Food waste is not a pretty topic by any count. More than $165 billion in food is thrown out every year in the United States alone, accounting for more than 20 percent of the country’s methane emissions. It is a statistic most people do not call to mind when they glance at the rows and rows of near-perfect produce lining grocery store shelves.
Social responsibility in the food industry has been gaining ground in recent years, however. In mid-July John Oliver devoted a 17-minute segment to ridiculing the state of food waste in the United States, saying that “resolving to eat uglier fruit” is one way to bring down the massive amount of annual waste. Kroger Co. unveiled a new machine in 2013 located in Compton, Calif. that turns food waste into energy that could power more than 2,000 California homes a year.
This growing mission reached Georgetown when Phil Wong (SFS ’15) and Ann Yang (SFS ’16), met in a spring 2014 entrepreneurship class. There, the pair developed the idea to divert perfectly good produce from heading to the landfill by turning it into juice. From there, the startup MISFIT Juicery was born.
MISFIT currently operates out of a commercial kitchen space in northeast D.C. called Mess Hall and wholesales to 21 stores in the region, selling four varieties of juices with names such as Kale + Stuff, Offbeet and Greenhaus.
This summer, Wong was accepted to become a part of the Halcyon Incubator, an organization located just outside of Georgetown University on Prospect Street. The incubator, which is affiliated with the noprofit S&R Foundation, helps entrepreneurs with socially minded goals expand their businesses. Throughout his 18-month fellowship that began Tuesday, Wong will be given mentorship and guidance in growing MISFIT.
All of Halcyon’s fellows receive five months of free housing at Halcyon House, a $10,000 stipend and pro bono consulting, legal and communications services among other benefits, according to Halcyon Incubator Program Coordinator Lisa Oberstoetter.
“The Halcyon Incubator program is structured to give talented social entrepreneurs the time, space and resources they need to grow their businesses,” Oberstoetter said.
Though Wong declined to comment on exact production numbers, he said that MISFIT is currently operating at above the $30,000 profit mark. The company currently employs one full-time worker but is looking to hire two or three more people from the D.C. area. MISFIT is dedicated to pay each of its employees a living wage.
“It’s very humbling,” Yang said. “I feel in many ways really grateful to the community of people that we have that has allowed this to happen. I certainly don’t feel necessarily responsible or deserving to say that I am providing this income. I really think that MISFIT has been a community operative.”
Growing operations have made time management more difficult for the pair, necessitating more employees.
“It’s one thing to be super sleep-deprived and have your hand in everything when you’re two months in, but it’s impossible (or at least impractical) to do that when the company is three times bigger,” Wong wrote. “We’re definitely a growing team and always looking for people to join the ride, so that if we’re still super sleep-deprived, it’ll be because we’re getting twice as much done.”
The biggest challenge in MISFIT’s current operations is how to expand and change, Yang said.
“We are a whole press juice company right now, but we understand that there are lots of ways that we could expand in terms of products and distribution models,” Yang said. “So thinking about the fact that MISFIT is not just a food company, but it’s really the philosophy of reimagining waste and the philosophy of a new area of sustainability that is scrappy and creative.”
Wong said that the company is looking for new ways to deliver on its mission of social good, since it has the potential to take on many forms.
Another big challenge for Wong and Yang has been managing time. One night, the pair was so excited about a new juicer that they stayed up all night using it.
“We were up until 7:30 a.m. making juice,” Wong wrote. “We had a meeting an hour later, and then I had to drive up to New Jersey for another MISFIT thing. We can’t remember where school figured in there, which is maybe indicative of how we spent our time last year.”
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