Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship

2009 Winner - Business Plan Competition

From Marquette Business Plan Competition Winner to Fulbright Scholar

Catching Up with Chris Hallberg of Smug Mug

In 2009 Chris Hallberg, an Arts and Sciences undergraduate student at Marquette University, won the Business Plan Competition with the help of caffeine. Hallberg’s venture, SMUG Coffee, allows customers to pay for their coffee using only their coffee mug. SMUGs are reusable mugs with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips embedded inside—the result is like having a debit card in your coffee cup.

Customers can use their SMUG to pay for beverages by tapping the cup against a reader wired to a server containing data which deducts from their account. In addition to making it convenient to pay for coffee, Smugs encourage customers to reuse their mugs instead of using disposable paper cups and plastic lids.

Through the competition, Hallberg was paired up with mentor and Stone Creek Coffee founder, Eric Resch. With Resch’s guidance, Hallberg developed the software for SMUG that eventually led to a prototype.
“Eric was crucial to refining our business model and providing a space to develop and pilot the SMUG. He also gave us access to the entire team at Stone Creek who provided industry feedback,” said Hallberg.
Hallberg was also given business plan advice by a top Starbuck’s executive through the competition’s vast network of industry contacts. Following product completion in May 2009, several coffee shops across the country have adapted Hallberg’s technology. Stone Creek Coffee plans to have the SMUG available in stores next year.

“I entered the competition with an idea and left with a well-defined business model and plan for converting that idea into a viable business,” Hallberg said.
This fall Hallberg plans to launch a companion hardware device that will allow him to offer the SMUG to any coffee shops, regardless of cash register type, from a single unit independent to a national chain.

After winning the Business Plan Competition, Hallberg received a Fulbright scholarship. He is currently developing an RFID prepaid card system for use with the public transportation system in El Salvador. He is also working on a company that participated in the 2010 Business Plan Competition, the Human Powered Nebulizer (HPN). Lars Olson, a professor of biomedical engineering at Marquette, invented a low cost nebulizer that can be used without electricity in developing countries. Hallberg has been working with Ministry of Health staff to implement the nebulizer in El Salvador.