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MIT grads create beer coasters that charge smartphones

A ChefCharger coaster charged a smartphone on a bar top.
A ChefCharger coaster charged a smartphone on a bar top.handout

In today’s tech-reliant world, Lana Ibragimova believes, it should be as easy to charge your phone at a bar or restaurant as it is to get a drink of water.

“It should be expected,” she said. “We all have a right to charge our phone while we are dining.”

But most establishments don’t offer plugs to patrons. So Ibragimova has decided to remedy the problem herself.

Shortly after arriving in Cambridge from Russia in 2013 to attend MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Ibragimova met Alex Smetannikov. After talking with him about potential business opportunities, the two launched ChefCharger, a startup that makes products that are indistinguishable from tabletop items in restaurants and bars, but feature built-in USB ports and charging cables.

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“People like to be in touch at all times. We should be able to call Uber, or whoever, using our phones, without worrying about the battery,” said Ibragimova, who graduated from the school in June.

Ibragimova said the idea first came to her in 2011, when she was hanging out at a family friend’s restaurant in Russia.

Each time she went to the restaurant, she said, customers kept asking the owner for a place to charge their phones.

“I decided it might be a good idea for a startup to invent something new, something super-indistinguishable that isn’t bothering the dining atmosphere,” she said.

Salt-and-pepper caddies fitted with USB ports and cables.
Salt-and-pepper caddies fitted with USB ports and cables.handout

When Ibragimova connected with Smetannikov, the pair created beer coasters, candleholders, and salt-and-pepper caddies fitted with the USB ports and cables. The designs were based on feedback and field interviews with bar owners and customers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

The waterproof coasters have USB cables that can be pulled out from the side and plugged directly into a phone. The coasters have enough battery life to charge a smartphone twice over, Ibragimova said.

“The wire to charge it is inside of the coaster. It is already attached. So you just roll it out and then plug your phone in,” said Ibragimova.

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When not in use, bartenders can collect the coasters, which come in a set of five, and place them onto a special docking station to recharge.

ChefCharger’s wooden salt-and-pepper holder and metal candleholder offer USB ports, instead of cables, and can charge a device up to eight times.

“There are a few options — patrons might use their own cords . . . or they could borrow the cord from the restaurant. We supply the set of cords to enable customers to charge any type of devices,” Ibragimova said.

The ChefCharger products only work with the special charging stations, which Ibragimova says will discourage theft. The chargers also beep when removed from the establishment.

Ibragimova and Smetannikov are currently testing their products at 11 bars and restaurants in New York City.

Ibragimova said the company has plans to roll them out in Boston, and has been in talks with the owner of a major restaurant chain here.

The vision, Ibragimova said, is to have the chargers tucked away in as many establishments as possible — and beyond.

“Right now we are working with restaurants, but by next spring, we are hoping to launch additional products for people’s personal use, in their homes,” Ibragimova said.

ChefCharger’s custom candleholder charged a smartphone device during a catered event.
ChefCharger’s custom candleholder charged a smartphone device during a catered event.handout

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.