In Spring quarter, several MS in Entrepreneurship students participated in the UW Business Plan Competition (BPC), hosted by the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. This multi-stage competition provides students with the real-world experience of being an entrepreneur—and connects them with Seattle’s entrepreneurial community. We asked three MS in Entrepreneurship students to give us a behind the scenes look at what it’s like competing in the BPC*. First up, meet Andrew Clapp, MS in Entrepreneurship student and co-founder of Lonely Produce, an online marketplace for farmers.
Bringing farmer’s markets online
The concept of Lonely Produce all began when Andrew and his wife Laura were having dinner with friends. Among the dinner attendees was Brian Collins, a fifth generation farmer at the Selah, Washington based Collins Family Orchard. While discussing some of challenges facing small-to-medium sized farmers, Brian and Andrew realized they were on to something. Soon after that dinner table conversation, Lonely Produce was born. The vision of Lonely Produce is two-sided. On one side, Lonely Produce is an online platform that allows consumers to connect directly with small to medium sized farmers. Andrew describes this process as “…essentially taking the farmer’s market and putting it online.” On the other side, Lonely Produce hopes to put a dent in America’s massive problem of unsold produce going to waste. “There’s 47 billion dollars of food waste in the United States between the farm and the consumer’s cart,” says Andrew. “Before the consumer even sees it, 47 billion dollars goes to waste. Our premise is that if we can provide an outlet for farmers to sell that waste at a discount and make it easy for them to do so, then we can reduce some of that waste.” By enabling farmers to sell their surplus produce online Lonely Produce believes “everyone wins.”
Building the Lonely Produce team
Besides his co-founder Brian, the Lonely Produce team includes a TMMBA student that provides technical support and a Human Centered Design and Engineering undergraduate student that assists with usability and customer experience. Both students reached out to him after reading his profile on the Buerk Center’s team formation website, which is one of the many resources they provide. For those thinking about forming (or joining) a team, Andrew strongly recommends creating a profile early, stating “Get your information up as soon as possible.”
What’s it like participating in the BPC?
For Andrew, one of the most challenging aspects of the BPC was the time commitment. Along with the demands of being a full-time student, Lonely Produce is a real business that requires Andrew’s time and attention. However, Andrew believes that the BPC has helped him avoid getting bogged down by the juggling act. “One of the huge benefits of the Business Plan Competition is that you’re forced to take a step back from the day to day operations of a business and think about what does this look like over the next three to five years?” Getting the chance to connect with other entrepreneurs is another huge benefit. “The opportunity to connect with people and get honest and open feedback about your product,” says Andrew. “That is invaluable. You can’t find that anywhere else.”
A major takeaway from the BPC process has been learning how to empower his teammates to do their best work. “Finding good people and letting them do great work is something we all talk about, but it’s difficult to do that in the early stages of a startup,” says Andrew. “Figuring out that perfect blend of what are you interested in and how does your skill set align and allowing that person to really run with it.”
He also credits Lonely Produce’s previous experience in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) with preparing them for the BPC. “The big advantage there was our booth was horrible.” Andrew admits that his team didn’t quite understand the importance of the booth. “Turns out, it matters a lot” joked Andrew. This time around, the Lonely Produce team amplified their branding and “really went all out” and “got people to stop and initiate a conversation.” The team also spent much more time anticipating the judge’s questions and practicing their answers.
Andrew’s advice for future BPC competitors
1. Whether you’ve got a prototype or just an idea, Andrew strongly recommends that you apply for the BPC. “One of the biggest benefits of the business plan competition is that you get in front of people who give you feedback,” says Andrew. And if you don’t have an idea, Andrew recommends joining an existing team.
2. Take advantage of the connections. “Talk to as many people as humanely possible. You have these resources, you have these mentors. See them early and often…it’s only going to make your idea better,” says Andrew. “There’s opportunity everywhere in this whole process.”
What’s next for Andrew and Lonely Produce?
Andrew is looking forward to watching Lonely Produce grow post-BPC. “Community is a passion of mine and that’s something that I’m very interested in,” says Andrew. “And this product is really based on community. Whether it’s me or someone else that leads the charge, I would really like to see this turn into a business that supports the community.”
Learn more about the MS Entrepreneurship program and the UW Business Plan competition:
- Visit the MS in Entrepreneurship website
- Visit the Business Plan Competition website
- Read more entrepreneurship blog posts
*This interview took place right before the selection of the final four. Read more about the 2018 BPC winners here.