Stop Talking, Start Doing: My experience with the eBay Startup Cup 2018 by Lazar Mikov

If someone told me that our team would generate revenue on the first day of our business I would have laughed in disbelief. Yet that’s exactly what happened at the eBay Startup Cup in the summer of 2018 powered by Enpact and GriffinWorx. Not only did we start earning money instantly but we even made a small profit on our investments. Along the way, we started fighting food waste by giving old fruit a second chance. On our behalf, all it took was flexibility and the willingness to jump into an adventure.

It’s an early Saturday morning and entrepreneurs start popping up at Tuechtig coworking space in Berlin. The four of us: John, Jeanne, Mandy and I meet in front of the building. We head up towards a room booming with energy and one can simply read from people’s faces the ideas they want to set in motion. Wearable technology, non alcoholic gin, influencer platforms, you name it – it is probably in the room. More than fifty teams working on their startups side by side with the goal to advance their idea one step further during the weekend. The founder of GriffinWorx, Sean Griffin, opens the event by introducing his Startup Cookbook and soon everyone starts putting the pieces together on colored sticky notes.

At the start of the challenge we thought we had it all figured out. Our master plan was to fight student debt in the United States by providing a reimbursement program to students. It was simple: we open a supermarket and at the end of the year give the net profit back to each individual student according to their spendings. On average, that adds up to $300 towards their loans just by buying food. However, our plans were shattered as soon as the mentors stepped into the room. They brought along a lot of experience and their job was to give the teams feedback on their business models.

“Guys, you want to solve student debt and that’s great. But how do you plan to do this in the United States when you all live in Germany?” said Moses Acquah, one of our mentors. “I suggest you think of something that you can do right here, right now,” he added, enthusiastically trying to lead us towards a different direction. He went on about how entrepreneurs always start planning with the idea in mind, but what actually works better is to reverse the process and start thinking of what the team can do straight away. Obviously, having a supermarket in the United States was not something we could achieve that weekend.

Thus the message was clear. Our enterprise was geographically misplaced and our plans had to wait until all of us live across the Atlantic. For now, the only thing left to do was to change our idea completely or go home. Of course, giving up was not an option, so we soon found ourselves sitting outside the building brainstorming for new ideas. Juggling between world problems, we finally decided to start solving the one that seemed the closest: Food waste. When were we solving it? That very same day!

On our way home we stopped by the nearest supermarket to ask the owner if he planned to throw away any food. To our surprise, he was more than happy to give us two crates full of watermelons, melons and peaches. Some perfectly good avocados were also laying on the surface. It was a shame to see how this fruit would otherwise hit the bin if we didn’t bother asking for it. Sadly enough, that’s exactly what happens to tons of supermarket food every day while millions of people are experiencing hunger. The problem is big and we were going to help by making a fruit punch and guacamole sauce for the participants tomorrow.

The second day, we arrived at the event with a new business model and were ready to sell. For the sake of the challenge, we transformed from Plus Alfa Supermarket to Good Foods, an enterprise battling food waste. In less than 24 hours we found our first supplier and started testing our product with customers. Mandy came up with a great idea to announce our stand on the microphone and soon people started lining up to try our drink. As I was talking on the stage, I saw our mentor at the other end of the room nodding in approval. He soon came over to congratulate us on our new idea.

That day Good Foods managed to make a small gain since the fruit we saved from the bin was free of charge. At the end, we didn’t get in the accelerator program meant for the top 25 business models, but the lessons we learned were more than enough to empower us. The most important realization we came up with that weekend was that taking action starts with a decision. Of course, things become much easier when dedicated mentors provide guidance along the way. Both of our ideas are still alive, and lately we are thinking that a combination between the two of them would be a perfect mix. I guess we will find out at the zero waste student party we’re organizing at the end of the semester.

Lazar Mikov is a freelance journalist and aspiring entrepreneur. His main focus is on social entrepreneurship where he sees the potential for progress in society. Previously, Lazar has been an intern for Georgian news outlets OC-Media and Chai Khana and a volunteer for JumpStart Georgia and the DRONI Youth Association.