The goal of Alphamated is to save restaurants big on labor costs.

Rolling silverware is the bane of any server's existence. According to Evan Duignan's research, it is a bane to restaurants also—it costs small restaurants $5,000-$10,000 a year and large restaurants anywhere from $40,000-$50,000. So, over dinner out with his family one night, Duignan's idea to create a device that rolls on its own took shape. At Ohio State University's Business Builder's Club, Duignan moved on the idea, asking 25 restaurants what they thought about his idea. The feedback was so positive that Duignan kept going—in total, his market research chronicles the responses of more than 600 restaurants.

Now, OSU's Center of Design for Manufacturing Excellence is prototyping the roller, with patent pending.

The roller will be made as small as possible, but it will still be sizeable—maybe 5 ft. by 5 ft. He says the design will promote good sanitization—a huge consideration for restaurants.

The roller works kind of like a gun, in the sense that silverware is loaded into cartridges and shot onto a napkin. It can be adjusted to accommodate different sizes of silverware and napkin textures. Alphamated comes at a time when automation is changing the workplace. “Having every single task that can be automated that makes sense for the business on a fiscal level is key,” Duignan says.

Since Duignan has both validation of his product and customer attraction, his next step is to find partners in investment and development. He is also working on a YouTube video that will show the roller in action.

“My goal is that if you put this on the table and use it, it will blow your mind away and you'll be thinking, ‘Where has this been all my life?' ”

Will Alphamated achieve startup success?

“Opportunities like this machine that rolls silverware can shift the time restaurateurs spend on mundane tasks to focusing on hospitality. It makes total sense to deploy technology when the outcome is better customer service, and perhaps lower labor costs.”

Industry expert: John Barker, president & CEO, Ohio Restaurant Association

“I spend a lot of time in restaurants and it seems nine times out of 10, there's a server rolling napkins. ... [It] is a labor-intensive process, unsanitary, and seems like the least exciting part of a server's job. I'd like to see where Alphamated goes with the interesting concept.”

Potential investor: David Hunegnaw, partner, LOUD Capital

“I am encouraged by the innovation, the methodical thought and practicality of the endeavor. … In the hospitality business, it is often thought of as a service focused industry. However, there is so much more, and the Alphamated innovation seems to address a need that takes time away from service. Automation, in this instance, creates more time for associates to spend more time with guests and less time with tasks and processes. … The Alphamated product would bring consistency in the rolls of silverware and the potential of cost savings.”

Potential user: Mike Redclay, director of operations & operating partner, Cameron Mitchell Premier Events

TribeVest Simplifies Group Investing

After a family conversation during a fishing trip in Patagonia, Travis Smith joined with relatives to create an investment pool. When they got home, they began depositing money into a shared bank account.

Since then, Smith's group, called a tribe, has invested more than $1 million together. And now, Smith has developed a system, called TribeVest, that evaluates tribe compatibility and shares that know-how so others can follow in the footsteps of his family's tribe, Latitude 45.

Smith always hoped his platform would eventually generate a robust network of tribes. What has been surprising is how quickly that has happened. Now it is common for someone to fill out a TribeAlign survey (the first step) to discover compatibility with a tribe of strangers who share the same values.

“We knew the network would be the most valuable part of it,” he says. “But we didn't know it would start to reveal itself so soon.”

TribeVest recently won the 2018 Columbus Startup Week Pitch Competition first-place prize of $25,000.