CleanTech: These MIP MBA Students Are Using Big Data To Tackle Italy's Food Waste Problem

The five budding entrepreneurs won the Italian chapter of this year’s CleanTech Challenge

New developments in clean technology are spurring the growth of a multibillion dollar industry. According to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the market for clean tech – worth over $600 billion in 2014 – will expand to $1.3 trillion by 2020.

As the industry booms, entrepreneurial MBA students are looking to clean tech as a way to promote sustainability, push the circular economy and help combat climate change.

Among them, five MBA students from MIP Politecnico di Milano - Elena Sopadzhieva, Alejandro Iniguez Torres, Gabriela Albornoz, Nícolas Zamoner and Carla Buda - who came up with FoodMe, a mobile app designed to combat the 5.1 million tons of food wasted in Italy each year.

“Instead of focusing on recycling, we want to reduce waste so it doesn’t have to get to that stage,” Elena explains.

Through smart data technology, FoodMe offers its users personalized recipes based on the expiry dates of goods that they have in their fridge. Products can be registered on the app manually, through voice recognition technology, or automatically, via the transfer of data from supermarket loyalty cards.

“A strong part of the application is the collection of data and the analytics we can reach,” says Alejandro, the team’s tech guru.

“We’ve thought a lot about possible directions of the app, and having a strong idea of consumer habits will open up a huge market in the future.”

Alejandro dreams of taking the data-crunching app into the Internet of Things (IoT) space to help build the fully-automated kitchens of the future. But, for now, the focus is on clean tech.

“By using new technology to suggest easy ways to prepare meals and reduce food waste, we believe that we have a strong proposition for helping the planet,” he says.

While the app is still in development phase, the idea alone has made quite an impression. The FoodMe team won the Italian chapter of this year’s CleanTech Challenge, and, in April, represented MIP at the final boot-camp in London.

In what Elena describes as an “amazing experience,” the FoodMe entrepreneurs pitched their idea against tough competition including an eventual winning team of MBA students from Harvard Business School, who developed a smart plug which automatically controls air conditioning.

Already, FoodMe has come a long way in a short space of time. In September, the five MBAs entered MIP’s lean launch-pad program. Over the course of three months, they worked with professors and coaches, three times a week between 7 and 10 in the evening to develop their idea.

“An MBA is the best time to start an idea,” says Elena. “Without the support of MIP we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

While the entire FoodMe team works full-time alongside both their business venture and their MBA, they remain unfazed.

“This is the time to be busy,” says Gabriela. “We are all young and we have energy to work.”

When the five friends from MIP graduate in July this year, they aim to continue their clean tech venture and look for support from investors. Elena even has one eye on MIP’s state-of-the-art start-up incubator, PoliHub.

“We are definitely going to pursue this idea,” she says. “We really believe that our product can have an impact.”

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