By Catherine Duggan. Enterprise Ireland’s International Business Women’s Conference is being held in the Brandon Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry on Monday 22nd August 2016. This year’s theme is: The Changing Face of Success. Ahead of the conference I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview one of the speakers. She’s a very successful social entrepreneur, CEO and co-founder of FoodCloud, Iseult Ward.
FoodCloud: Past, Present and Future
Since setting up FoodCloud in 2013 you’ve become very successful in building up your venture. What are the supports, and who are the people who have helped you most along the way?
When I first graduated myself and Aoibheann O’Brien launched FoodCloud in October 2013. We got support from LaunchBox an accelerator programme run by Trinity. Then we went into LaunchPad which is NDRC’s accelerator programme. They were a crucial 6 months as we were at a very early stage with only two of us in the organisation. It helped us shape the solution and to do a lot of the initial market research with charities and food businesses in Ireland.
We also received funding through the Arthur Guinness Projects competition, a small grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland as well, but that was a bit later in 2014. The support that we got very early on was very helpful.
Pic: Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward co-founders FoodCloud
Tesco Ireland, and more recently Aldi are very strong collaborators with FoodCloud in Ireland. How did this collaboration happen?
We understood from our initial research that to really make this work and scale we would need a retail partner. The type of food that retailers had, the consistency of the availability of the food and the quantities available meant that retailers were the most beneficial to charities. As we were asking the charities to collect the food we had to ensure that there was enough volume for them to go and pick it up.
Fortunately, in October 2013 Tesco agreed to let us trial our solution in one of their stores and it worked successfully. As soon as we completed the pilot in June 2014 we got a contract from them to launch in all their stores across Ireland to the value of €250,000. That was when we began to grow a team so that we could execute on that contract, and that helped us to scale quickly and nationally in Ireland.
Look what just "hopped" into our depot and are making their way to charities throughout Ireland… pic.twitter.com/66fa4nauFC
— FoodCloud (@FoodCloud) August 5, 2016
We were fortunate that we got a retail partner so early on. This was crucial in how we developed our solution. It was a turning point as we were able to prove our model worked.
We wanted to scale nationally so we completed a national roll out with Aldi in Ireland this year, and we have a great relationship with Aldi. We hope to bring on more retailers in the UK and have just launched with Tesco UK in January.
We were approached by Tesco UK after the successful roll out of FoodCloud in Ireland. We are putting up an average of 60 stores a month at the moment, so we have 450 stores already on the FoodCloud platform in the UK alone.
FareShare is the national surplus food redistribution organisation in the UK. They have an existing network of over 2,500 charities across the UK who are receiving donated food but from further down the food supply chain e.g. distributors and manufacturing. Bulk quantities are broken out and delivered to charities, a similar model to the warehouse model that you see here (Dublin depot). We have partnered with FareShare and some of their growing network of charities so that they can access to food retailers in their local community using our platform.
— FoodCloud (@FoodCloud) July 29, 2016
Do you envisage working with other businesses and suppliers?
Aoibheann, co-founder of FoodCloud is currently managing the depot/warehouse model. We have depots here in Dublin, Cork and Galway which can manage large quantities of surplus foods from farmers, manufacturing and distribution centres.
We work with two models. The local model goes directly from the business to the charity. It’s our technology software that actually makes the link.
Whereas with the warehouse (depot) model, either the supplier drops the food or we collect it and it is housed in the warehouse before it’s distributed to the charities. This is food with a longer life as we don’t have the opportunity at local level to store it as its more perishable.
Using these two models we have a solution in Ireland to redistribute surplus food from every stage of the food supply chain. So whether it’s a farmer, someone working in a distribution centre, or someone working in a store in the community, we have a solution to redistribute their surplus food to charities. We can deal with large quantities of surplus products which we can store in the warehouse, or smaller more perishable products which we can link up with the charities
— FoodCloud (@FoodCloud) July 28, 2016
Have you considered expanding into the European and/or International markets in the future?
We have had the opportunity to participate in some the international forums and conferences e.g. in the European Food Banks Networks Conference and the OECD Conference on Food Loss and Waste in Retail and Processing.
The challenges that both retailers and charities face are very similar across Europe and internationally. We do see a huge opportunity to scale our solution with retailers and the traditional redistribution food bank model internationally. To do that we will need to fundraise. Currently we our operating income covers our costs, but to cover the expenses associated with launching into a new market we will need to fundraise to do that.
You use technology platform and an app to help people connect. Can you briefly explain how this works, and the technology behind it?
The platform allows us to manage and monitor the donation process and the food that’s donated. In a store if there is a surplus of food available this information is uploaded onto our system. A notification is automatically sent to the charity, who can reply via SMS directly to the store to confirm that they will be able to collect the products that evening. The store receives a notification saying that the charity will arrive. When the charity arrives at the store will check all the products that the charity is receiving as a donation.
In the background we have an amazing support team who are there every day of the year from 5pm except Christmas day. They make ensure that everything is going smoothly between the charities and the stores and that everyone is having the best experience possible, which is one of our main aims. We also want to ensure that the maximum amount of food that can be donated is donated.
Total Volumes Redistributed (kg) : 1,585,570
Meals Equivalent: 3,488,253
CO2 Emissions Saved: 5,073,823
650 stores across UK & Ireland
Huge congratulations on your achievement of being one of the six finalists in the Virgin Media VOOM 2016 competition. How did it feel to get to the final?
It was a great experience. It ran just over the month of June, with a new stage almost every week. It was very fast moving. Once we found out we got through the first phase we had to go to London to do the Pitchathon. Literally a few days later we got a call saying that we made it through to the next stage. We then went to Birmingham to do 6 x 10 minute interviews with 6 different professionals on 6 different aspects of FoodCoud.
The next day, after the interviews we got word that we got through to the final. Then 4 or 5 days later it was back over to London for the final, and we started preparing for the pitch and the presentation
What impact did reaching the final have on your personally and the future of your venture?
It was a great experience and made us focus on our future plans. It was good to step back from the day to day operations and to have the opportunity to present to such an amazing judging panel. That day was very intense. We got a brilliant response from the judges and had the opportunity to meet Richard Branson the next day. He was very supportive and showed a lot of interest in what we are doing and in FoodCloud.
We received a prize fund of £20,000 and an internet package. Regarding future mentoring, I’ve already been in touch with Virgin Unite about climate change. It’s still early days.
Would you recommend business to enter VOOM 2017?
Yes, definitely. I think depending on the stage your organisation is at. There are two categories:
Anyone who fits into either of these two categories should go for it for the he experience itself. Even before we got to the second stage of the competition we got some media coverage from it. The Virgin Ireland team were great. They were very supportive.
— FoodCloud (@FoodCloud) July 25, 2016
You can hear Iseult Ward speak at Enterprise Ireland’s International Business Women’s Conference is on Monday 22nd August in the Brandon Hotel in Tralee.