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Technology - a new aproach to solving food waste

Tue, 08 November 2016

Contributed by Iseult Ward, co-founder of FoodCloud
FoodCloud was founded because the world needs a FoodCloud.The figures speak for themselves. Over 30% of all food produced is lost or wasted across the global food system and 795 million people are in food poverty. According to the UN, if we could reduce food waste by just 25% we would have enough food to feed all of those people who are malnourished. 
I launched FoodCloud with my co-founder Aoibheann 3 years ago, after I graduated from university. We wanted to tackle the problem and started by looking at how we could redistribute food ‘waste’ – that was still perfectly fit for human consumption – from businesses to charities in their local community. 

We started with a very basic version of our product, also known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). After initial research we began approaching retailers. 
We launched a trial with Tesco Ireland and soon after we saw the amazing impact our solution was having. This went far beyond just nutrition. Our partner charities shared stories with us: A women’s refuge filled with laughter as the women swap and share food and recipes; men from a homeless shelter pooling their pocket money to buy gravy to enjoy their first ever steak; and a woman who gave her kids a packed lunch going to school and had dinner in the table ready when they came home for the first time in 6 months.
A year later we had scaled FoodCloud to every corner of Ireland with Tesco and Aldi. We also launched a pilot in the UK with Tesco. Tesco’s Group CEO, Dave Lewis, had this to say: “This is potentially the biggest single step we’ve taken to cut food waste.”
Since January 2016, in partnership with FareShare, the UK’s largest food redistribution charity, we have brought on an average of 70 stores per month. We now have over 1,000 stores donating to 2,800 charities with 5 million meals equivalent donated to date and will have every Tesco store in the UK and Ireland donating by the end of 2017. 
But it hasn’t been easy. This is my first start-up, so the learning curve was steep.

Based on my experience, I have three pieces of advice I’d like to share with any potential entrepreneurs or anyone who would like to tackle some of the major challenges our planet will face in the coming years.

Don’t be afraid of technology.
Technology is lot more accessible for new entrepreneurs and is creating opportunities to tackle major global problems. We can now create new innovative solutions to environmental and social problems that can be scaled globally. Anyone can do this. 
Neither Aoibheann or I have backgrounds in technology. We didn’t use any technology beyond phones calls for our first few donations, but we quickly began to see how technology could help us create a solution that was sustainable and scalable. We started with an outsourced app and now we are on our third platform and finally have a technology team in-house. 
Our platform enables ‘smart donations’. These are donations that are managed by our technology and supported by our passionate team – it’s like technology with a human heart! At scale, we support local relationships between businesses and charities and also track the equivalent of 150,000 meals a week through our software platform. 

Start simple.
Firstly, you should start talking to customers/users when you have the most basic possible version of your product. When we first approached Tesco, we had developed an MVP at a very low cost. This was just enough for us to get a trial in place. 
During the trial, Tesco were very open to working with us to further develop the solution. We worked with 18 stores for over 6 months and spent a lot of time in the back of their stores and with charities understanding how we could create a solution that would maximise the food donated from stores to charities.

Bring some passion to the table.
You need to be passionate about the problem you are trying to solve, not the solution. You need to adapt and change your solution as you learn. It is this passion that keeps you focused, motivated and moving forward in the right direction.
When we first launched FoodCloud it failed. It was difficult to walk away from all of the work we had done, but we had to if we were going to get FoodCloud off the ground. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened and was what led us to Tesco. 
There is an amazing community of people and organisations that want to support new ways of tackling social and environmental issues (including Shell LiveWIRE). You just need passion and the drive to find them!
I want our story to give others the confidence to tackle the major global social and environmental problems we face today. Look for new ways to solve problems. Don’t be afraid to try and fail and fail again.

About Iseult Ward (co-founder and CEO of FoodCloud)

Iseult is co-founder and CEO of the award winning social enterprise FoodCloud. Her passion is food and solving social and environmental problems. FoodCloud is a social enterprise that connects businesses with surplus food to charities in their community. Since 2013, FoodCloud has scaled to have over 1,000 retail stores across the UK and Ireland, donating food through its software platform, with almost 5 million meals donated to over 2,800 charities. Iseult is one of Time Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders, was awarded the 2014 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Impact award, Green Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014, an Arthur Guinness Projects winner in 2013, awarded Trinity Business student of the Year 2013 and is a One Young World Ambassador. This year, Iseult secured the Marie Claire’s Future Shapers Award and WMB [Women Mean Business] Social Entrepreneurs of the Year.
You can follow FoodCloud on Twitter.