As a manager at a Connecticut Chick-fil-A, Nathan Catapano ’24 (CLAS) took pride in his restaurant’s customer service, reputation, and success.
If a customer had a less-than-satisfactory experience, Catapano wanted to correct the issue quickly and do everything he could to give them a remarkable dining experience.
One big obstacle to that goal was that all the customer complaints, and proposed resolutions, were written on pieces of paper and stuffed in a big black binder. It made it challenging to record, retrieve, and resolve complaints, and difficult to spot recurring problems.
“Many, many restaurants are using outdated systems that are inefficient, inconsistent, and prone to errors,’’ Catapano says. “The restaurant industry recognizes a need for change, efficiency, and intelligence. They just don’t know how to implement it.’’
Swipestorm Strives to Offer a Higher Tech Solution
Catapano combined his knowledge of the restaurant industry and his frustration over inefficiency, and created a company called Swipestorm. The startup offers a suite of software specifically designed for quick-service restaurants. It is designed to replace outdated paper-based systems and cookie-cutter software with tailored digital solutions for restaurant management and deliver valuable insights for owners and managers.
Swipestorm is one of six UConn-affiliated startups selected to participate in the Wolff New Venture Competition, the pinnacle entrepreneurship challenge at the School of Business. The grand-prize winner at the Oct. 17 competition will receive a $25,000 check to be used to grow the company.
‘Why Didn’t This Exist Before?’
Thirty-nine Chick-fil-A restaurants have already signed up for Swipestorm’s mobile app called Restore. “Everybody who uses it loves it. They all say, ‘Why didn’t this exist before?’’’ says Catapano, a communications major. “It’s a great solution to an old problem; an easy sell.’’
“When something goes wrong with a restaurant order, it is very frustrating for the customer and for the manager,’’ he says. “People may be late for work or late to pick up their kids. You want to make it right. You’re flipping through the binder, trying to find their name and figure out what they were promised, and they’re standing there watching you. It is tricky because you don’t want customers to think you’re not taking their issue seriously, but you can’t give away free food either.’’
“The delay in resolving the problem can ruin the customer-recovery experience,’’ he says. “Also, it pulls the manager away from the team and the team may be falling behind, the line may be getting longer, and the fire is burning behind you.’’
“Restaurant owners are not able to be there every second and I want to give them the tools to navigate analytics and business insights,’’ he says. “A restaurant’s profit is the owner’s salary, so it is vital to be on top of these things.’’
Catapano says he believes his software will be well received among the 300,000 chain restaurants in the United States. There are two other competitors in the industry, but their software is not specifically designed for restaurant customer “recovery’’ and both require considerable customization.
And while Catapano’s initial product addresses issues with customer orders, he’s well on his way to developing additional services.
‘Let’s Give It A Go!’
Catapano saw himself as an entrepreneur as early as middle school, when he would build LEGO sets and dreamed of owning his own construction company. By age 12, he was creating video games. As a high school student, Catapano, a native of Wallingford, got a job at Chick-fil-A and that created a new avenue of interest. By 2021, he was beginning to think about creating Swipestorm.
“I really loved it there, especially working with a great team. I’m a very positive person and I like making people’s days better,’’ he says. “The owner was very hands-on and invested in leadership development. If you had a new idea, he’d say, ‘Let’s give it a go!’”
Although he is the first entrepreneur in his family, Catapano credits his parents – his dad an accountant and his mom a nurse—for teaching him the value of hard work. “They’ve always been very supportive of whatever I’ve been interested in,’’ he says.
Subhead: Summer Fellowship Program Prepared Swipestorm to Grow
Swipestorm was one of nine startups to participate in the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s (CCEI) Summer Fellowship Program this year. The eight-week program assists and advises new company founders as they become ready for the marketplace, assisting with everything from business strategy to funding sources.
During the program, Catapano drew advice and mentorship from experts and a sense of camaraderie from his peers.
“I think the biggest Summer Fellowship takeaway for me was learning to improve my business pitch. It is so much better than when I started, I’ve learned better ways to communicate my business and what we do,’’ he says. He wants to hire a team of software developers to expand the business while he focuses on acquiring new customers.
“All the entrepreneurs that I worked with this summer have extremely great ideas,’’ he says. “I think what makes me a strong candidate in the Wolff competition is that I’m currently in the market, my product exists, and now I just need to scale it. I think I’m off to a strong start and I have ideas about how to grow from here.’’
The Wolff New Venture Competition will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 17 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the School of Business’ GBLC, Second Floor, 100 Constitution Plaza, Hartford. All are welcome. Please pre-register at https://ccei.uconn.edu/wolff-new-venture-competition