“Waste not want not” (1772, idiom) or “wilful waste makes woeful want” (1576, idom)

For two student entrepreneurs, Josh Shefner and Claire Friona, long-established idioms are a living reality. Both are students of Engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering, and both are passionate about poverty elimination and the eradication of waste. They are also the co-founders of Agricycle Global a for-profit startup that is converting food waste and empowering local communities. Founded in 2015 as a result of a field trip to Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the venture produces sun-dried fruits that are dried using solar dehydrators developed by Claire as an Engineering class project and grown by women in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. For them, though, entrepreneurship is not about making money and getting rich but about a Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Product, not Profit.

Claire met Josh when he gave a presentation on humanitarian engineering in her degree course and, having established the forerunner of Agricycle, Blue Mangoes, two weeks into her freshman year, she decided in 2019 not to re-enroll but to join him and concentrate on developing the venture. According to their website, Agricycle Global has to date upcycled 74,576 kgs of what would have been waste fruit, created livelihoods for 6787 people, and attracted $825,000 of global investment.

The initial idea for the venture was just to provide the solar dehydrator, which sells for $350, but they recognised that for there to be a market for the dehydrator, there needed to be a market for the end product. So they decided to develop the entire supply chain and in 2020, Jali Fruit. Co was launched to package and sell the dried fruit produced by some 35,000 farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. The fruit is delivered to 40 female-led co-operatives where the women have been trained to dry and package it for sale in international markets, largely in the USA. Members of its network, over 70% of whom are women, can earn 7 times the average wage and also have access to training (in food safety, financial literacy, agricultural practices), technology, (dehydrators and SMS messaging), and benefits (e.g. health insurance).

The venture, which operates in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Liberia, has plans to expand geographically and grow by diversifying into new product lines including launching a sister business, Olacoral, to build a market for lionfish. This is an under-exploited fish species that endanger the ocean ecosystem by eating the smaller herbivore fish that clean the coral reefs. Not only does the lionfish have an impact on marine biodiversity, therefore, but it endangers 50% of the world’s oxygen supply as well as the food supply of those populations that rely on fish as their main source of protein. By building a market for lionfish, not only can these challenges be addressed but the fishermen can diversify and increase their income streams. 

Through Agricycle Global, Josh and Claire are empowering rural communities by enhancing value chains and diversifying income streams for rural farmers, mainly women, by upcycling food that would otherwise perish and be wasted. Through Olacoral they are repeating the exercise in fishing communities by building a market for lionfish, while at the same time they are helping to protect the environment. Thus, although only in their early 20s these student entrepreneurs are helping to reduce poverty (SDG1), hunger (SDG2), and inequalities (SDG10), while promoting gender equality (SDG5), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG9) responsible production and consumption (SDG12) and sustainable cities and communities (SDG11). At the same time they are addressing both lives on land (SDG15) and life below water (SDG14).

While they regard themselves as social entrepreneurs, their contribution is not just to society but to the economy, the environment, and to the well-being of the people with whom they work – they are very much examples of harmonious entrepreneurship, holistic entrepreneurs who are addressing the sustainability challenge and operating in harmony with nature and the environment. They are exactly the sort of young entrepreneurs the Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society is aiming to create.

Like so many successful entrepreneurs, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg included, Josh and Claire dropped out of university and did not complete their degrees.

Do you believe this to be a problem? What, if anything, do you do to help prevent this from happening, without stultifying the entrepreneurial zeal of your students? 

© Professor David A. Kirby and Harmonious-Entrepreneurship.org (2021). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Professor David A. Kirby and Harmonious-Entrepreneurship.org with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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