Leading Through Innovation

School Lunch Startup Scores with School Kids and Social Venture Competition

School Lunch Startup Scores with School Kids and Social Venture Competition

Though Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey (pictured above) completed their Berkeley MBAs in 2006, they still bring their lunches to school every day. Actually, they bring more than 1,000 lunches to school every day. The two are co-founders of Revolution Foods, a company that nourishes kids in low-income areas with healthy school meals and nutrition education.

There is a glimmer in a kid's eye when he realizes, 'Hey I like brown rice!' that shows us he is getting engaged with food."Dishing up home-style fare such as spaghetti marinara, brown rice, and fresh fruit for eight charter schools and one after-school program in the greater Oakland area earned Revolution Foods the $25,000 grand prize at the 2007 Global Social Venture Competition, an international competition supporting the creation and growth of businesses with both financial and social goals. With its aim of reducing childhood obesity, improving overall health, and enhancing the educational experience, Revolution Foods certainly met the criteria for a social venture.

The company's prospects for profit and growth also impressed judges. Since its founding in August 2006, Revolution Foods' deliveries have grown to 1,500 meals per day and deliveries are expected to quintuple by the end of 2007. The company also supplies nutrition education and operational support to the schools it serves.

Rise and Shine

The Revolution Foods workday begins at 4:00 a.m. as an eight-person team prepares and packs the day's lunches at Emeryville headquarters. With the company's rapid growth, the grind isn't likely to disappear any time soon. Cramped quarters, however, will. To accommodate growth, Revolution Foods is renovating a facility on the former Alameda Naval Air Station that is triple the size of the company's current one.

While it may be hard to start work while most everyone else is asleep, the daily incentive is clear to Tobey: "If we didn't send out lunches, 1,000 kids would go hungry that day."

Berkeley MBA Curriculum Helped to Hone Business Plan

Both Richmond and Tobey, who met in the Berkeley MBA Program, had worked on school food service programs and arrived at Haas already interested in starting a school lunch venture. As they progressed through the MBA curriculum, weaving new-found knowledge into their business plan, they were better able to pinpoint their company's niche and to identify the principles by which it would operate.

"We might have started Revolution Foods anyway, but it would have been very different." Tobey says, noting that Haas Lecturer Will Rosenzweig was a key advisor and that many parts of the Revolution Foods business plan were written in his Social Entrepreneurship class. Tobey also credits Haas Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman's New Product Development course for helping Revolution Foods to conduct customer needs research and Adjunct Professor Mario Rosati's New Venture Finance Course for giving them the skills to structure venture financings and read term sheets. " Our guiding principles and the ways in which we conduct business are something we solidified in the Berkeley MBA Program," says Tobey.

Those principles include using environmentally responsible practices like composting, providing benefits to employees, and paying above-living wage compensation. Most importantly, they include helping kids incorporate healthy eating into everyday life.

Once a month Revolution Foods tries to serve something that kids may not have eaten before to inspire them to think in new ways about food. "There is a glimmer in a kid's eye when he realizes, 'Hey I like brown rice!' that shows us he is getting engaged with food," says Richmond. For both Richmond and Tobey that glimmer is the spark of a revolution.

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