During the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, families and friends gather to celebrate with massive amounts of food and drink. However, sometimes the eyes are bigger than the stomach and some food goes to waste.
One former Vandalia-Butler student recently came up with a way to deal with this problem of food waste during the Vol Court Speaker Series and Pitch Competition at the University of Tennessee, where she won first place.
Taylor Gingrich, a senior industrial engineering major, decided to participate in the competition for extra credit in one of her classes. She is also working toward a minor in engineering entrepreneurship, so taking part in the competition made sense. However, she has always been interested in engineering.
“I realized in high school that I was good at math and science,” she said. “I started out as a chemical engineering major, but after a few classes, I learned that industrial engineering is a mix of business and engineering. That was great to learn.”
The Vol Court is a five-week entrepreneurial speaker series that culminates in a business idea pitch competition. After listening to professionals in different fields, students are asked to come up with a business idea for a chance to win $1,500.
“The common theme from the speakers is that they are passionate about what they are doing because they have to put in more work than the average person,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich worked on her idea by herself. While the final pitch of the idea is only 90 seconds, she said that it still took a lot of time to prepare. She worked on the idea and pitch for close to five hours.
“I was out of my comfort zone,” she said. “On its own, it wouldn’t have been too hard. It’s difficult scheduling around other classes. I have a senior design project I’m working on.”
The app Gingrich developed is called Fresh Now; and its main purpose is to let people know when the food they have in the pantry is about to expire. Users scan all the food they purchase, and they will get daily notifications as to when the food will expire. The app will also suggest meals based on which foods are expiring first.
Gingrich said the goal of the app is for it to be user-friendly and to be able to use the camera on any phone. There would be different icons for foods. She said that the idea came from her own life.
“The fridge would get full, and we [her roommate] were wasting money. I can’t waste money. I’m a broke college kid,” she said.
After the presentation, there was time for questions. Gingrich said that her idea hit a nerve with one judge who had complained about having to throw away an entire loaf of bread. Gingrich said she didn’t expect to win due to all the wonderful ideas.
“I was shocked,” she said. “There were so many good ideas from my peers. I was impressed; people were so creative. Honestly, I’m very thankful. UT is one of the only schools that does something like this.”
Gingrich said the money will go toward more research and development of the app. Beyond coming up with an idea, each student had to have a complete plan for the business including a template of the financial investment required for starting a company. Gingrich said that was one of the greatest things she learned from the competition.
“One of the big things is that I never knew how to start a business or how to take that risk. One big thing they pushed was that there are ways to assess the risk. There are different tools to use to analyze if your idea is feasible,” she said.
Gingrich will graduate in the spring, and she plans to stay in Knoxville. She’s worked a couple of internships, but she will be looking for a job. She would also want to pursue a master’s degree in the future. She strongly suggests the Vol Court competition for students.
“If you have any interest in business or entrepreneurship, it’s a very relaxed and risk-free environment to pitch your ideas. The professionals and faculty are helpful, and it’s good practice to present,” she said.
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