For University of Chicago graduate student Dheeraj Bandaru, resourcefulness is a natural route to innovative success. Blending his passions for computer science and paying it forward, Bandaru created a business model to sell major cities’ food supply surplus via food trucks to underserved populations. After extensive networking, discussions, and conceptualizing, a team composed of UChicago graduate students (MPCS Students: Dheeraj Bandaru & Andy Rodriguez; and UChicago Grad Student Katie O’Brien) and their close associates founded the enterprising Social New Venture Challenge business plan, Stoked.
Starting in undergraduate studies at Georgia Tech, Bandaru’s initial linking of computer science and sustainable business paved a foundation for his inventive ideas while interning for Atlanta’s City Planning Department. A major issue in Atlanta, and other major cities across the United States, is wasted food supply surplus; yet, there is an alarming amount of the US population going hungry. Bandaru understood the fundamental issue at hand: the supply chain isn’t built to move food waste to people who need food.
In order to create a business plan to feed underserved Atlanta populations using farmers’ gleaning crops, Bandaru initially reflected on his experience as a member of Georgia Tech’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network. Bandaru considered a similar non-profit approach to feeding underserved communities, however, to organize a more expansive and profitable approach to the gleaning crop, food insecure blunder, a for profit business was the more realistic and achievable choice. Implementing a for profit plan allows for reinvestment, expansion, and ultimately, a more timely solution to gleaning crop expiration.
Brainstorming efficient and practical business ideas, Bandaru and former co-founder of Common Moon, Sanjeeth Rajaram found a solution: food trucks. According to Bandaru, Stoked is a “restaurant group of food trucks that is a social mission minded for profit company.” Though for profit may not be deemed the socially conscious approach to feeding underserved populations, the Stoked team found that competing against non-profits for grants and donations would not provide immediate support for their rapidly growing goals.
As a for profit organization, Bandaru explains, “[Stoked] is socially focused, in that we’re trying to serve underserved communities.” When considering their target market, the Stoked team wanted to focus on a population often overlooked; those considered above the federal poverty line, but earning less than the cost of living. Bandaru continues, “they have to be served differently than the way food banks or other nonprofits are attempting to do it.” For the Stoked team, Bandaru in particular, the passions for CS, learning, and social change intersect, fueling inspiration for this SNVC business model with a social mission.
Stoked partnered with Aztec Dave’s, a familiar food truck that is often stationed at University of Chicago, to run a pilot of their business plan. Plan on visiting the Stoked team on May 12th between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on 58th Street & Ellis Ave.
Follow the Stoked team as they compete on May 23, 2023 for up to $150,000 toward their venture in the final round of the Social New Venture Challenge. For more information about the SNVC, visit the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.