20-year-olds founded the company after they developed an ergonomic serving tray in an Introduction to Engineering class at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.
"We're accidental entrepreneurs. We stumbled onto an idea," Kamei said.
The ergonomic tray was tested in area restaurants before the design was finalized.
"We sort of looked for a problem that we thought not that many people had looked at before so this is what we came up with," Kamei said.
The 10-week intensive course focused on human-centered-design, Miles said.
"Part of the reason we chose the tray was because we could test them in a lot of restaurants in town. Trial and error," Miles said. "We had a lot of crazy ideas and a lot of prototypes that looked very different from our final design."
After talking to a waitress, the college students started designing a serving tray that would allow the person holding it to maintain a straight arm position.
"We started talking to a waitress in a restaurant in town, and we asked her, 'Do any of your waitresses experience wrist pain?' and she said, 'Almost all of the wait staff has tendinitis, and we are just waiting for carpal tunnel.' That's when we knew there was a real need here," Miles said.
They also designed a tray that has holes to fit most wine and other drink glasses served in restaurants.
A professor at the business school helped the students tap into the Dartmouth network of alumni. Through the connections, they were invited to exhibit at a mid-Atlantic food-service industry trade show in December, and received nearly 2,000 orders for the trays.
"We had a lot of interest there that really gave us a lot of momentum," Kamei said. "We took 2,000 pre-orders in the two days that we were at the trade show."
The trade show took place during winter term finals, but they were able to make up any missed tests, they said.
"All of our professors are really understand about this and really excited we are taking on this new venture," Kamei said.
In April the design took home both first place, $25,000, and the People's Choice Award, $2,500, at the Dartmouth Ventures Entrepreneurship Competition hosted by the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network.
The prize money is funding the first round of production of the trays.
Friends and family are also investing in the company, and the duo plan to start an online crowd-sourcing campaign over the summer.
They are also launching a website and Facebook page this summer.
"We've learned so much about entrepreneurship and the food industry," Miles said. "We're engineer majors so this is all new stuff to us."