Some say necessity is the mother of invention. For others, a class assignment is the mother of invention.
That was the case for Shivangi Khurania, a master’s student in Management Information Systems and Hospitality Management, who was tasked in an e-commerce class with creating a business plan. A conversation with a friend inspired Khurania to create an app that has blossomed into her own business, which she will present at the Graduate College’s Inspiration, Innovation, Impact event on April 1.
“I have a friend named Jacob who works at Joël Robuchon, a three Michelin star restaurant in Las Vegas, and he always wanted to test his own concepts for food and start his own business,” says Khurania. “I would be his guinea pig when he would be doing all the food tastings.”
Jacob had expressed frustration at how difficult it was to find test kitchen spaces for rent, which is when a lightbulb went off for Khurania. Fast forward to presentation day in her e-commerce class, and Khurania was presenting an app called Sous Kitchen, an app similar to Airbnb that allowed users to rent commercial kitchens.
After the e-commerce class ended, Khurania wanted to keep working on the project; and with the help of her uncle, who decided to become her investor, she started to explore how she could take her project and make it into a business of her own. Additionally, Khurania received valuable advice from Leith Martin, executive director of the UNLV Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Khurania recalls, “He said, ‘I think you should do customer discovery to understand the real challenges of the people in the food and beverage industry. You should go interview about a hundred people.”
Khurania took on this challenge and began cold calling Las Vegas businesses to better understand how an app could serve them. This research led Khurania to creating an app she named Udeso, which, similar to Sous Kitchen, allowed those in the food and beverage industry to rent work spaces, but also gave them the chance to partner in business ventures.
Khurania explains, “If there's a restaurant that only does brunch and closes at 3 p.m., they'll be able to find a partner to take over the space for a short- or long-term period when it’s not in use.” In addition to space sharing, Udeso could be a matchmaking app that brought small businesses together in creative ways. For example, a juicery and meal prep company could “become roommates during hours of operations to become a cafe that also serves fresh juices.”
Khurania named the app Udeso, a tribute to her grandmother whose name comes from a similar sounding Hindi word that means “the one who conquers.”
Khurania says, “To me, Udeso means conquering through community because we're bringing everybody together and creating a product that adds value to the community.”
Khurania launched the brand at an event hosted on the top floor patio and kitchens of Hospitality Hall. She credits the successful night to the help of the Hospitality College, Executive Chef Mark Sandoval, and Dean Stowe Shoemaker.
UNLV’s community and resources are the very reason that Khurania decided to return to the school and pursue her graduate degree.
An undergraduate alumna of the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, Khurania says, “I came back to Las Vegas because I felt that it would be a good place to achieve my goals since I already knew the space. I didn’t need to expend time finding a community.”
Even after Udeso’s launch, Khurania was taking Martin’s business advice to heart and listening to her customers’ needs. In listening to the app users, Khurania learned they needed a service to help them keep on top of administrative responsibilities. This led Udeso to launch into a second phase of services offered.
Today, Udeso also offers a service to its partners that helps them stay on top of obtaining and maintaining appropriate licenses and permits. Khurania explains, “Anywhere from licensing to building compliance and team member compliance, we bring together all different agency requirements to help keep business owners compliant in a streamlined and automated manner.”
The path from class project to app and small business was not always an easy one; however, Khurania’s enthusiasm and acumen paired with campus resources have helped Udeso thrive.
About the Inspiration, Innovation, Impact event
Khurania will share her experience creating an app, now her own small business, at the seventh annual Inspiration, Innovation, Impact event on April 1. This event features a select group of outstanding graduate students from a variety of colleges giving five-minute, TED-style talks or performances.
The year’s applicant pool was so impressive that in addition to the in-person presentations, another group of students recorded their presentations, which will be available virtually on April 1.
The in-person portion of Inspiration, Innovation, Impact will take place on April 1 at 4 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public. Learn more and RSVP.