by Nicole Sparacio '21
This past April, the Baker Institute recognized one of Lehigh’s top entrepreneurial talents, Preff, at their annual Innovate, Celebrate Awards dinner. The Preff team, Jack Cunningham ‘21, William Peracchio ‘21, Cameron Cipriano ‘21, and Dom Allen ‘20, were awarded the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize of $5,000 after winning the Michael W. Levin ‘87 Advanced Technology award and pitching live to three guest judges.
Preff is an app that helps people engage socially by making it easier to create and share lunch and dinner plans. Cunningham’s and Cipriano’s idea for the app arose their freshmen year from concerns about the unused meal swipes of many Lehigh students. It was not long before Peracchio and Allen joined their team, who have since been working together to develop the idea into what it is today. Preff’s biggest challenge thus far has been their lack of time to fully immerse themselves in the growth of the app, as all four of them are full-time students who are extremely involved on campus. Fortunately, Allen has attributed the Baker Institute’s programs as “integral to the development of Preff.” In the summer of 2018, the team participated in the Hatchery, a 10-week student idea accelerator, which allowed them to work on Preff full-time while learning from experienced entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the team was involved in the Independent Study with Chris Kauzmann, Innovator-in-Residence, who helped Preff set realistic goals during the semester.
Some of these goals included a beta launch, followed by the full launch of Preff in Bethlehem, and eventually the Lehigh Valley and beyond. Allen describes the team’s long term goal as “facilitating meet-ups anywhere and for any type of group.” The team feels that as “technology continues to become more and more prevalent in our lives, it will be essential to have a reliable way to meetup in person with friends and family.”
This past May, Preff attended the National Restaurant Association’s trade show in Chicago to learn more about the food industry and to raise awareness about Preff. At the conference, Preff focused their efforts to talk with players in the tech space, from small startups to giants including OpenTable and Yelp, who opened up to the team about their products and industry. Peracchio shares that Preff “gained a ton of valuable insights and contacts from the conference”, and is “incredibly grateful” for the support the Baker Institute has given them. The team looks forward to continue developing Preff throughout the summer and to beta testing this fall. Their greatest advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is “don’t be afraid to jump first and prepare mid-air.” The Preff team assures entrepreneurs that struggle and failure only make you stronger, so if you are passionate about something you “just need to get out there and do it.”