LevelUp's partnership with Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services could expand the mobile payment system's presence in the Midwest, a region that has received less attention from startups than San Francisco and New York.
"We have a strategy in place – one that includes partnerships with foodservice companies like Chartwells – to expand LevelUp into more areas," says Michael Hagan, chief operating officer at LevelUp, a SCVNGR venture. "We love that Chartwells is always pushing the envelope with technology."
Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services provides food service to universities throughout the U.S.
While many tech companies launch in major cities on the East and West Coast, a few have started paying attention to the Midwest. Dwolla, an alternative payment provider, is located in Des Moines, Iowa and counts many Iowan companies and the state government among its clients. FreedomPay, a payment gateway provider, started testing its Vibe mobile wallet in St. Louis, Mo. in January. And the Isis mobile wallet was launched in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City.
LevelUp's main target is getting the app into the hands of college students, who are receptive to new technology and willing to share their experiences. In March LevelUp hit one million users only three months after reaching 500,000. More than 5,000 merchants throughout the U.S. accept LevelUp, but these merchants are mainly located in large cities.
"LevelUp is always looking for ways to reach college students, because LevelUp provides an experience that students really value … and because students can help expand LevelUp into nearby markets," Hagan says.
To make a LevelUp payment to Chartwells, a college student will link a payment card to the mobile app. LevelUp generates a unique quick-response (QR) code, which can then be scanned at point of sale to initiate the payment.
The partnership includes a pilot using LevelUp as a payment method in dining halls at Buffalo State in New York and Northeastern University in Boston. The Compass Group North America, based in Charlotte, N.C., is the parent company of Chartwells.
"Students will fuel mobile payment growth," says Patti Girardi, vice president of marketing and creative services at Chartwells, in an email. "LevelUp has certainly been well-received by students within retail dining operations at the two pilot accounts."
The pilot has been live for two months with no end date set, as the intention is to make LevelUp the preferred payment option with students. Hagan says some universities are creating white-label versions of the app with LevelUp working in the background.
Chartwells, which manages more than 230 college and university campus dining services, is compiling a list of other locations to launch LevelUp.
LevelUp can provide data about first-time and returning visits and purchases. In turn, Chartwells can measure the success of promotions and review other purchasing behavior.
Although many players were skeptical of LevelUp in the beginning, its growth through numerous partnerships — and the insistence of its CEO to call himself a "chief ninja" — has attracted a lot of attention.