Three juniors in the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis are hoping to help change the face of local philanthropy after winning first place in the annual Ideas Solving Social and Economic Challenges pitch competition at IUPUI.
Roshan Selladurai, Payne Chestnut and Usman Chaudhary netted the competition’s top prize of $2,500 for their idea “Foodraisers.” Similar to Groupon or LivingSocial, Foodraisers is a deal-of-the-week website that will offer coupons for half-price items at area restaurants. Profits from the venture will be used to support local charities.
“We knew we had a great idea going in, but we knew the competition was going to be stiff,” said Chaudhary, a finance major who will also handle the start-up’s social media marketing. “When we won I was really ecstatic. It meant we were going to have the seed funding to get this project started.”
Started in 2012 by the IUPUI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the pitch competition began as a way to reward IUPUI students for new ideas aimed at solving social and economic challenges. Students are allowed three minutes to present their ideas to a panel of four judges, without the benefits of slides or other props. The Foodraisers win marked the third consecutive year that a team from the Kelley School of Business placed in the competition’s top three.
For the Foodraisers trio, the path to this year’s victory started in late-fall 2013.
Selladurai had long held an interest in starting a business enterprise, and he first became interested in the pitch competition in 2012 when friend and fellow Kelley classmate Mitchell Aulds-Stier entered the inaugural event. Last fall, Selladurai felt the timing was right to get rolling with a startup venture and brought in Chaudhary and Chestnut to help generate ideas.
It was during one of their many nights together, while eating out and brainstorming, that the idea hit them: Why not try to combine social impact with something they were already doing?
“What we wanted was something that would have a real impact,” said Chestnut, who delivered the team’s winning pitch. “We wanted something that we could actually create, and something that we can do in the timeline we have.”
One program the group hopes to support is “BackSacks: Weekend Food for Kids” at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. The BackSacks program each week serves 10,000 kids who are in kindergarten through sixth grade, providing them with shelf-stable foods and drinks for the weekend.
“Hunger is a real issue,” said Chestnut, who worked as part of a Putnam County Community Foundation committee to implement the BackSacks program in the county. “The idea of eating while providing a meal for someone else really connected us. When someone is eating out and it clicks in their head that they’re providing a meal for one of these kids, that’s tangible. The program had a tremendous impact in Putnam County, and Gleaners was great and easy to work with.”
After solidifying their idea near the end of January, the team began to seek counsel from restaurant owners, Kelley professors, and a local social entrepreneur in the food industry. They credit the latter for teaching them how to pitch the idea.
“When we first talked about the concept to people outside our team, they were almost clueless about what we were suggesting,” Selladurai said. “It was really eye opening to us. They advised us, ‘Slow down. Let’s figure out exactly what steps you guys have.’ That was a really big step for us in defining how we were going to present it.”
Though Chestnut says the team reworked the pitch “from the ground up” a mere two hours before the competition started, their idea still garnered unanimous first-place support from the judges.
“Their pitch best embodied the spirit of the competition,” said David Steele, a Kelley adjunct faculty member who served as one of the four judges. “They had a very simple idea. It was easy to understand how it worked, the economics of the plan and what benefit society could derive from it.
“They presented it with absolute clarity and confidence from concept to distribution of funds, with a social hook as well.”
Sometime in April, the Foodraisers team will put part of their winnings to use for an initial round of research and development. A small pilot study of the concept is planned, where they’ll provide food from one or two of the restaurants that will be part of their launch plans. They’ll pass out coupons that can be used for half-price appetizers on future restaurant visits, with the goal being to test redemption rates while getting other statistics and demographics that can be incorporated into the development stages of the business plan.
“Our goal right now is to jump in head-first and see how much we can get accomplished,” Selladurai said. “We hope to have something substantial and sustainable this fall.”
While the early stages of their idea called for customers to download printable coupons from the Foodraiser’s website, Kelley economics professor Kyle Anderson ultimately convinced the team that a membership-based rewards card program would be more appealing. The website will highlight the deals currently available, and the rewards card will be linked into the point of sale software at participating restaurants.
“Nobody wants to use coupons at the restaurants we’re targeting,” said Selladurai. “You’d be able to put down this membership card at the time of payment.”
With graduation looming for all three in 2015, it’s difficult to predict the long-term future of the program. Regardless, the team knows the first-place prize money provides them amble opportunity to sharpen the business skills they are learning at the Kelley School of Business while also making a difference in the community.
“In a worst-case scenario, we have to shut it down when we all leave, but at least we’ve fed those kids for some time,” said Chestnut. “Maybe it’s something we pass on to Gleaners. Maybe it’s something we pass on to someone else. Maybe it just inspires someone else to make a change. At the very least, we’ve made a little difference.”