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Student-created website lets people donate food to Madison protestors

March 2, 2011

Three students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison provided the solution for many people around the world who, in recent weeks, wanted to donate food to the protesters at the state Capitol.

That solution is BadgerBites, a free online service that allows customers to order food from 65 Madison restaurants.

BadgerBites.com is the brainchild of two hungry college students with a talent for writing software code, Eric Martell of Whitefish Bay and Alex Wyler of Mequon. A third business partner, Matt Howard of Appleton, provides marketing and sales expertise.

Martell and Wyler graduated from high school, Whitefish Bay and Homestead respectively, in 2007 and headed to Madison for college.

They had mutual friends and met a few weeks before school started. They became business partners during their sophomore year when they were interns at Maverick Software Consulting.

Making lunch easier

"We ordered lunch every day," Wyler said. That gave them the idea for their own site, one easily used by anyone with access to a computer, smart phone or other electronic device.

In designing the website, they were not only thinking of their own ordering experiences but of other students hit by a hunger attack while studying in the library, for instance.

"Students - or residents - can order delivery or pick up without calling by phone," Martell said.

Using the website, customers can select a restaurant, order and pay with a credit card online. The orders are sent to the restaurants by fax or e-mail.

"We deposit the money, plus tips, into the restaurant account," Martell said. The restaurants pay BadgerBites a commission.

The site started with five restaurants on Feb. 1, 2010, and has grown to 64.

"We were two college students going into busy restaurant managers to talk about an idea," Wyler said. "We gave free trials to those first five."

Howard took over the job of talking to the restaurants and the site grew.

"We have 7,600 customers," Martell said.

The majority are college students but about 15 percent don't have UW e-mail addresses, suggesting that the customer base includes more than students.

Orders come from afar

Last week the business tallied $45,000 in transactions, an $11,000 increase over its previous best week, thanks to the many people who used the website to order food for protesters at the Capitol. Ian's Pizza, in particular, was a popular choice.

"We had orders from all 50 states and 11 countries," Martell said.

The countries included Afghanistan, Norway, Denmark and Egypt.

"It was really awesome to see that," Martell said.

The trio has plans to expand their business.

They share the profits from the business, but after Howard graduates in May, he will also take a salary as an employee, working on expanding the business to four more campuses. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is one of several that is being considered.

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