Priya Mittal is a Senior at The Dalton School in New York City. She has a deeply rooted passion for the visual arts, technology and social entrepreneurship. Priya is a curious and passionate person who has created her own app and company, GroGreen, stemmed from her commitment to utilize technology to spark change in her community.
Priya’s work on GroGreen has led to major accomplishments. She won second place at the Technovation World Pitch Summit and was a finalist in the #BUILTBYGIRLS Challenge. She won the Greater New York Area Award and was a National Honorable Mention Runner-Up in the National Center for Women & Information Technology competition. She is very committed to promoting girls in STEM and is not only co-President the Girls Who Code chapter at her school, but has been part of organizations like Made with Code and Global Citizen that are dedicated to this mission as well.
City where you’re from: New York City
Hobbies: Photography, Paddleboarding, Science Research
Favorite quote: “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” – Walt Disney
Hey Priya, what are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
Priya Mittal: One day in October of 2015, I was strolling through the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC, rummaging through the produce items being sold. Like many, I repeated the same steps countless times: pick up the item, turn it over, and then inspect it. If perfect looking, drop it in my bag, but if dented even in the slightest, toss it back in the crates. It was not until I got home that I started to wonder what actually happens to the produce that gets left at the bottom of the piles. I started to look up phrases like “Farmer’s Market Waste” or “Produce Left in Crates at Market” until suddenly I came across a shocking term coined “Ugly Produce.” What I learned was shocking.
Every year, over 6 billion pounds of produce is being thrown away because it is judged to be “ugly”, and therefore, is not being bought. That is enough produce to solve world hunger! In fact, 1 in 5 produce items is wasted because it does not meet the cosmetic standards of supermarkets. It is not economically viable for farms to throw away so much time and money worth of healthy, edible produce. The produce wasted at these farmer’s markets had to be healthy if it was being sold at all. Anyways, food should only be judged by taste and not looks.This was the start of GroGreen.
GroGreen aims to turn wasted food into wanted food by minimizing the amount of ugly produce wasted each year. As it turns out, restaurants and juice and smoothie bars are the perfect beneficiaries of this produce since they transform the produce to the point where the original form no longer matters. On the other hand, farms benefit from using GroGreen since they can sell produce that would otherwise be wasted.
GroGreen is an iOS application that has two platforms. When restaurants log in, they will be able to place an order by selecting the desired, produce, and quantity they want to purchase, and then pay. Next, farms log in, see what orders they need to complete, and then when finished, archive their order. As a company, GroGreen will act as the trade and delivery service, transporting these produce items from farms to restaurants local to New York City.
How is your company different?
Priya Mittal: As a company located in the heart of NYC, GroGreen has the potential to benefit from partnerships with local farmer’s markets. Likewise, we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of upcoming city bike lane developments and ensure that these deliveries continuously remain very efficient and time sensitive.
Ordering through GroGreen implies that restaurants will solely be receiving produce that is imperfect. In this way, GroGreen acts as a campaign by encouraging consumers everywhere to normalize the stigma of “ugly” produce. There is unfortunately a low demand for blemished produce, thus restaurants save money with GroGreen because they will be buying produce that is below the market price. Similarly, farmers gain access to alternative markets or their irrationally unwanted produce. The ability to open up to very large markets for both the farm and restaurant industries are part of what makes GroGreen so unique. Although there are quite a few apps pertaining to farmer’s markets, GroGreen stands out in its core mission to help the economy and environment.
What’s your dream with your company?
Priya Mittal: GroGreen’s mission is both a local and global one in its dedication to minimize the amount of produce waste each year. While I do hope to start the company in the NYC area, once it proves successful, I will be expanding it to many more cities in the United States. My dream is that after the success in these domestic areas, I will be able to expand the product to the global market. GroGreen is an app that is extremely accessible. All you need is a username and password to join, thus it certainly does not matter where the user is located. This inclusive mentality is vital in our commitment to making sure that no produce, no matter how much, will be wasted. Eventually, I do hope to expand GroGreen not from just from the restaurant and produce sectors but to corporative spaces such as organizations, companies and schools as well.
How do you creatively advertise?
Priya Mittal: For GroGreen, advertising needs to be very creative and innovative right from the very beginning. The two industries I hope to bring together are the restaurant and farm sectors. Because we operate under a double segmented market, advertising needs to be as efficient as possible to ensure that both sides are interested and aware of the product.
