Have you ever yearned for caramel sea salt gelato from Gelato Fiasco or craved Honolulu Tofu night at Thorne without anyone willing to share the experience? You’re not alone. Ruben Martinez ’15 is trying a new approach to eliminate this dilemma. 
Bowdoin’s new Dining With Strangers website allows students with common interests to meet in a variety of different settings, from a casual dinner on campus, to the newest movie at Eveningstar, to the highly coveted 4 a.m. Frosty’s date.

Martinez is one of several recent student entrepreneurs who seek to make the lives of fellow Bowdoin students a little easier through technology, both on campus and beyond.

Martinez sat down with the Orient to discuss Dining With Strangers and student entrepreneurship at Bowdoin. 

How did you come up with the concept of the website?

I had to come up with an idea for my mobile computing class, because we all had to build iOS apps for the semester. I remembered hearing about Dinner with Six Strangers and I wanted to do something along those lines, but I wanted to make it as flexible as possible, so that people could set up something that they liked with as many people as they wanted. I figured that it would be something that a lot of people could use. Frequently, you see people having lunch or dinner by themselves, and I think it’s a shame, given the number of awesome people that we have here, to have people not socializing with everyone else.

Have you received feedback about the product yet? How do you feel about it?

I’ve heard from a lot of my friends and students, and they’re really excited about being able to socialize more without necessarily having an unpredictable environment. You can select the number of people you want to dine with, where you want to dine—that kind of thing. It allows for a more controlled environment. It’s a very enjoyable experience to get to know more people. There comes a point in your Bowdoin career where you feel like you already know everyone that you need to know. Then you go on a Dining with Strangers date and realize that you don’t actually know everyone.

How has the user traffic been? Are you happy with it so far?

I think that word of mouth will be a powerful way of getting more people going. I think this will spread and become more of a community thing by people going on dates, and then telling their friends “Hey, I went on this date last week. It was great. I met these awesome people.” As the semester goes on, people will be hanging out with the same friends every day, and I think it will really pick up later. 

Do you mean when first years become tired of hanging out with their floor all the time?

Most of the people who have signed up so far have been first years. I’m not sure what the percentage is, but at least half. 

How would you describe entrepreneurship and its support at Bowdoin? 

I’ve found that there are a lot of people who want to get [projects] going. I wouldn’t say that there’s much of an environment now, but with the entrepreneurship club that launched last year, there’s been a renewal of efforts to encourage entrepreneurship at Bowdoin. I’d say Tim Foster has been very helpful in getting those things up and running. The Career Planning Center has been very enthusiastic as well.

What else do you think the school could do to support student entrepreneurs and developers?

They can do a better job of making the resources that are available known to students. I’d say Bowdoin has a lot of really interesting connections and helpful people out there. They want to make your ideas happen. If you’re in the know about these things, you know they’re out there. Otherwise, there’s not too much going on to let people know. 

What’s next for Dining with Strangers? What are your big long-term goals?

Part of what I want to do is get more businesses to be available on the site. They’re helping me actually pay for the site. I’ve been trying to only go to local businesses.

So the idea is that you’re sending people their way, and they’re sponsoring you in return?

Exactly. I want to get more of them to sponsor the site. As soon as we start seeing more and more people going on dining dates, I want to talk with these businesses and get them to offer discounts to Bowdoin students through the site. I also want to get iPhone and Android apps out there, but that’s more of a long-term goal over the span of the next year or so. Once those platforms are there, I want to discuss spreading the program to other small schools like Bowdoin. 

Is there any specific message you’d like to send to the student body about your new program?

More than anything, I want to tell people to go out there and actually try it. A lot of people are like “Yeah, I’m excited about the idea. It’s really great.” Then they never actually get themselves to make a date. That initial mental commitment is the hardest part. I think that if people put themselves out there, they would really enjoy using something like this. I’d also like to tell other entrepreneurs that there are definitely resources out there, and that they just need to take the first step right now.