If you’ve ever begged a server for a plug to charge your cellphone, then the new devices created by Lana Ibragimova MBA ’15 and Alex Smetannikov MBA ’15 might be for you. The duo recently launched ChefCharger, maker of eye-pleasing mobile device chargers that come in versions like coasters and candle holders, offering convenience without being obtrusive in a restaurant atmosphere. Ibragimova says the idea for the devices came to her before her time at Sloan. “My family owns a facility and the first floor is a restaurant, I would see customers come in and asking for chargers several times a day,” she explains.
Knowing she would soon be enrolling in MIT Sloan, Ibragimova began thinking of ways to put the idea into action. It was at Sloan that she met her future partner, Smetannikov. The two had a strong desire to launch something entrepreneurial and, after discussing ideas, decided the chargers were the right fit. To figure out the best configuration for chargers, the duo did a lot of outreach—sharing their basic idea with restaurant owners and inviting feedback. “We did thousands of phone calls and found out that atmosphere was really important—they wanted something that fit in seamlessly with their design,” Ibragimova says.
With this information, the pair created their first prototypes in 2013, designing chargers in the style of candle holders, coasters, and salt and pepper shakers. Ibragimova and Smetannikov then began pitching their idea directly to resultant owners, starting in New York City’s financial district. “We would go door-to-door and say ‘Here is our candleholder, but it also does this,’” Ibragimova explains. “We would go around with big bags of prototypes,” Smetannikov adds. Multiple owners were interested and began including the stylized chargers in their restaurants and bars. Soon, the pair’s idea caught the attention of the media, helping to drive business and cut down on the door-to-door marketing. “Before the media coverage, it was hard to get people on board. Now people are excited and, because of publications, we can pick who we talk to—it’s just a normal startup loop,” Ibragimova says.
Currently ChefCharger’s most popular design is the coaster, but the two have plans to expand their line far beyond tableware. “We filed a patent for almost every decorative object. Our vision is broader than restaurants, our next steps are to cover areas like spas and malls,” she says.
Ibragimova and Smetannikov credit their Sloan classes for giving them entrepreneurial exposure, but also for bringing the two together—something that didn’t happen in their native Russia. “We found out we’re actually from the same town!” Ibragimova says. Aside from ChefCharger, the partners say they have lots of ideas for the future, and this first venture is just the beginning.