On-demand app, Minibar, delivers alcohol to Ithaca customers

By Emily Hull and Lyndsay Isaksen

Elliot Castillo, 22, orders from Top Shelf Liquors via the Minibar Delivery app.

Elliot Castillo, 22, orders from Top Shelf Liquors via the Minibar Delivery app.

It’s happy hour on a Wednesday night. Sitting in his Ithaca apartment, Elliot Castillo, 22, is craving some Pinot Grigio. He pulls out his Android smartphone and touches his finger to a recently downloaded app in the bottom right-hand corner of his home screen. With a simple touch, Castillo is brought to the entire inventory of Top Shelf Liquor Store on Ithaca’s South Hill.

Castillo is a weekly visitor of Ithaca’s liquor stores, but now the liquor store is being brought to him. On October 6, Minibar Delivery app launched in the Ithaca community, making alcohol an “on-demand luxury consumable.”

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According to itunes.com, Minibar was ranked 149th of more than 10,000 ‘food and drink’ apps available in the app store, as of Oct. 13, 2014.

Minibar Delivery was co-founded by Lara Crystal, a 2003 graduate of Cornell University, and Lindsey Andrews after receiving their master’s together at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“We saw an empty space in alcohol where there really wasn’t a go-to destination online to shop for wine and spirits,” Crystal said. “It’s one of those industries where people still have to go to the store.”

The startup launched in New York City in February 2014 and according to Crystal the company has been growing exponentially each month. With its rapid success, Minibar is ready to expand beyond the city, starting with Westchester and now in Crystal’s college town.

“I spent four years in Ithaca and thought it would be a great test of a suburban market. There’s more driving, it can be really cold and people don’t necessarily want to drive around to their local liquor store,” Crystal said.

Although, the app only launched this past winter the company saw an increase in use in New York City during inclement weather.

Crystal said talks of expansion to the Ithaca market began about a month ago, when Top Shelf Liquors approached Minibar. She said they hope to eventually add a beer store to the platform as well.

“We’ll definitely learn a lot as we go about the drinking habits of Ithacans versus New Yorkers,” Crystal said.

The app requires customers to make a $25 minimum with no additional delivery fee and guarantees the order will be at your door within an hour.

Christopher Kusznir, owner of Top Shelf Liquors said he had been pursuing a delivery service for his business for a couple of years. The biggest challenge was finding a way to have their inventory accurately displayed online. Top Shelf looked at other alcohol delivery apps, such as Drizly, to digitize their sales.

“We liked where Minibar was at as a company,” Kusznir said. “They were more adaptable and flexible for smaller stores.”

Kusznir said Top Shelf has hired two delivery drivers to accommodate the new partnership and the business plans on promoting Minibar through flyers, coupons and promotional material.

A current New York City partner, Atlantic Cellars, began working with Minibar upon its launch in February. General Manager, Guido Venitucci, said Minibar has helped increase revenue to the business.

“For any store like ours that has limited foot traffic, it has expanded the walls of our store,” Venitucci said.

Regardless of location, Crystal believes Minibar will fill a niche market for today’s generation.

“Millennials are looking for an easy way to get everything brought to them,” Crystal said. “They don’t want to spend time running errands. Having a conveniently, merchandised app that allows you to easily find what you want is something people are looking for.”

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Hackathons hire: Cornell joins national tech industry trend

By Emily Hull and Lauren Mazzo

Students participate in Cornell University's first-ever student-run hackathon, BigRed//Hacks.

Students participate in Cornell University’s first-ever student-run hackathon, BigRed//Hacks.

Over 300 students from schools throughout the northeast gathered on September 26–28 to take part in Big Red//Hacks, Cornell University’s first-ever student-run hackathon.

Hackathons are events where programmers, engineers and others work intensively on producing software programming, apps and startup business ideas within one weekend. According to a survey by student hackathon organizer Major League Hacking (MLH), 58 percent of hackathon participants received offers for internships, full-time jobs or part-time work as a result of attendance.

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“Companies are starting to recognize that hackathons are a very powerful recruiting and marketing opportunity because developers are in such high demand,” Jonathan Gottfried said, co-founder of MLH.

Siya Raj Purohit, project manager online computer science education site Udacity, said she’s noticed a cultural shift in the post-grad recruitment process. Universities used to get paid by companies to allow them to recruit their students–now those companies are investing in student hackathon projects.

“Companies are investing in hackathons because they realize this is where they’re going to find their next talent,” Vikram Rajagopalan said, director of University of Michigan’s MHacks. “They want the passionate people who come up with ideas and say I’m not going to wait for this to be built, I’m going to build it myself.”

Leon Zaruvinsky, the co-director of Big Red//Hacks, said he wanted to bring a hackathon to Cornell to fill a void.

“We haven’t really had much of a hacker or maker culture,” Zaruvinsky said. “This focus has definitely started to change in the last few years with the founding of the Pop Shop, the CU App Development Team, and the growth of various startup events. BigRed//Hacks is the next step in bringing this culture to an untapped and much larger audience in a way that’s both fun and accessible.”

According to MLH, more than 40 hackathons will take place across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom this semester.

“They’ve become a place to learn real world practical skills. You might learn the theory in the classroom but you learn practice at the hackathon,” Gottfried said.

MHacks, the fall 2013 University of Michigan event, was one of the first large-scale student-run hackathons–breaking the record at the time with 1,200 participants. Rajagopalan said they became popular around that time.

“We brought students from across the U.S. to this event,” he said. “They all went back to their schools saying, ‘I want to build this at my school.’”

Hackathons provide unique opportunities for student “hackers” to imagine, create, collaborate and produce projects. They also get students hired.

Anthony Rotoli, a Microsoft recruiter at BigRed//Hacks, said the best way for students to get noticed by employers is to attend events like hackathons.

“At a career fair, we walk away with a stack of like 500 resumes, but at an event like this, we might walk away with 5 or 10 people that that really impressed us,” Rotoli said.

Rotoli wasn’t allowed to release exact numbers on how many students Microsoft hires from hackathon events, but he did say that the company hires well over 1,000 full-time employees and 1,000 interns yearly.

Although hackathons offer students career opportunities, they aren’t limited to corporate employment. Hackathon culture provides an entrepreneurial atmosphere many students find lacking in their computer science curriculums.

“When you get a bunch of passionate people willing to throw away whatever else they were doing for the weekend and isolate themselves for 36 hours to build things, you get amazing results,” said Rajagopalan.

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