Wendy Jiang Scelia (B.S.’11) is one of this year’s VCU Alumni 10 Under 10 recipients. The awards program honors alumni who earned their first VCU degree within the past 10 years and have enjoyed remarkable professional success, made important contributions to their community and loyally supported the university.
Join us for a virtual ceremony 5:30 p.m. Oct. 15 to recognize them.
By VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations
Waiting on your waiter is never a problem thanks to Tablee, the brainchild of entrepreneur Wendy Jiang Scelia. With a single tap, the small, coaster-size piece of technology sends a signal to a smartwatch worn by the server, letting them know which table needs help and the time of the request.
“I always had this idea that I saw in Korea,” says Scelia, who grew up in China. “It was very simple. When you go out with friends, and you need something, you press a button on the table. I thought it made so much sense.”
Scelia set out to be a chemical engineer, not an entrepreneur, but her curiosity took her in different directions and on different career paths. Since graduating from VCU’s College of Engineering, she has worked as a project manager connecting the dots and then as a marketing manager promoting and positioning products. Those experiences, she says, culminated in her desire to be an entrepreneur and gave her the tools and knowledge to help propel her success with Tablee, both the name of the device and the hospitality software firm Scelia created with her partners where she serves as CEO and leads the product development team.
“To know that you’re moving forward with your goals and making new goals and being fluid and being able to achieve them and move on to new ones is good,” says Scelia, who started developing Tablee as a side project while she was working as a full-time marketing manager in Chicago.
When she decided to pursue Tablee as a full-time venture, however, she says it wasn’t easy. “There were no customers at that point, only hope.” And when she did land her first customer, The Daily, a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, product glitches sent her back to the drawing board determined to make the technology work.
“One of my favorite books is ‘This Will Never Work’ by the founder of Netflix,” she says. She took inspiration from the book to set small experiments to learn how restaurants and their customers would respond to Tablee to help shape the product. “You don’t just make assumptions without data is one of the bigger things that I learned during Tablee,” she says. Then she joined the fall 2018 cohort of Lighthouse Labs, a Richmond-based business accelerator that provides a three-month intensive mentoring program, which gave the startup the spark it needed.
Since its full launch in 2019, Tablee has been recognized as a Top 9 Restaurant Tech to watch for by National Restaurant News, a Start Me Up Innovation Award finalist by Foodservice Consultants Society International, one of the most exciting product innovations and Best New Product by Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show, and Supplier of the Year by Virginia Restaurant Association. Scelia was also named in 2019 as one of the Top 50 Women Innovators in the Restaurant Industry.
Not one to stop innovating, in June 2020 Scelia founded her second startup, Olivian, which aims to manufacture the highest quality face mask for consumers and businesses. The idea came to her after she learned that her stepbrother’s wife, a nurse in Connecticut, was struggling with a mask shortage in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also plans to build a Tablee scholarship in partnership with Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.
“Education is what enabled me to do what I’m doing today,” she says. “We’re really excited to be in a position to give back.”