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IDEO and Excelerate working together


Fledgling entrant in IDEO Chicago’s new Startup in Residence program: Food Genius

By Lisa Leiter (Original Article in Crain’s )

Innovation and design firm IDEO Chicago gave new meaning to the term “summer Fridays” this year at Excelerate Labs.

IDEO Partner Iain Roberts and three of his colleagues spent Fridays holding open office hours for the 10 companies in the startup incubator program.

During that time, Roberts and his team worked closely with Food Genius and out of all the startups, he said, “we had a fairly regular cadence with them. Every couple of weeks they came to us with really challenging problems they were trying to solve. And not only were they listening, but there was obviously clearly a personal character click with us as well.”

Roberts and IDEO Chicago took those sessions a step further, inviting Food Genius, which aims to be like a Netflix for dining out, to be the first company in its new Startup in Residence program. For 10 weeks, Food Genius is working out of the IDEO offices, not only benefitting from regular deep-dive design sessions but also water-cooler conversation.

“IDEO applies a really critical eye to things which we really appreciate,” says Food Genius CEO Justin Massa, a recent subject of my “Entrepreneurs in Action” video series. “They kind of think like a startup in lots of ways and they are good at helping you think about how to solve problems.”

One of those problems: Food Genius’ consumer app. IDEO helped Massa realize that it was a risky strategy to rely on the success of a consumer app to have a data business. Instead, the company is now focusing on the data, preparing to launch its free API.

The company’s data — digitized, categorized versions of restaurant dishes — could be used by all kinds of apps, for example, one for diabetics or even a dating site looking to match two people’s tastes.

When they’re not working with IDEO staff to brainstorm potential uses for Food Genius data, Massa and his four full-time co-workers are planning food-related events, such as a knife-skills class and a curry crawl around Chicago.

“They treat us like we work here. I not only get the benefits of sessions but also get to see how they’ve created a culture here,” Massa said. “It’s easy to see why people love working here.”

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