By Irene Ferradaz
When asked about the unique name of their company – Crash Kitchen – Dang Nguyen '22 breaks out in laughter.
“It comes from our local Vietnamese language,” he says. 'Crash' represents the familiar flavor of the home kitchen, reminding customers that food will always taste homemade when it’s created in our kitchen.”
Four friends who hail from the same region in Vietnam and met as FIU students — Ha Le '22, Phuong Hoang, Uyen Nguyen and Dang Nguyen — have created their version of a cloud kitchen network that produces food specifically for delivery, but with a distinctly Vietnamese flavor. A cloud or ghost kitchen is a professional food preparation and cooking facility set up for the preparation of delivery-only meals. Cloud kitchens do not include a storefront or indoor seating for customers.
Inspired by family members who struggled to run traditional restaurants during the pandemic, the friends began researching the rise of online food delivery in South East Asia. When they realized the potential for growth and profit, they decided to capitalize on what Vietnam is best known for — food!
With a general business plan in place, the team reached out to StartUP FIU. Le credits Robert Hacker, director and co-founder of StartUP FIU; Michael Burtov, StartUP FIU entrepreneurship fellow; Ken Peters, professor of economics; and Gustavo Grande, director of Venture Ready Programs, StartUP FIU, with helping them perfect their pitch and make a strong case to potential investors.
“StartUP FIU helped us create the backbone of our business model and marketing strategy,” Hoang said. “Being in such a creative, collaborative and supportive environment was a blessing.”
The four students organized themselves into a company. Le, a politics and economics major who graduated in the spring, is the CEO; Hoang, a hospitality and marketing major, is the CMO; Uyen Nguyen, a finance and bank investment student, is the CFO; and finance and hospitality grad Dang Nguyen is the CTO.
Le persuaded her fellow team members to participate in the FIU Hult Prize, which StartUP FIU has hosted since 2016. The on-campus competition is for students and the winner moves on to Regional Summits, held in Boston for all U.S. teams. Those that win at the Regional Summits then compete in the largest social entrepreneurship competition in the world, hosted in New York; the winning team takes home $1 million.
“We knew our idea was a strong one, but it needed to be refined with expert advice,” Hoang said. Even though two members of their team were working on their final graduation projects at the time, they understood the value of competing in the Hult Prize.
After winning the campus-wide Hult Prize on March 26, Crash Kitchen went on to present at the Virtual Regional Summit, held May 13 - 15 in Boston, competing against 30 collegiate groups from all over the world.
The team won 6th place.
“We could not have come this far without the mentorship and resources provided by StartUP FIU,” Uyen Nguyen. “They spent hours helping us sharpen our business model, think beyond our intuition and rehearse our pitches.”
The Crash Kitchen team is now in the Hult Prize’s Global Accelerator, a six-week-long program that helps develop the entrepreneurs for the final competition in New York this fall.
As to future plans, Le and Uyen Nguyen are enrolling their project in a startup incubator in Vietnam. The team will continue perfecting its business model, with the goal of making Crash Kitchen one of the biggest delivery hub spots in Ho Chi Minh City in the next three to five years.