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Omaha tech invention competes coast to coast

Posted at 6:41 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 19:41:59-04
An Omaha entrepreneur is using technology to help customers and businesses connect.
 
The idea is spreading outside Omaha.
 
Less than two months after Eric Burns introduced new Wi-Fi technology in the Old Market, restaurants are interested on the East Coast.
 
Gazella helps connect local business owners with customers and makes their experiences more personable. 
 
The technology is a one stop-shop for customers to give feedback to restaurants and earn loyalty rewards.
 
It also serves as a tool for business owners to track customers.
 
Burns, 27, Omaha, invented the Gazella Wi-Fi technology in November, introduced it at Pickleman's in the Old Market in July and four weeks later, he's shipping his invention to Des Moines and New York City.
 
"Some of our competitors out on the East Coast have spent millions of dollars to build this,” Burns said. “Well, really it's kind of that Midwestern work ethic that's been able to get us to this point." 
 
Instead of a password to free, public Wi-Fi, a customer logs into Facebook or gives their email password.
 
This allows a business owner to tailor loyalty programs to individual customers and get feedback about their experience while they're at the restaurant.
 
Pickleman's owner Alex Harrington says it attracts customers.
 
"The technology is key for small shops and restaurants that are trying to connect to their customers," Harrington said. 
 
Customer Alexa Nelson found out about the Gazella connection for the first time Tuesday.
 
Not making the connection obvious is part of the point: that it's subtle and not annoying.
 
"It’s awesome,” Nelson said. “I really don't like getting annoying emails from places that I never go. So the fact that it's tailored towards you and the person that's walking in and it makes it more personal with the business owner, I mean, that's great.”
 
While Customer Cherie Trimberger agrees, she's skeptical about Wi-Fi that asks for personal information.
 
"With any Wi-Fi you log into, you have to be careful about what you're getting into,” Trimberger said. “And when you say things like 'secure, secure Wi-Fi,' there's no guarantee that it's necessarily secure.”
 
Burns says the Facebook and email access are part of what makes Gazella more secure than traditional public Wi-Fi.