From a winning idea at Startup Weekend, the Yum Yum team is taking on the global issue of food waste

person in a suit looking at the camera
Charis Asante-Agyei of the Yum Yum team

30-40% of the U.S. food supply becomes waste. 80 billion pounds of food — worth $161 billion – is left unconsumed each year, simply rotting or filling landfills. These dramatic statistics point to a profound problem.  With hunger and food scarcity on the rise, and millions around the world starving, we are simply throwing food away.  Yum Yum, a team that won an award in the recent LaunchPad & Techstars Startup Weekend, and is competing in the upcoming Syracuse University Hult Prize, is tackling a solution to help better manage food waste and turn it into “food for good.”

Yum Yum, was created by Stefano Selanu ’20 School of Information Studies, Charis Asante-Agyei, a current PhD student in the School of Information Studies, and Oliver Ortiz, a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The team hopes to tackle this problem through an app which reduces food wastage through information tracking. The app has a three-fold functionality: 1) a receipt-scanning system to help families track their food purchases; 2) a system where families can find discounted grocery store items soon to expire; and 3) a distribution mechanism to match excess food with philanthropic organizations.

Yum Yum was conceived through a Techstars Startup Weekend jointly co-hosted by the  University at Buffalo, Syracuse University and Cornell University last month. Startup Weekends challenge teams to identify a problem and build a business solution in just a weekend. Asante-Agyei, one of the participants in startup weekend, came up with an idea of how to mitigate food waste through tracking household consumption and pitched it to the group.

Selanu and Ortiz heard Charis’ pitch and were struck with the impact and potential to positively transform food systems. “ Food waste is a major problem today.  It is an ethical, economic, and mental problem that we really need to be addressing,” said Stefano. The three innovators blended their unique strengths together and worked on creating Yum Yum in the hopes to address a critical real-world problem.

Before Startup Weekend, the three team members didn’t know each other at all. In fact, they still haven’t met in person. The story of Yum Yum’s creation is a critical story to tell because it illustrates a hopeful truth – that the barriers and constraints of COVID-19 have also opened doors and created opportunities that would otherwise inaccessible.

“It’s a blessing. We’ve really been able to come to together through this digital startup weekend and then have been able to build on that and gather momentum,” said Asante-Agyei.

If Startup Weekend was hosted in person, as it was before the pandemic, Selanu who lives in Syracuse and Ortiz who lives in Texas would never have met. The Yum Yum team would never have been created.

“In a way it’s our fortunate outcome in an unfortunate condition. We have to take advantage of this difficult situation and very existence right now.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have met Oliver and Charis,” Selanu said.

Since their first introduction at Startup Weekend, the Yum Yum team hasn’t slowed down. They’ve been pitching in campus business competitions and are set to compete in the Syracuse University Hult Prize on December 4.  They have been continually refining their business model to fit user needs. Through Zoom calls, online brainstorming sessions, building presentations together, and hours of collaborative work through digital tools, Yum Yum has evolved into a venture with not just a vision but a trajectory towards societal impact.

The story of Yum Yum inspires hope in a world that seems stuck in a crippling global pandemic. The pressing social problems in the world can be tackled by passionate minds like the Yum Yum team not despite — but because of — our forced digital existence.

It’s simply up to us to turn a negative situation to our advantage and use it for social good. In the words of Ortiz, “ Don’t let fear overcome you because you fear will eat you up. Even if you’re scared you should just do it.”

Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos supplied