Mere miles from the central hub for venture capitalists of the world on Sand Hill Road, Palo Alto has always been under the influence of powerful businesses and money. Entrepreneurs drew the initial flood of money into Palo Alto, from the meager beginnings of Apple and Hewlett-Packard to the more recent dot-com boom that transformed Palo Alto from a sleepy west coast town to a vibrant suburb with billions of dollars of revenue flowing through it every day.
Growing up in the shadow of this financial boomtown has fostered an affinity for business and entrepreneurship within the youth in the community. Especially in Palo Alto’s high-achieving high schools, business and finance culture pervades the atmosphere. Paly itself has no less than five business oriented clubs, from competition teams such as Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) to investment clubs like Happy Day Microfunds.
From this nurturing community a number of student entrepreneurs have developed their own student-run businesses. Seniors Chirag Akella, Ethan Kao and Ian Woodfill are some of these students.
These students all saw AllergyTable as an opportunity to advance their future career interests.
“My friends and I were interested in business and finance and wanted some first hand experience in the field,” Akella said. “We thought there was no better way to truly experience the field and learn than to go through the trials and tribulations of starting our own company.”
In 2014, their sophomore year of high school, the trio founded AllergyTable, which allows “people who suffer from food allergies to find and search restaurants based on its ability to accommodate their dietary needs.”
To do so, these students needed to maintain the company’s website, but could not always do so due to the heavy workload of high school. Thus, they created a crowd-sourced database to keep the website alive while they were completing schoolwork.
“The AllergyTable database is made up of members of the allergy community who are able to input their experiences at restaurants, giving an idea of a restaurant’s service based on its ability to accommodate food allergies,” Akella said. “Through this community, users can gain insight and find restaurants in their area faster and efficiently.”
AllergyTable goes farther than just an attempt to break into the business world, however.
“For me, starting AllergyTable.com was personal as I have food allergies,” Akella said. “For someone with allergies, I have to make sure that any place I eat at is allergy friendly. Growing up, it would have been nice to have a place where I could look and quickly find allergy friendly restaurants.”
However, an idea is just that; an idea. To make their goals come true, the students had to take action in order to build a functional company and website. Although Woodfill has considerable knowledge in programming as one of the Paly Voice’s webmasters, beginning his own database was a difficult endeavor.
“As a website that is mainly dependent on the input of user based data and user interactions, creating our initial database [was] the hardest part,” Akella said.
Furthermore, these students needed to figure out what to do with the website even after creating it.
“After talking to many more experienced entrepreneurs who have tried or started companies with similar problems, we realized we need to come up with creative solutions to drive people to our site which we implemented with moderate success,” Akella said.
Even after the bulk of the work, the website, was finished, the trio still remained concerned about legal troubles. To prevent this, the students turned their company into an LLC to prevent them from any allergy-related lawsuits in the future.
Since the company’s founding, the students have had to creatively deal with new problems that the ever-changing world has thrown their way. Even with all the adaptations they have made, their core values have always remained the same.
“We have never really deviated from our original mission to help people find new and closely allergy friendly restaurants in a timely manner,” Akella said. “However, after facing problems throughout the process we have had to get creative with how we reached our possible users.”
Unfortunately, the future of this student-run company is uncertain. After senior year, the company structure will need to be revised in order to continue functioning correctly.
“With the possibility of all three of us going to different parts of the country, it might be hard,” Akella said. “However, working on AllergyTable has been a great experience and I’d love to continue.”
Akella, Woodfill and Kao are not unique in their endeavors to pursue business opportunities within a resource-rich section of the world. Look for several other student-run businesses to pop up in the future with ideas curated by business clubs such as DECA and FBLA.