NC School of Science and Math Grads' FreshSpire Wins #TheBigIdea Project

Building a business while in college—especially four different colleges—has been tricky for the five young women who dreamt up FreshSpire three years ago as 11th graders at the North Carolina School of Science and Math.

Though they've made progress in the years since—winning mentorship from the Clinton Global Initiative and a 2015 Prize for Innovation from the local Institute for Emerging Issues—they've struggled to find a developer to turn their project into a real technology and local mentors to build a business around it.

The Big Idea Project plans to change that, providing $100,000 worth of business help, co-working space at HQ Raleigh and a team of developers to finally bring to market an app that keeps food from landfills by notifying students and impoverished populations of deals on soon-to-expire or imperfect items on grocery store shelves.

"This is really going to motivate us to make it a reality," says Shraddha Rathod, a FreshSpire co-founder and computer and electrical engineering major at NC State University (pictured middle above). "This feels like the mentorship and experience that we need to make FreshSpire something that is valuable to the community and of great quality."

Rathod and her co-founders came up with the idea in an introduction to entrepreneurship class at the elite Durham public high school that prepares 11th and 12th grade students for STEM careers. The women lived together while in school and spent time building a business plan, developing a pitch and having early conversations with grocers before heading off the college in 2014. Gabrielle Beaudry (pictured left) and Hannah Sloan (pictured right) are now students at the University of North Carolina, where Sloan is undecided on a major and Beaudry studies sustainable agriculture. Mona Amin attends East Carolina University and majors in biology, and Jennifer Wu is a business and biology major at the University of Pennsylvania.

The first semester of freshman year was all about settling into college. But the second semester provided renewed focus on FreshSpire when the women won a $10,000 fan favorite award at the Emerging Issues Forum in February and were selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University in March. There, they made one of eight global commitments: "to discourage food waste and encourage healthier produce purchasing at a lower cost through a mobile app." 

Next up was a Verizon Student Innovator Challenge win worth nearly $5,000 at NC State's Lulu eGames in April.

That early momentum attracted The Big Idea Project judges, says organizer David Baxter of Big Pixel Studio in Raleigh.

The idea was also "instantly relatable," he says. "I don't have to explain their business. It just makes sense. It's a problem that is huge and no one is really trying to tackle yet."

The solution isn't too difficult to build either, Baxter says. His hope was to find a team so early into their business that Big Pixel could build an app from the ground up. He got his wish with FreshSpire. The women have wire frames, but haven't begun work on the app. 

Next week, they'll begin meeting with former IKEA executive and global branding expertSteen Kanter and Uncompany founder Maari Casey to fine tune their business strategy, branding and marketing. In several weeks, they'll start meeting with the Big Pixel team to begin the development process.

That work will be complete in April, when the women will pitch a working MVP at a Big Idea Demo Day and begin raising capital on the Malartu Funds crowdfunding platform.

FreshSpire was one of five finalists selected from a pool of 27 applicants to the inaugural Big Idea Project. In a pitch contest last week, the women went up against Toddly, an app for buying and sell high-end baby furniture and supplies, Papilia, an app that helps users plan for travel, RunBucks, a rewards app for runners and Fund My Story, a button for news media sites that lets readers donate directly to a cause.

Baxter was pleased with the quality of applicants and expects a second round to happen next fall. But before he makes any major announcements, he's got to deliver for FreshSpire.

"I believe we have a good foundation to build upon," he says. "The next six months are obviously very telling, but we have as good a team as we could possibly hope for."

This content was originally posted by Laura Baverman on Exit Event


Welcome to FreshSpire

Here at FreshSpire, we recognize the value of stories.

Whether it's the path that a single item of food takes -- from growth to gleaning to  packaging to eventual consumption or waste -- or the possibly complex network of people and curiosities and social media and web hosting that led you to this page, we value the narratives we all bring to the table. We ourselves have begun investigating and writing a story that is far from over, and we are excited to share this journey with you.

So welcome! For those of you who aren’t too well-versed on what we aim to do, here’s the gist of it:  FreshSpire is a mobile application platform that connects grocers and consumers in an attempt to reduce food waste, help people eat healthier, and generate more revenue for grocers.

How do we aim to do this, you ask?

We address what becomes, when analyzed, a narrative of ineffective food distribution. According to the USDA, grocery stores throw out an estimated $15 billion worth of produce yearly, most of which is marked down prior to being thrown out. These daily markdowns on near-expiring or cosmetically imperfect goods aren’t communicated to consumers unless shoppers happen to walk into these stores and see the time-sensitive deal. It is here we recognize a clear inefficiency and here we focus our efforts! We’ll organize all this pricing information into a simple, user-friendly news feed that updates based on user location, store, item, and deal preferences. Our ultimate goal is to provide a triple threat: we hope to make healthy produce more accessible, make grocery stores more profitable, and reduce the rate of landfill growth.

So far, we have had tremendous support from our community. We got our initial start in high school -- at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics -- and, now in college, we've spread out over the East Coast. This past year, we have entered business plan competitions, traveled to leadership conferences, and joined entrepreneurship organizations all in hopes of bringing FreshSpire to a city near you! If you’d like to get involved, drop us a line at or follow us on one of our social media platforms to stay tuned for more updates. For now, remember: don’t perspire over what’s expired…just get FreshSpired!



The CGI Lead Journey

On March 7, 2015, two of our co-founders, Jennifer Wu and Mona Amin, traveled to the University of Miami to attend Clinton Global Initiative University. 

As Mona reflects, "The day was full of greatness. When we arrived to the campus, we quickly headed backstage for the morning plenary. There we waited anxiously to be called on to stage. The one and only Chelsea Clinton recognized us for our commitment to action (FreshSpire), and presented us with a certificate in front of 1100 students who had also come to CGIU with commitments to implement in their perspective communities. Soon after, we headed to lunch among a select group of students for an introduction to the CGI Lead program. Upon entering, I was almost immediately greeted with a warm welcome from Aled Miles, our mentor for this program. Aled Miles has been involved with the Clinton Global Initiative for a few years now and has previously worked for Symantec. Today, he is pursuing a portfolio career where he takes on various positions in multiple companies and initiatives. We couldn't be happier that FreshSpire is now a part of his portfolio. While most mentors met with their mentees over lunch for about an hour, Aled continued our meeting through the rest of the evening. After leaving the lunch session, we had our first official company meeting at a local coffee shop where we discussed milestones that we hope to accomplish within the coming months. The three of us then attended the "Grow 2.0: Advancing the Small-Scale Farmer" session where we learned more about food insecurity on a global level. We ended our day with closing remarks from the Clinton Family."

The CGI Lead program is the start of a new journey for our team. We are determined to make what we have worked on for about a year now an actual reality. With the help of Aled Miles,  the CGI network, and other supporters along the way, we hope to bring this fully running app to your hands by the end of this year!