“In a half-delirious state from dehydration, I was like, ‘You know? I really hate the job that I’m at right now. Maybe I’ll start a company,’” Welsh said.
For many, such a resolution would be as fleeting as the bout of illness that took hold of him that night, but Welsh stuck with it. He realized that food was his passion, and the idea for Food Design HQ was born. But it took an encounter with a stranger on MSU’s campus to push his new business closer to becoming a reality.
“I just told the guy, ‘I’m trying to get the word out about a food industry consulting firm that I’m trying to set up,’” Welsh said. “And this guy’s like, ‘Do you know you’re literally sitting right outside the Hatch?”
Indeed, Welsh was unknowingly sitting outside of the MSU Hatch, a program designed to help Spartan entrepreneurs make their business plans a reality. He connected with the program and was able to travel to South by Southwest to connect with others in the food industry. At the conference, he met with restaurateurs Tim Love and José Andrés. It was then that inspiration hit.
“I was actually having a conversation with José Andrés when I was coming up with the idea,” Welsh said.
The idea became a smartphone app called MyPalate, a social platform for people interested in food and uninterested in snobbery.
“The idea behind MyPalate is to enable people to connect with the restaurant industry, as well as their friends, family, etc.,” Welsh said. “I hate the term foodie, because it pretty much excludes 95 percent of people. When you think food culture, the first thing that comes to a lot of peoples’ minds, unfortunately, is either a hipster from Brooklyn or a screaming chef. My goal with the MyPalate project is to help people connect with chefs and food industry experts.”
Walsh said the app, which is slated for release later this year, will allow users to share recipes and discuss food trends with industry professionals.
“Say you were trying to figure out the Paleo Diet, if it is actually worth your time,” Welsh said. “We’d like to get some nutritionists featured on the app, as well as food scientists.”
But ultimately, the app is about building community and being fun. Welsh is even planning a built-in game feature.
“I’m not going to talk about it until after we have it launched, but the app is designed around game theory,” Welsh said. “It’s designed to be fun for people to use, and it’s designed for people to post better and better recipes and better and better pictures so that they can get a better score in the game.”
In a move that could be described as full circle for the 22-year-old Welsh, he and his Food Design HQ team will officially debut the app March 12 at South by Southwest 2017. People who are interested in the app’s development can sign up for updates at mypalateonline.com.
Welsh said that the app is far from its completed state, and it will remain a work in progress even after its debut. During development, he’s changed the targeted user base from college students to young professionals looking to get into cooking or looking for restaurants in a city they travel to for business. There are also some features Welsh is holding out on until the app reaches a “critical mass.”
“We wouldn’t be implementing anything even resembling a paid feature until we hit 50,000 users in a city the size of Chicago or 10,000 in a city the size of Lansing,” Welsh said. “That would just be so that we could go to potential clients and say, ‘We’ve got 50,000 people in Chicago who would be willing to pay for special service.”
While there are still kinks to work out, Welsh is confident that he’ll have a quality product to roll out on March 12.
“It’s at a point right now where we’re finally confident in saying it’s running smoothly,” he said.