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Swansea University graduate entrepreneur develops new app

Alex Coldea, 22, a Swansea University student who started his app Dill over two years ago which allows students and university staff to skip the queue at university canteens by pre-ordering their meals online

A 22-year-old young entrepreneur who developed an app that provides a click and collect service for catering outlets at universities has now launched at campuses across the UK.

Alex Coldea, a Swansea University Computer Science graduate from Romania, began operating his app, Dill at the beginning of this year, building a platform which allows students and staff to skip the queues at university canteens by pre-ordering their meals online.

The concept was originally designed to reduce waiting times for staff and students in their breaks, but since the coronavirus pandemic Alex has received positive feedback from universities who saw the benefits to the contactless function of the app and the click and collect service, which would see fewer people stood in queues in close proximity.

Alex said: “At first I was nervous of what the impact of COVID-19 would be on the business, but after a few weeks of lockdown, we began to reach out to universities again and had really positive conversations. The app helps universities to re-open their on-campus food outlets and adhere to new social distancing rules. We wanted to use the time effectively, so spent lockdown working on the platform to add new features, creating a website and getting more universities on board.”

Dill is just one of thousands of businesses in Wales that have been affected in some way by the coronavirus pandemic. The app had just launched at Swansea University before lockdown, and though Alex was initially nervous for its future when campuses closed, his hard work has ensured that in the next academic year, Dill will be used at over 30 different food and drink venues across Imperial College London, Royal College of Music, Nottingham Trent University and two further UK universities where Dill is aiming to launch this year. This means Dill will be serving a market of over 100,000 users across eight campuses.

Alex started his business with the help of Big Ideas Wales, part of Business Wales and part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea.

While studying at university, Alex felt campus eateries were behind the times when it came to ordering food. He spotted a gap in the market from which Dill was born. Alex works on the app with his two co-founders and long time friends, Paul Balan who has a degree in Computer Science and Rares Dorcioman who is a Master of Engineering student.

Alex said: “Dill allows students to pre-order and pre-pay for their food wherever they are across campus, meaning less time queueing in their breaks from lectures. For the food and drink businesses, it has the potential to increase their revenue without increasing business costs. We take a small percentage of the sales and provide them with customers in return.”

Talking about Big Ideas Wales, Alex said: “The whole experience has been very beneficial, I have had several meetings with my business advisor, Miranda and she helped me secure financial support which has been really valuable during this time.”

At the end of last year, Alex joined 40 other young businesspeople at the Bootcamp to Business residential event in the Urdd Centre in Cardiff Bay, the two-day workshop hosted by Big Ideas Wales. The Bootcamp gives young entrepreneurs the chance to learn and hone their business skills with advice and mentoring from successful Welsh businesspeople.

Speaking about the experience, Alex said: “I really enjoyed attending Bootcamp. There were lots of people from different backgrounds with such varied business ideas, and I was able to make likeminded friends through the experience. It was interesting to speak and hear from people who have had success in business, and they were all so helpful in offering advice.”

Miranda Thomas, Big Ideas Wales business advisor, said: “It’s great to see how well Alex has done with his business despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic. He, along with his team, have worked really hard to get the business off the ground and into universities across the UK. I can’t wait to see where the business goes.”

Alex was also a participant at Swansea University’s Big Pitch competition, securing funding as a result, and reached the semi-finals of the Santander Emerging Entrepreneurs Programme which had over 1,800 entries.

Kelly Jordan, Entrepreneurship Officer at Swansea University said: “Alex has grabbed every opportunity in which the Enterprise team have provided him with both hands. It’s fantastic to see both Alex and his business Dill going from strength to strength. He is a true entrepreneur, continuously looking at problems he has encountered and developing solutions effectively and at speed to take them to market and to improve his concepts. We are looking forward to supporting Alex further as he grows Dill into what we believe will be hugely successful.”

Talking about the future, Alex said: “My goal is to have Dill up and running in 20 university campuses across the country by spring 2021. With the app offering the benefits of a contactless campus experience, I am optimistic that we can reach this. In the future, we hope to add more features to the app to offer more of a unique experience to our users.”