By: AnnaLise Hoopes, Technovation Director, SF Bay Area
For the past three years, I’ve been working to inspire girls as technology entrepreneurs through Technovation. I started at Iridescent in 2010 when we had 43 girls in the program, and we now have served nearly 1400 girls in 24 states and 19 countries. It’s been an exciting journey, and it has inspired me to start my own company.
Green & Go: a for-profit company with a non-profit heart
I always saw myself as a non-profit person. I started my first non-profit in the 3rd grade, in the basement of my house with two friends, making crafts and selling them to raise money for our local animal shelter. This trend continued throughout college and graduate school (I founded VEGITAS), but the idea of starting a for-profit company never appealed to me. I wanted to save the world, not make money.
What changed my mind? Meeting entrepreneurs who were saving the world.
In my Technovation career I met so many women who were starting companies to solve real-world problems. The first seed was planted when I attended a Tedx event organized by a former Technovation instructor, and heard a talk by the co-founder of World of Good. She too had never seen herself as a for-profit person, until she realized the potential of her company to do good while also making a profit. Later, I met Rose Broome who just launched her latest startup, Hand Up—an app that allows users to donate goods to homeless people they meet on the street. Another friend, Gavin Platt, co-founded a company called Lucid (right out of college) that is now transforming the energy usage of hundreds of university campuses and large-scale companies like Google.
So, after a few years of meeting inspiring entrepreneurs and watching high school girls start their own companies, I realized I could do it too. I wanted to create an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional grab-and-go meal. As a working professional, I’ve always found it difficult to find healthy food when I’m in a hurry. Even when I do, I feel guilty about the fact that my meal comes in a plastic, disposable container that will remain in a landfill for hundreds of thousands of years after my fifteen minutes of using it. I wanted to develop a product that people could feel good about eating, a product that would educate people about the impact of their food choices. And so I created Green & Go, a line of eco-friendly grab-and-go meals. Each meal is made with organic, plant-based, locally- and sustainably-sourced ingredients. The meals come in a certified compostable PLA package, which you can throw right in the green bin when you’re finished. In essence, they are as eco-friendly as a grab-and-go meal can be.
I started Green & Go a few months ago, and we are now in 16 stores across the Bay Area. Soon you will also be able to have the meals shipped directly to your home through an awesome company called Good Eggs.
What lessons did Technovation teach me?
One of the biggest lessons I learned from the Technovation program was the value of market research—early and often. I spent several months ideating product concepts, researching the food production industry, developing recipes, and testing them on anyone I could find. I went to the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets every Saturday for months, collecting survey data to find out what people enjoyed eating for lunch, how much they wanted to pay for it, what was important to them about their food, etc. In true Lean fashion, I spent very little money during this testing phase.
Anyone who has been part of the Technovation program realizes the important role that mentorship plays in the life of an entrepreneur. So, early on, I sought out my own mentors from the food industry. It turns out the Bay Area is full of incredible food entrepreneurs! I interviewed Minh Tsai from Hodo Soy, Sarah Gill from The Inspired Cookie, and Shannon Radke from Cinnaholic (essentially, a collection of my favorite vegan food startups). I asked them dozens of questions about their experience building their companies, and tried to glean as much as I could from their collective wisdom. Another mentor to me was Sophia Chang, founder of Kitchener Oakland, where I incubated Green & Go for several months until it outgrew the space. It was invaluable for me to meet other entrepreneurs, hear their stories, learn from their challenges, and get their advice on my company.
If there’s anything I learned from Technovation, it’s that starting a business is hard work and you may want to give up (sometimes daily). My boyfriend, who has watched my journey from a more objective standpoint, has noticed a pattern in my feelings about Green & Go. He has seen me face setback after setback and feel completely discouraged and disheartened. Sometimes in the very next day, however, he’s seen me elated with joy about a letter from a customer telling me she loves my quinoa salad, or a call from a grocery store that wants to carry my products. He’s noticed that the journey is quite like a rollercoaster, and each time I feel discouraged he reminds me that I will soon have an upswing. He’s always right, and that’s how I’ve been able to keep going through the challenges. If you believe in your idea and its potential impact on the world, you know there will be an upswing and you stick with it until you get there.
My advice to young entrepreneurs
I’ve learned many lessons throughout my journey of creating Green & Go. Here are a few important nuggets that I’d like to pass along to young entrepreneurs:
- Identify problems. Good ideas come from seeing a problem and envisioning a solution. For me, it was a problem in my own life that I wanted to solve in order to make an impact on the world. Look around you and identify problems that you see yourself and others struggling with. What unique perspective do you have that might help you generate an innovative solution?
- Look for mentors. They are everywhere! You can learn so much in life simply by asking others for advice when you need help. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely and demoralizing experience, if you don’t have mentors and role models to guide you through it. Don’t forget that mentorship is a rewarding experience for the mentor, too, and most people will be happy to help you if you ask.
- Test your ideas. Ideation and market research are critical to the design of a product. Get feedback from everyone who will give it to you—this will help you understand your end user and make your product better.
- Do the math. In a speech she gave to a group of Technovation students, I heard Angie Chang explain how important it was to pay attention to numbers and “do the math” before starting a company. It’s easy to get caught up in your idea and think it will work out no matter what, but you won’t really know until you write up a business plan and do some number crunching. There are some numbers you won’t know in the beginning, but once you pilot your product you can continuously revise your plan and understand your true cost vs. revenue breakdown.
- Don’t give up. You will want to throw in the towel on a regular basis. You will hit roadblocks that seem insurmountable, you will have sleepless nights, and you will wonder if it’s even worth it. The answer, in my book, is a resounding “YES.” Even if Green & Go fails, I will never regret a minute of the time I put into it. Starting a company and sticking with it through the challenges has made me a stronger person than I knew I could be.
The road ahead
Tomorrow is my last day at Iridescent. I’m diving in full time to devote myself to Green & Go, which means I’ll be able to focus on some new projects and expand in more directions. My plans for Green & Go include getting into schools, catering for conferences, providing corporate lunches, branching out into farmers’ markets, and starting up a mobile street cart in metro areas. If your school or office is interested in healthy lunches, let me know :)
I will dearly miss all of the teachers, mentors, students and volunteers I’ve met through Technovation and I hope that you will stay in touch. Check out my website: www.greenandgomeals.com and my Facebook page to learn what Green & Go is up to and tell me about your own ventures.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Technovation community for all that you’ve taught me over the years. Thank you for inspiring me to take a risk, dive in, and become an entrepreneur—I couldn’t have done it without you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AnnaLise holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Studio Art from the University of Notre Dame, a Master’s in Education from Harvard University, and a California teaching credential. AnnaLise taught elementary school before joining Iridescent in 2010. Over the past three years, she has worked to grow Iridescent’s Technovation program from 43 girls to 1400 worldwide. AnnaLise is passionate about empowering young people with the skills, tools and confidence to make a difference in the world.