Since Sc3, I have been interning at Local Food Lab, an incubator for sustainable food ventures. The funny thing is, the incubator itself is a startup; Roshan Malekmadani (Sc3 Fellow 2011 and 2012) and I were interning during the first session of the program ever. Even in such a food-focused place like the SF Bay Area, where you can get some of the freshest and tastiest and healthiest food in the whole world for most of the year, there are some legitimate kinks in our food system.
From day one, a few weeks before Sc3, our first task as interns was to create marketing analyses for the eight companies that would be part of the program. They would serve as the starting point for the end product of the five-week intensive: a business plan and elevator pitch. We researched the market available for each of the products that each entrepreneur wanted to sell, and did 10-page reports on consumer trends, key competitors, marketing strategy, etc. Because even if someone has the most important social cause that their product will serve, they need to have a viable market and consumer interest to keep the company sustainable.
Another of our intern tasks that made me look at food in a different way was to create databases of possible social media posts that had to do with local food. I spent countless hours reading articles, finding the best cooking blogs, and searching for in-season and delicious recipes. I learned about the emerging area of food-tech businesses and the problems with our food supply chain. Now, when I go to a restaurant, I think not only about where my food comes from from farm to plate but also the businesses involved and their strategies. I ask myself the question, is this an environmental venture? Does it has a social and environmental mission as well as making money and delivering the product?
Working at Local Food Lab motivated me to save the garden in my backyard that had been planted a month earlier. The plants were dying, being choked by the weeds that had grown in while my family neglected the garden. I began spending sweaty hours outside weeding, so that I could have some home-grown food and not feel like a hypocrite coming to work every day. Now, the garden bed is boasting beets, cherry tomatoes, basil, green beans, and cucumbers; the only plants that didn’t make it were the carrots.
One speaker that especially impacted me during the program was the founder of The Republic of Tea and professor at UC Berkeley. He said that it is important to have both a business as well as an activist perspective on things, because in the end of the day the company needs to be profitable. And he also debunked the myth that entrepreneurs need to be super humans; he suggested that the program participants all identify their strengths and weaknesses and find partners that can help out.
Pitch night was the culmination of the program. Fifty venture capitalists, angels, and supporters of the entrepreneurs came to hear the pitches of the eight companies that had created business plans with Local Food Lab. The companies were a local and sustainable bullion company, a nepali tea company, a california cured meats company, two organic and sustainable grocery stores, an eggplant snack company, an edible churchyards/places of worship company, and a company that would use transportation to help link the small farms to restaurants and grocery stores in LA. And I was extremely proud of the work that everyone had done at Local Food Lab to help launch these startups, hopefully reforming the food system along the way.
If you know of anyone who has an idea for a new sustainable food venture and is looking for help in creating a business plan and meeting mentors and connections in the SF Bay Area, encourage them to apply for the fall program!!
Castilleja High School ’13
Cohort Assistant for Cohort # 4
SSAP: Creating a non-toxic school environment