Universities collaborate to create Maestro

11/6/2015 Christine Olivo

Students from the University of Illinois and University of Chicago Booth School of Business have joined forces with a new startup, Maestro, that allows humans to live in a world where machines prepare and serve dinner for them.

Maestro is an automated food maker, currently aimed at preparing dinner meals, that will provide people with a healthier home cooked option to come home to at the end of the day.

The startup was first created by David Rabie at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and teamed up with schoolmate, Aubrey Donnellan. The company won $70,000 after winning the University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge, and Rabie went on to raising funds for his product and pitching his idea to potential investors.

The Maestro team now consists of three members, including Rabie and two University of Illinois graduates, Bryan Wilcox and Peter Fiflis. Wilcox studied mechanical engineering and graduated in 2010, and Fiflis studied nuclear engineering and graduated in 2011, and is now attending grad school at the University. The team is now stationed in Chicago, where they currently have an office space in 1871.

Although the team members come from different universities, Fiflis said it was a similar entrepreneurial idea that got him involved in Maestro.

Fiflis went through the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s Cozad New Venture Competition, a program designed to encourage students to create new businesses, with a team of nuclear engineers to design Breakfast Box. Breakfast Box was an automated machine intended to serve breakfast, where users could add their own ingredients and have their breakfast cooked for them over the course of the week. The machine was designed to cook foods such as eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon. 

“It was Maestro on the other end, targeted to serve breakfast,” says Fiflis.

After competing in Cozad, a mutual advisor between the University of Illinois’ Cozad New Venture Competition and the University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge, Mark Tebbe, introduced Fiflis to Rabie. Since then, the teams have come together over the past few months and are now moving forward with the development of Maestro.

“It’s a good team, a good product and we have good visions,” says Fiflis.

The team is currently working on product development that they will be able to sell to consumers.

“We are developing a product that we will actually be able to sell and that would be able to cook a great meal,” says Fiflis. “We’re promising you something, and it’s our turn to deliver it to you.”

The machine is intended to be a permanent countertop kitchen appliance, and designed to be the size of a toaster oven. The machine works by plugging it in, filling up the water tank and cooking the food in three different cooking chambers at the time.

Fiflis also said the machine is designed to have the food cooked as if it was made by a professional chef. "Maestro is as simple as scanning and loading a meal, clicking a button, and waiting a few minutes for your food to finish cooking," Fiflis said.

“It is designed to cook like professional cooks that know exactly what they’re doing,” he says. “It’ll be cooked exactly how the chef wanted it to be cooked. Everything will be cooked to perfection on the inside.”

Currently, the machine is targeted at making meals for one to two people, but Maestro hopes to expand to full families in the future. 

Fiflis said that the collaboration between students from both Universities has been beneficial to the start up of Maestro. 

“We have a lot of talent from both schools, and the more collaboration we have for the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois, the more people you meet and build a network,” says Fiflis. “You’ll start to meet a lot of people and see a lot of really cool startups doing really cool things.”

Fiflis added that his involvement in TEC events has helped him throughout the entrepreneurial process.

“TEC has a lot of good programming, and the introductions you get have been the most valuable,” he says.

Although working on Maestro, compared to working on Breakfast Box, has been a different experience for Fiflis, he says it has been a “fun experience” so far.

“I’m hoping to be on the team long-term,” says Fiflis. “I want to see an awesome product get made and hopefully change the world.”