By Tatyana Hopkins
Nationwide, more than 50 percent of college students face food insecurity, said Chloe King, a senior at the Elliott School of International Affairs and co-founder of an online marketplace for discounted food, Last Call.
“For myself and my co-founder, Erin, this was a painful reality,” Ms. King said.
She said her business partner, Erin McGeoy, B.B.A ’18, knew too well the struggles of some students who lack adequate resources to feed themselves either nutritiously or at all.
“Now, if this story and these statistics don’t shock you enough, how about the fact that 40 percent of all food that we produce in the United States is ultimately wasted,” Ms. King said.
Launched by the two young women earlier this year to prevent food waste and food insecurity, the Last Call platform alerts its 1,000 users about discounted leftover restaurant meals for $5 or less. The company won big at the university’s 11th annual New Venture Competition finals Thursday night.
“Businesses face huge barriers to getting food from their restaurant to a food pantry, resulting in millions of meals going to waste each year while millions of Americans go to bed hungry every day,” Ms. King said. “We help businesses sell out instead of throw out.”
The New Venture Competition is organized by the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the Office of the Vice President for Research. Each year, the annual event allows students to compete for jumpstart funding for a new business idea, startup or social venture.
Winners were selected from three tracks: social, tech and new ventures. Each of the first-place track winners were awarded $20,000 each to fund their ventures.
Last Call was the first-place winner for the competition’s social venture track.
The competition offered more than a dozen specialty-category cash prizes ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, a $10,000 Audience Choice Award and in-kind prizes that included Google Cloud service packages ranging from $3,000 to $100,0000.
Last Call’s cash winnings totaled $45,000. They also received a $100,000 Google Cloud package.
The 2019 New Venture Competition started with more than 215 teams. Those were narrowed to 12 finalists. This year, teams competed for a portion of $200,000 in unrestricted cash prizes as well as over $600,000 in in-kind prizes.
Jim Chung, associate vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship, said this year’s competition was the largest to date in terms of participation and prizes.
He said as one of the largest collegiate competitions of its kind, the New Venture Competition has helped shaped the school’s entrepreneurial spirit. He also noted that the university is a top 15 producer of billion-dollar startup founders worldwide.
“So, there is something about GW that attracts students who are not willing to just sit around and let things be the way they are,” Mr. Chung said. “They want to challenge the status quo, whether that’s in politics, whether that’s in law, medicine or startups.”
Two other ventures run by women students also won the remaining track awards.
Edith Levia, a graduate student studying interaction design, represented Dulceology, which won the new venture track. The online bakery sells caramel sandwich cookies made with the Latin American confection dulce de leche for corporations to give to their clients as opposed to traditional small items such as writing pens, key fobs or lanyards.
She said, ultimately, one-third of corporate promotional gifts and keepsakes are discarded and she hopes that her naturally flavored, artisan treats will express a unique sense of gratitude that will prevent further waste. She also noted that food gifting is a $20 billion market.
“You think we’re here to make cookies, but we’re really here to make dough,” Ms. Levia joked.
Manyung Emma Hon’s Plast-Ways won the tech track. The junior mathematics major’s startup uses plastic-eating microbes that will expand the life of landfills by reducing the lifetime of plastic from 1,000 years to about six weeks.
GW Provost Forrest Maltzman said he looks forward to the competition growing because it encourages the kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration “critical to solving the most difficult problems in our society,” noting that more than 50 successful ventures have been launched through the program.
Tim Hwang, founder and CEO of FiscalNote, which provides software tools, data services and news to companies and is one of the largest tech companies in Washington, D.C., offered opening remarks and advice to student entrepreneurs before the finalists presented their pitches.
“A lot of folks think that entrepreneurship is inherently about risk taking,” Mr. Hwang said. “But I actually think that entrepreneurship is about reducing risk as much as possible—that each step of the process is about identifying the biggest existential risk for your business and doing whatever it takes to scale [that risk] down.”