Creator of UTD Eats Franchises Dining App at Other Universities
When Justin Ehlert was a freshman at UT Dallas, he and his friends occasionally became frustrated when they would walk to the dining hall and realize that it had already closed.
That frustration drove him to develop UTD Eats, a website and iOS app that shows students when and where to eat on campus, and which area restaurants have student discounts.
“I got tired of the fact that I didn’t know when things were open. I put the hours in my pocket and it grew into UTD Eats,” said Ehlert, a computer science junior in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Since its inception in fall 2012, UTD Eats has accumulated more than 2,500 users and has grown into much more than Ehlert originally anticipated. Positive feedback from those using it has prompted Ehlert to create a version called University Eats that offers the same functionality for a wider range of schools.
Through his network of friends at different schools, Ehlert has expanded University Eats to Baylor University, the University of Washington, the University of Portland, the University of Florida, Arizona State University and The University of Texas at Austin, which already has more than 4,000 users.
The app has grown in popularity due to word-of-mouth, Ehlert said. He has chosen to keep the app free to make it available to any college student who can use it, but hopes to attract investors to help him grow his idea into something larger.
When Ehlert is not working on University Eats or going to class, he works as an iOS developer at Bottle Rocket Studios, is the student assistant baseball coach for the UT Dallas baseball team and even owns his own company, Jump Space Apps.
“If something annoys me, there’s a good chance it is affecting someone else, too. I see those opportunities as the most fun to tackle. Creating something that helps me, and those around me, is very rewarding.”
Last fall, Ehlert led a team that created a mobile app providing financial advice based on a person’s past spending habits called FinanSir. It tied for first place at the Capital One Coding for Good Hackathon, which focused on using programming as a tool for teaching financial literacy.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was a judge for the event, and Ehlert presented his team’s creation to the technology mogul. His team won brand-new iPad Mini 3s as part of its prize, and Ehlert got Wozniak to sign it for him.
“I went out right away and bought a clear backing to protect it,” he said.
This year, Ehlert is taking an entrepreneurship class to hone his skills with startup businesses. He will be required to come up with an idea to pitch to Dallas-area investors. He already has an idea for a software tie-in that tracks items purchased at a grocery store, offers recipe suggestions and tells users when their purchased products will expire.
“I come up with ideas when things annoy me,” Ehlert said. “If something annoys me, there’s a good chance it is affecting someone else, too. I see those opportunities as the most fun to tackle. Creating something that helps me, and those around me, is very rewarding.”
Ehlert hopes to get a summer internship with a tech company like Google, and eventually land a job. In his spare time, however, he’ll probably keep on developing apps.
“Seeing someone using one of my apps is an amazing experience. Knowing that all my hard work is turning into something that people use and enjoy makes it all worthwhile,” Ehlert said.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].