This week's Ask the Mompreneur features one of the Charlotte-based startups recently selected for this year's class of RevTech Labs. RevTech Labs is a 3-month program focused on early stage mobile, software, and web companies and provides free office space, mentoring, and programming, culminating with Demo Day where the companies will present to investors.
PlateShare is the creation of Katie Levans.
How did you learn about RevTech Labs?
I found out about RevTech when I pitched the PlateShare concept at Startup Weekend Charlotte 2013.
Describe your startup and how you came up with the initial idea.
PlateShare is a smartphone application that runs on a proprietary micro-giving platform that allows diners to round their bill up to the nearest dollar and donate the change to feed the hungry.
I came up with the idea while finishing my Master of Science in Nutrition. One of my graduate seminar requirements involved working at a nutrition-related non-profit and reporting back. That's how I found myself on the sorting floor at Second Harvest Metrolina. I became really interested in hunger relief and how our current system is broken in many ways. On the sorting floor I started to see that donating food isn't the best way to fight hunger because much of what we sorted was tossed out because it was expired, opened or just plain inedible. In a country with a surplus of food per capita, our need is not for more food. It's for a more effective distribution system, education, and policy reform.
A far more effective way to feed people, it turns out, is to give food banks money so that they can purchase healthy food at wholesale rates to ultimately distribute to more people. Though well meaning, purchasing food at retail markups and then donating it to a food bank is far less effective than simply giving them the monetary equivalent of the food purchased so they can buy what they really need and focus their efforts on distribution. What PlateShare does is making charitable giving second nature by linking it to something most people are already doing: dining out.
What has been the best or most useful part of the program so far?
Networking and connections have been the most powerful tool RevTech and Packard Place have given me. There's this whole world of people who want to help startups get off the ground, and before this I really had no idea that existed or how to tap into it.
I also love the energy of a community workspace. Even though all the businesses in the class are working on very different projects in very different fields, we're all running into similar roadblocks and celebrating similar successes so it's fun to see it all unfold, learn from each other, and support each other.
What are you most looking forward to learning?
I think one of the most important things I've learned already and that I am excited to see more of is the realization that possibilities are endless. I think that before I pitched my idea at PlateShare I was unknowingly capping the size and reach of the project (and, in effect, capping my own potential) within the confines of some kind of imaginary boundary. The startup community and RevTech have ripped the ceiling off any limitations I had placed on myself or PlateShare. There is no end to what's possible.
What’s your single best piece of advice to other aspiring startup founders and entrepreneurs?
Ask for help. You can't do it alone and the longer you try, the longer you'll wait. Share your idea. Ask for feedback. Assemble a team of experts in their trade and apply their talents to your project. You'll go farther and faster than you could alone. Also: do it now, do it now, do it NOW.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is an executive coach, author of “Ask the Mompreneur,” and founder of the social shopping startup CartCentric.com. Follow her on Twitter @DrJennieWong.