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Q&A with Aoibheann O’Brien, Social Entrepreneur, FoodCloud Co-Founder

WE ALL know that food wastage is a problem, particularly in a world where people go hungry. Foodcloud offers a solution. Four years ago, co-founder Aoibheann O’Brien was intrigued by the surplus/poverty paradox, and researched it for her thesis. She was shocked to find that 1.3-billion tonnes of food—30% of all the food produced—is wasted every year, while 1 in 7 people don’t have enough to eat.

“FoodCloud’s vision is for a world where no good food goes to waste.”

She realised that making in difference would require more than research, and in 2012, met a kindred spirit in Iseult Ward. Thanks to this fortuitous meeting of minds between Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward, the not-for-profit social enterprise FoodCloud was born in 2013.

Within four years, Aoibheann O’Brien, Iseult Ward and their team have made a huge impact through FoodCloud and, most recently, FoodCloud Hubs. FoodCloud has used the disruptive power of tech (a website and smartphone app), and a network of more than 1,000 stores and in excess of 3,000 community groups throughout Ireland and the UK, to redistribute approximately 4,000 tonnes of food (creating 8.8m meals), and save the environment from at least 7,700 tonnes of Co2 emissions.

FoodCloud recently took its operation to the next level, joining with Bia Food Initiative, an operator of three Irish food redistribution hubs in Dublin, Cork and Galway, to introduce FoodCloud Hubs. This expands the range of items that can be redistributed to include canned goods, frozen meats, chilled dairy, cereals, pantry basics and non-perishable items. These are items that can’t be sold in-store due to damaged packaging, errors in orders, out of season goods, or impending use-by/sell-by dates.

Aoibheann O’Brien (pictured below, left) with co-founder Iseult Ward) took some time out from her schedule as CEO of FoodCloud Hubs to speak to AGENT about the FoodCloud story, her inspirations and motivations, and her advice to entrepreneurs on the verge of starting their own businesses.

aoibheann o’brien, iseult ward, foodcloud, foodcloud hubs, food poverty

Image Source: FoodCloud

10 Questions for Aoibheann O’Brien

1. Briefly tell us what your business is about, and describe your business goals.

FoodCloud is a social enterprise that connects businesses with Surplus Food with charities that need it. FoodCloud has two solutions. FoodCloud connects retailers with surplus food directly to local charities in the UK and Ireland through a unique software platform. Using the platform, staff in a store can upload details of their surplus food and local charities linked to the store through the FoodCloud system receive a text message to notify them of the availability of the surplus food.

FoodCloud Hubs rescues, stores and redistributes large volumes and a diverse range of surplus food from farms, manufacturers, and distributors, to the charities across Ireland in manageable quantities. There are currently three FoodCloud Hubs nationally in Cork, Galway, and Dublin.

FoodCloud’s vision is for a world where no good food goes to waste.

2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?

It started when I was in university, 4 years ago. I decided to write my thesis on the issue of food waste. I was shocked at the statistics. Globally, 1.3-billion tonnes of food is wasted annually, which is 30% of the food that is produced. At the same time 1 in 7 people don’t have enough to eat.

That year, I met my co-founder Iseult Ward at an event about social enterprise. We were both passionate about food and finding a sustainable solution to solve the considerable social and environmental issues of food waste and food poverty while also building strong community relationships.

3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?

Mary Robinson is a big inspiration and heroine of mine. Throughout her career she worked to address social injustices, always challenging the status quo even when it wasn’t popular, and now she is focused on highlighting and addressing the challenge of climate change. I love her energy and dedication to what she believes in.

Iseult Ward—co-founder of FoodCloud—is another. We have influenced and supported each other. Setting up a business can be challenging and is much more fun when you are doing it with a co-founder, sharing ideas, challenges, experiences along the way. Everyone should have a co-founder!

4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?

When we first started, nothing like this was happening at scale in Ireland. We started out with a very low-tech solution. Our first donation was arranged through online research and phone calls. We facilitated a donation between a farmer’s market and a local charity. It was great to see the positive impact we could potentially have, even on such a small scale, and this inspired us to do more.

We spent months looking at international companies to see what others were doing to address the problem. There was lots of brainstorming involved and, eventually, we resolved that technology would be the easiest way to link supply with demand. Before developing any technology, though, we focused on building relationships with relevant businesses, charities and organisations. By the end of 2013, Tesco had signed up for a trial with us.

Now, four years on, we can appreciate the impact FoodCloud has started to make, having worked with over 2,800 different charities. Since the beginning of this year, we’ve partnered with 70 companies per month. We have redistributed the equivalent of 8.8-million meals to charities in Ireland and the UK.

5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?

It is easy to spending every waking minute thinking about work, especially when you have an enterprise that you are passionate about and has a positive social impact. But it is important to avoid burn-out. Spending time with friends and family is so important. Some of my best ideas come when I am less distracted with the day-to-day, and have more time to think!

6. What is the first thing you do every day?

I’m trying to get into the habit of getting a bit of exercise and stretching, but that is a bit hit and miss. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who reaches for my phone to check what was going on in the world while I was asleep!

7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?

A picture of me, my mum and my niece.

8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?

Whatsapp or Spotify.

9.  What item do you never leave the house without, and why?

I am notorious for leaving the house without everything (including wallet, keys, phones) so getting out the door with all of those is an achievement in itself for me.

10. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?

Just start doing – even in a small way. You don’t have to quit your job but you have to start doing something to test your idea—talking to people, taking action—otherwise you will never know!

aoibheann o’brien, iseult ward, foodcloud, foodcloud hubs, food poverty

Infographic source: FoodCloud

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Q&A with Aoibheann O’Brien, Social Entrepreneur, FoodCloud Co-Founder


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