Auburn Engineering students Mit Patel and Daniel Mazur may have the next big business idea, leveraging the power of big data and machine learning for independent convenience stores.
The judges of Auburn University’s 2020 Tiger Cage Business Idea Competition certainly thought so. The duo took home first place in the annual competition in April, winning $25,000 in capital to advance their business, named SwiftSku.
The idea for SwiftSku came about in August when Patel and Mazur realized the potential of a big data solution for non-franchised convenience stores, known as independent c-stores. Patel’s parents have worked in the convenience store industry for many years.
“I’ve worked in the c-store industry along with them and noticed a lot of inefficiencies as well as the potential to utilize big data collection and optimize their processes,” said Patel, a senior double major in mechanical engineering and accounting. “I reached out to Daniel and said, ‘There’s all these different problems going on and we’ve got the skillset to fix them.’”
Since then, the two have set about to build out SwiftSku, which now serves customers in five states. The platform provides c-store owners with a centralized hub to analyze scan data from customer purchases, a customer loyalty program and big data analytics.
Scan data from purchases is reported back to the consumer packaged goods companies, which in turn provide promotional discounts to the c-stores. There are other scan data providers and customer loyalty programs out there, but SwiftSku is the first to offer those two in conjunction with data analytics in an integrated platform.
The SwiftSku platform offers a tier-based subscription model for c-store owners. SwiftSku provides the owners with a cyber-physical system known as the IQ Module, which integrates with the c-store’s point-of-sale system. By taking advantage of scan data, c-stores using the basic SwiftSku package will earn enough from promotional discounts to pay for the service within the c-store owner’s first three days of service based on SwiftSku’s existing customer analytics. SwiftSku also automates numerous manual processes, saving c-store owners over 150 hours of work per year.
The $25,000 in prize money from the Tiger Cage competition will allow Patel and Mazur to open new doors to grow their business.
“The loyalty program is a really big deal for us,” said Mazur, a mechanical engineering major. “We’ve been working around the clock to make it happen, and we think that’s the tipping point to where the value we provide makes a lot more sense for our customers.”
Of the 153,000 convenience stores in the U.S., 58% are independent c-stores. However, only 19% of these c-stores are serviced by existing back-office providers. The majority of these stores are operated by Indian immigrants. Another way SwiftSku is tapping into this market is by providing customer service in English, Gujarati and Hindi.
The duo is prepared to grow the SwiftSku customer base into the tens of thousands.
“Daniel and I are both excited to keep growing SwiftSku and exploring different angles in the industry because there’s just a lot of room for expansion in this market,” Patel said.
Patel and Mazur credit their participation in Tiger Cage for helping them make SwiftSku a reality.
“Going through Tiger Cage was a phenomenal experience. We learned a lot,” Mazur said. “Scott McGlon (entrepreneur in residence at the Harbert College of Business), in particular, was really helpful in terms of pushing us to develop some of the business concepts that we hadn’t really focused on and determine how we were going to attack the market.”
While their Tiger Cage experience helped flesh out some of the finer business points, the duo is quick to point out that SwiftSku wouldn’t have been possible without their background as engineers.
“Engineering has been so helpful just by having an analytical approach toward these problems,” Mazur said. “I don’t think there’s any other degree that could have given us the kind of mindset that we need to be able to tackle so many different problems with so many different variables.”