Startup Weekend enables participants to learnt how to conceive, validate and startup a business over the course of a weekend.

Wonky Soup delivers delicious solution to food waste at Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend returned to Exeter last weekend, bringing with it a surge of talent, passion and a true sense of community. Eighty participants attended the event during which they learnt how to conceive, validate and startup a business over the course of a weekend. 30 pitches were delivered and 8 teams formed, showcasing a broad range of ideas from sporting apps to printing services and creating soup from surplus vegetables.

Participants included MBA students from Exeter, but also those from beyond the region and even country, including the London School of Economics and students from the Bader International Study Center in Canada, undertaking a degree course based around entrepreneurism.

Mentors at the event included Exeter alumni who have succeeded in progressing their own businesses. Matt Morley and Jeremy Evans of Savvy, have recently exited the sought-after startup accelerator programme Y-Combinator (YC). This year YC attracted 12,000 applications and has backed many well-known businesses such as Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit.

The Wonky Soup Company was crowned overall winner of the event.  The team desired a business at the heart of the community, focusing on food supply and sustainability by finding a solution for surplus food. Richard Marriott, who is currently on the MBA course at Exeter focussing on entrepreneurism, pitched for the Wonky Soup Company. He’d heard about Startup Weekends, but this was the first time he’d been able to realise his business ambitions.

Richard explained: “I’ve previously worked for Unilever and appreciate the extent and impact of consumer waste. I’m keen to find solutions and develop concepts to real problems. The idea of taking waste food and repurposing into something enjoyable, is a very simple concept, but makes great environmental and business sense.”

Richard continued: “We created a soup loop where we’d take locally sourced unwanted vegetables, make soup, sell the soup, use the profits to pay the producers of the unwanted vegetables and create compost from any leftovers. Our concept is very local and we aim to reduce food miles and build a rapport with local allotments, which is where we conducted our market research over the weekend. We wanted to confirm if there was interest and availability out there, which there was. We also had to confirm with the council whether allotment owners were legally permitted to sell their surplus vegetables. One of our team members had a campervan and we were able to purchase some vegetables from an allotment owner we’d met and create a delicious soup, which we sold for a profit to Startup Weekend participants. We also spoke to cafes about selling the soup and they were very keen to get involved.”

Richard confirmed that the Startup Weekend experience was truly unique, on account of the incredible time pressure to build a business, but also the opportunity to confide in a group of experts who had been through the startup journey. He continued: “the pitching really was on the front line; challenging, terrifying and invigorating at the same time, but the judges were incredibly supportive. The diversity in my team was also very unique, with a broad age range from postgrads to people with decades of experience. Our team included members from Switzerland and China, alongside a financier and nutritionist, each bringing a fresh perspective and insight. This rich diversity in background and experience was fantastic and not something we could have easily recreated.”

Kathryn White, Innovation Manager at the Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab was on the judging panel at the weekend. Kathryn commented: “As an Innovation Manager helping businesses in Devon to innovate, and in my previous role scouting innovations in Silicon Valley, I have reviewed a lot of business ideas in my career. It was great to be involved with Startup Weekend and to see how far the teams were able to progress their ideas in just two short days! The Wonky Soup team impressed me and the other judges by coming up with a clear, concise business idea that still had a lot of opportunities to adapt and scale. They started from a problem (food wastage on allotments), did real research with real people, came up with a community-focused solution, and even made and sold their soup. They showed real passion for the project and I am amazed how much they fit into one weekend, I'm only disappointed I didn't get to try the soup!”

Startup Weekend is an experience that Richard would recommend to anybody interested in discovering what it takes to build a business, but also those looking to upskill and diversify. He’s keen to see if the Wonky Soup Company could progress further, but is realistic in his outlook. He concluded: “I’ve heard that around 12 per cent of those who get through the Startup Weekend process try to realise their businesses. It would be great to see if we can develop things further. However, the skills, connections and potential that I’ve encountered through the experience have inspired me to pursue my passion for entrepreneurism, whether this makes it or not.”

Date: 30 October 2018

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