Full name: Caroline Stevenson
Role: Founder of the social enterprise, Foodinate
Fun Fact: I once found myself swimming alongside a 30ft whale shark!
K: As homelessness becomes an ever-bigger problem, it’s incredibly heartening to see a young entrepreneur doing good with such an innovative social enterprise. Could you give our readers an insight into how Foodinate works?
C: Foodinate is based on the simple concept of ‘eat meal, give meal,’ and has been designed to make feeding the hungry as easy as dining at your favourite restaurants. When you head into a Foodinate partner restaurant, you can pick a dish and the venue will fund a meal for a local person in need in return.
Our participating restaurants usually mark 2-5 of their dishes as “Foodinate” meals, giving their customers a choice to engage with the programme. We match each restaurant with a food-giving charity in the same area, so for every “Foodinate” meal sold in that restaurant, a meal can be provided to someone in need in the same community!
Sounds amazing! Such a clever idea. Where did you come up with the concept? What was your inspiration?
I’ve always had a million crazy ideas whizzing around in my head, and a sort of entrepreneurial spirit. When I was 12, I founded a fair trade initiative, then I started an eBay business at 18 – I’ve always had a venture on the go.
However, I never considered them to be more than an experiment until I went to university. Struggling to make ends meet in London as a student, I began to look for ways to supplement my funds; running a business became a viable career choice.
The fact that we live in one of the richest countries in the world and yet more than 13 million people are living below the poverty line makes me angry. Food poverty is rife throughout the UK and homelessness in Manchester increased by 80% in 2014-15 alone.
So I began thinking up ideas on how to tackle the issue on a larger scale. We’re already eating out 1.4 billion times a year, so why not make those meals stretch one meal further?
Definitely, Manchester has a serious homeless problem. So have you had a good response so far? Tell me about your journey.
It’s been a fantastic journey so far. We launched our pilot scheme in September 2015, which generated over 1000 meals in just 4 weeks. In March 2016, we launched officially with the support of some pretty high profile restaurants, including Ryan Giggs’ restaurant George’s in Worsley [ed: we reviewed this a few months ago!].
The venture has been very well received so far; I was featured in The Independent last year, and won Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 at the Free to Network national business awards. On the back of this exposure, Foodinate is really beginning to gain traction.
We’ve just signed up Well Hung and Bangers & Bacon at The Kitchens in Spinningfields, Manchester, and we’re currently in talks with some of the leading restaurant chains, which is where we could really make a big impact. It’s a long game, but we’re finally starting to get meetings with the right people.
Good luck! We’re sure you’ll win them over – you’ve got our vote! What do you think makes your venture unique, compared to other social enterprises and initiatives out there?
With Foodinate, it’s all about empowering people to have a significant impact, through simple choices. It’s not about making a donation or doing anything extra – you’re going out to eat already, so why not visit a Foodinate partnered restaurant and enjoy your meal knowing that you’ve helped feed a local person in need?
Since the restaurant agrees to cover the cost of the donated meal, it’s a feel-good concept for both customers and restaurants and that’s why it’s taken off so far.
That’s really exciting, we hope to see your Foodinate logo on our favourite restaurants’ menus soon then! It sounds like a lot of work has gone into this… do you mind us asking how you are funding the venture?
Sure! When I left university, I approached UnLtd – The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs – and was invited to pitch my business idea to a Dragons Den-style panel. They loved the idea and I won the first round of funding to kickstart the brand and put my concept to the test.
This gave me essential leverage right at the start; now there is proof of concept, I’ve been awarded the Grow It funding package, which I’m delighted about. I’ll be able to give the project wings, and finally pay myself as I work towards self-sustainability! It’s so easy to sideline your own income and wellbeing when you’re stuck into a project, but the hard work has definitely been worth it.
We really hope it pays off, for you and those Foodinate helps! So, what’s your plan for the future? Where do you envisage this going?
I really want to make this national over the next 6 months. By building relationships with chain restaurants I hope to make this possible, as it’s a very scalable model – simply creating links between restaurants and local food-giving charities.
In terms of a grand master plan, if I can make this work as a meal-for-meal programme there’s no reason why it won’t work with accommodation, sleeping bags and other ideas.
Eventually, I’d love to incorporate some sort of an apprenticeship scheme, so it can become about creating opportunities as well as provisions. Not just a hand out but a hand up – you get what I mean?