Cole DiMeglio is convinced he has the next great app idea. He just needs some help finishing it.
He’s not the only one who thinks so. When Forest Lake native DiMeglio presented his idea, a recipe sourcing application called Hot Dish, at the University of Minnesota – Duluth Shark Tank Entrepreneurial Competition this spring, he was chosen as the audience favorite. That award earned him a $500 scholarship, but what the UMD graphic design and marketing senior really wants is a developer with whom he can partner to turn Hot Dish into a reality.
“It made it feel like my time was meaningful, working on it,” he said of the app presentation.
Hot Dish has been brewing in DiMeglio’s head for almost two years, since not long after he started his sophomore year at UMD. It was his first year living off campus, and one night, he arrived home late, tired and hungry.
“I opened my pantry and I barely had any food, and I started thinking to myself, ‘Well, why isn’t there some sort of recipe builder?’” he recalled.
From there, the idea for Hot Dish began to take shape. For his inspiration, DiMeglio looked to the popular medical website WebMD, which allows users to browse potential maladies based on symptoms they put into the site’s database.
“It will spitball a bunch of different diagnoses it could be,” DiMeglio said. “I kind of wanted it to be like that, but for food.”
The idea, essentially, is that users in need of a good recipe idea could look around their home and find whatever they have on-hand – say, some pasta, a zucchini, ranch dressing and black beans. After they input all of their potential ingredients into the app on their phone or tablet, Hot Dish would then suggest dishes that could be made using some or all of the available ingredients.
“It’s supposed to … keyword all those ingredients and find the most relevant recipe for that,” DiMeglio explained.
DiMeglio wanted to submit his idea to the annual UMD Shark Tank contest – modeled after the entrepreneur/investor competition TV show of the same name – in 2018, but he missed the deadline to apply. This spring, he made sure he was on time, and his entry was selected as one of six finalists. He worked on the graphic design and marketing pitch of the app for more than a month, with local app developer Nathan Lipinski (CEO of Duluth-based tech start-up MC-Cubed) serving as a mentor on the project. On April 30, he presented his pitch in a five-minute presentation to five judges, each one a local business leader, and also answered about five minutes of questions from the panel. An audience of students and parents watched in the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the UMD campus.
DiMeglio felt he might have been at a slight disadvantage, as all the other ideas had already been developed to the point of being active businesses.
“[The judges] asked me how far I was on the development process,” he said.
However, he felt he impressed the panel when they asked him about how he would market the app. He envisioned easy connectivity to social media applications, as well as a more unique advertising avenue.
“I would also want to advertise on grocery receipts,” he said, adding that this model would encourage grocery customers to immediately input the food they bought into the app. “You don’t have to do any more thinking after that.”
DiMeglio didn’t place in the top three finalists from judges’ scores, thanks in part, he believes, to a verbal stumble during his presentation. However, he used humor to get himself back on point, which he suspects made him relatable to the audience. He also felt the audience – college students like him who are just learning to cook, along with parents looking for new recipes for their children to enjoy – resonated with the Hot Dish concept. Entering his sophomore year, DiMeglio said, was practically his introduction to cooking on his own, as his campus dorm room the first year didn’t have a kitchenette.
“You were pretty much forced to eat at the cafeteria or the food court,” he said.
After the Shark Tank event, DiMeglio said, Lipinski told him that when some of his development time freed up, he would help him take the Hot Dish idea further. There’s still a significant roadblock, however: DiMeglio said Lipinski believes getting the app off the ground will be about a $50,000 process. DiMeglio is not a coder; he just has what he believes to be a dynamite idea, along with several possible forms of monetizing Hot Dish – including in-app advertisements, coupon deals or even a premium subscription model that would allow users to scan their receipt directly into the app. So, for now, Hot Dish is on hold until he can find a developer who can handle the user interface side of the idea.
In the meantime, he’s working on finishing up college and looking to his career. Even if Hot Dish doesn’t work out, DiMeglio believes his dual major makes him a double threat, capable of operating on the numbers or creative side of the business world. He’s also working on another idea to bring to the Shark Tank competition next year. Ambition is not in short supply.
“It’s like my dream, kind of, to make it big quick and retire early,” he joked.