Student entrepreneur savours journey towards fighting food waste

Food insecurity was an issue that NUS Business School Year 3 student Katrina Lee witnessed firsthand when she volunteered with community service clubs to distribute food rations to low-income households in Singapore. During such sessions, Katrina noticed recipients did not want commonly donated items such as canned soup and instant noodles – staples which most of them already owned.

While working part-time in the F&B industry, Katrina also observed how restauranteurs threw away perfectly edible food by the bulk at the end of the day – it being more convenient to dispose than to resell or donate them. She also saw how water insecurity and water pollution directly affected the local community when she worked at an international consulting agency, The Water Agency in Myanmar, during a summer internship.

These experiences inspired her to co-found tech social enterprise Savour! to tackle food waste and food insecurity in Singapore – a topic that has grown in salience with the advent of COVID-19. Officially launched in August 2020, the one-stop business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce marketplace website and app platform seeks to connect companies such as retailers and importers to other companies and non-profit organisations to procure regular, expiring, blemished and surplus food at corporate discounts, as well as in-kind sponsorships for their operations, programmes and events.

What a journey to Savour!

The journey to the company’s launch was not an easy one. Katrina first came up with the idea a year earlier, when she was a member of student group Enactus NUS (now called NUS Social Impact Catalyst), pitching it to other members in the student group to join her core team. To gain customers, she started out by cold-calling potential customers and merchants. A breakthrough came when she and her team won The OCBC Green Pitch 2019 for Savour!. This helped to secure funding to develop the platform, acquire customers and manage operations.

Katrina shared, “In my first month, I sent out 100 emails to potential merchants and received only one reply. Most were small-to-medium sized enterprises that had not heard about sustainability. The challenge was to convince them of the benefits of reducing food waste through the platform such as recouping costs, clearing inventory and positive publicity. I used various channels to reach out to them and even physically visited stores. I then iterated and tried different ways of pitching to them to see what worked best.”

Katrina’s persistence has paid off. To date, Savour! counts about 140 merchants and B2B customers on its platform, including brands and non-profit organisations such as Gong Cha, Grain, Beyond Social Services, Salvation Army, as well as student groups such as NUS Students’ Community Service Club and NUS Students’ Business Club. Her team has also since grown to 10 with other NUS students, Jessie Chia (NUS Engineering) and Zatalyn Ho (NUS Science) joining the startup to work on marketing and business development. The platform has even expanded its offerings to include corporate gifts, office supplies and event rental services.

Katrina credits the rigour of a NUS Business education for equipping her in her startup journey. She said, “The courses that I took, confidence gained from the active class participation, and high expectations of presentation skills and content set by my professors trained me to deliver compelling pitch decks confidently to engage my stakeholders and encourage buy-in. These have also served me well in my role as Savour!’s CEO – overseeing marketing, business development and finance within the company.”

Helping aspiring entrepreneurs

Katrina has been busy juggling her studies and Savour! but this does not deter her from focusing on her twin passions of fostering entrepreneurship and giving back. The indefatigable student took time out to co-found NUS Angel Ventures in June – a student group that connects NUS alumni who are angel investors and mentors with startups by NUS students and graduates. The inspiration to do so came after meeting many student entrepreneurs at NUS Entrepreneurship Startathon (a NUS Design-Your-Own-Module entrepreneurship module). 

She revealed, “I got to know many student startup founders there who had ideas with traction and potential and just needed the funding to execute them. I was fortunate enough to secure funding for Savour!, but there are many students who face challenges with this. I want to help, and I see this as my way of giving back to the NUS community both in the short and long term.”

Katrina, who caught the startup bug during her polytechnic days running a business as part of an entrepreneurship project, was certain then that she wanted to found a startup that is not only financial sustainable but one that also makes a positive community impact.

When prodded for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Katrina said, “If you have an idea. Just do it. You don’t have to have a complete idea or team to start digging into the issues and working through possible solutions. Don’t be afraid of rejections and embarrassing yourself. If you put yourself out there and take the initiative to speak with your customers as well as mentors, people are more than happy to take time out to give you advice and link you up with the relevant connections and resources. Entrepreneurship is not a smooth sailing journey, but I can say it is a meaningful and fulfilling one.”