By Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor, PYA
We’ve all been there. You buy a bag of lettuce, maybe some broccoli or a zucchini, with the intention of making some salads.
Then life gets in the way. A friend invites you out for pizza. Salads sound boring. You forgot you bought that zucchini. And suddenly your fridge smells like a rotting garden because that’s what it’s become.
Taylor Gingrich was sick of this neverending cycle. As a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) sharing a fridge with three roommates, all she wanted to do was eat healthier without throwing her money away on what would end up being expired groceries.
“It’s just been something that’s annoyed me for a while,” she said.
Gingrich is majoring in industrial engineering, with minors in reliability and maintainability and engineering entrepreneurship. It’s that last one that helped her turn her expired food issue into a new business idea.
“It wasn’t until taking my entrepreneurship classes and learning about how you can kind of ideate ideas and different things that I came up with an idea to actually solve that problem.”
That solution is an app called Fresh Now, where you would scan the barcode on your groceries and the app will keep tabs on the expiration dates. You can set notifications to let you know when certain things are about to go bad.
“If you’re kind of in a bind, and you see oh, I have these foods expiring tonight or tomorrow, it would give you meal suggestion ideas based off of those that are closest to expiring,” said Gingrich.
Her business idea hit home with a lot of people, including the judges of Vol Court, an annual speaker series and pitch competition through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business.
Gingrich walked away from the Fall 2022 Vol Court Pitch Competition with a first-place win and a $1,500 check to invest in the creation of Fresh Now.
“I was confident in the idea, but being able to hear from other entrepreneurs and people who have way more credentials than me, way more experience, are much older than me, that was honestly very encouraging,” said Gingrich. “Because I’m like if they believe in me, and they see the idea, then it gives me more confidence that maybe I can actually succeed myself and pursue this idea.”
Gingrich will now compete in the Graves Business Plan Competition, another program through the Haslam College of Business that offers higher cash prizes to winning business ideas.
“Developing an app costs a ton of money,” she said. Gingrich will use her Vol Court winnings and any future funding for research and development.
But she said her biggest takeaway from Vol Court wasn’t the check.
“Being able to learn from entrepreneurs in Knoxville was such a big thing to be able to do because you can actually see what they’re doing in the community,” said Gingrich. “The fact that it’s just important for them to foster new ideas and new entrepreneurs, that was just really, really cool to me. I really appreciated that.”
Gingrich will graduate in May with her engineering degree and is currently applying for jobs. Now that she has the entrepreneurial bug, and a solution to save all the wilting lettuce in her fridge, Gingrich is thinking about how her future in engineering can meld with starting a business.
“The dream would be to work for myself and do something that I’m actually passionate about,” she said. “I like to help other people and I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs share that same mindset. The big thing is just wanting to be independent and be able to feel like I’m like actually making a difference.”
As she prepares for the Graves competition, Gingrich said she’s truly grateful for all she learned during Vol Court.
“I think it’s really great that all of the Knoxville entrepreneurs and Tennessee staff come together and make it possible for students,” she said. “It’s a really, really great program.”