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Team builds hunger-fighting venture on solid ground

ASU FlashFood team
November 20, 2012

Team FlashFood continues to advance its education in entrepreneurship en route to developing a venture aimed at helping communities alleviate hunger.

Most recently the group of former and current ASU engineering, marketing and sustainability students learned valuable lessons while competing in the 2012 YUM! Global Sustainability Challenge in Louisville, Ken.

The international restaurant company YUM! invests in efforts to promote social sustainability, including humanitarian endeavors to fight hunger through nonprofit organizations such as Food Donation Connection.

The company’s sustainability challenge invites students from around the country to pitch innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to societal and community problems.

FlashFood is developing a mobile-phone application as a communication and coordination tool for a food recovery and distribution network. The idea is to collect leftover and excess food from restaurants, catering services and banquet halls and deliver it to various community and neighborhood gathering places, from which the food will be distributed to people in need.

The team was one of six finalists selected from among the 40 teams that initially entered the Yum! Challenge.  FlashFood members are recent ASU biomedical engineering graduate Eric Lehnhardt, computer science graduates Steven Hernandez and Ramya Baratam, along with marketing and sustainability graduate Jake Irvin, sustainability graduate Loni Amundson and junior materials science and engineering major Katelyn Keberle.

For three days in November they competed in finals against student teams from the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Louisville, the University of South Florida, the University of Southern California and American University in Washington, D.C.

The first-place prize of $15,000 was awarded to Berkeley’s Team EZ Green. A second-place prize of $5,000 went to Louisville. FlashFood earned the Best in Showcase award, voted on by members of the local community attending the event and by YUM! employees.

More than the award, FlashFood members said the value of the competition was in learning ways they can improve their business plan and the service they hope to provide.

For the competition the team had to present a strategy to demonstrate how it could deliver its service within the framework of the YUM! industry brand.

"It challenged us to consider how fast-food restaurants can use FlashFood, and what those financial and logistical models would look like," said team leader Lehnhardt. It pushed the team to go beyond developing an innovative concept to devising a model for a successful company, he said.

FlashFood members also got valuable feedback from the YUM! representatives. "We were impressed by the friendliness of the judges, who approached us outside the competition and asked that we stay in touch," Lehnhardt said.

Applying the guidance they received at the national competition, team members are now focusing on completing beta testing for their mobile-phone app and gathering information from market-validation research.

Success at the Yum! Challenge came after FlashFood won the U.S. finals of the highly competitive Microsoft Imagine Cup in the spring, earning the team a place in the premier international student technology and innovation competition – the Imagine Cup worldwide finals last summer in Sydney, Australia.

Microsoft produced a series of videos chronicling FlashFood’s road from the U.S. Imagine Cup finals to the worldwide finals. View the videos.

Written by Joe Kullman and Natalie Pierce