It is important to be aware that farmers and chefs might not be the most tech savvy, and so what I have been doing to creatively advertise is create paper based flyers that I can hand out to farmers at farmer’s markets. Word of mouth is a great way to advertise in this way because since farmer’s markets are communities in and of themselves, if one farm hears about GroGreen, it is inevitable that others will too. I have been cold emailing over 200 restaurants in the NYC area about GroGreen and am thrilled that they are so receptive to the idea. I also send out a monthly newsletter in which I highlight news about the farm and restaurant industries as well as the food and agricultural sectors as a whole. I hope to use this platform as an educational platform on top of the business aspect.
How do you motivate yourself when faced with a challenge?
Priya Mittal: Like anyone, there were times when I felt discouraged throughout the process. However, I continuously told myself that what I was doing was a good thing. I saw the crates of discarded produce in my head could visually see the change I hoped to bring about in my community. I knew what I wanted to do and who I wanted to help, but reminding myself of this was really important in keeping up my motivation. I think that is what makes social entrepreneurship so special; anyone who is taking on this journey is so motivated to take initiative of the change they want to see in the world.
What were your biggest failure and biggest success? What did you learn from them?
Priya Mittal: My biggest success was seeing my entire company come together. I started off the entire journey having a very clear sense of what I wanted GroGreen to ultimately look like, but understanding how to actually create it was something very new. After months of watching video tutorials and reaching out to people with any questions I had, I began to understand in more depth topics like creating a business plan or networking that I did not really understand before. The success of seeing the entrepreneurship and tech side work cohesively together taught me to never give up. It sounds cliche, but honestly, if you put your mind to something and tell yourself you are not quitting no matter what, you can push through and achieve something really great.
My biggest failure was not allotting enough time to fully develop my business model. I realized far too late that there were some holes in ideas I thought would work, specifically revolving around GroGreen’s delivery service. In a startup, the technical and business side of the product really do work together. Only once I acknowledged this and fixed up concepts in my business model was I able to move on to the more technical side to fully develop a product I knew both customer segments would really use.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
Priya Mittal: The best entrepreneurship advice anyone has ever told me is to “get outside.” A lot of people think that slaving over creating a tangible end product is the most important part of the journey of entrepreneurship. However, unless you get outside and talk to your customer segments or potential users, you will be unable to create a well rounded product that has features that appeal to a diverse group of people. If you sit inside all day, before you know it, you will have created a product that only appeals to a select group of users and thus limiting your market. And you do not want that.
Teach us something about how to reach out to people
Priya Mittal: During the past month, I have learned so much about outreach, not just towards chefs and farmers, but to people in my community that can learn so much about the “Ugly Produce Movement.” I have launched GroGreen’s first website and I have a special section dedicated towards monthly newsletters that I create. Every month, I send out a newsletter to customers, friends and family, writing about news in the food and agriculture industries but also about what people are doing to combat food waste. I think it is so important to keep people in the loop, especially interested customers, about whatever subject you are focused on. The more they understand it, the more you are able to show them why it is important, thus gaging their interest.
What’s something new you’ve learned in the past month?
Priya Mittal: This past month, I have been focusing a lot from learning as much as I can about entrepreneurship from professionals themselves. One educational tool that I have found to be incredible is Guy Raz’s podcast entitled “How I Built This” where he interviews a leading entrepreneur about their companies, and their journey, while asking them to share such profound advice to listeners along the way. A common message that many entrepreneurs have alluded to is this concept going with the flow and not being so constrained to what you want to do or what you think you have to do. Rather, it is important to take advantage of all the experiences you will encounter and all the opportunities that come your way even if you did not plan to participate in one. No matter how seemingly obscure or irrelevant the activity is, you will inevitably learn something from that experience that will help you at some point in your life.
Teach us something we don’t know (it’s vague and open-ended on purpose)
Priya Mittal: GroGreen’s logo is an ugly apple representing my home state New York with a spoon and rake crossed representing the two industries that I hope to bring together. Here at GroGreen, it is so important that every component of our business be in line with our mission of being as environmentally friendly as possible, the logo being no different!
What do you think you do better than most people?
Priya Mittal: In entrepreneurship, one of the most important tools to have is the ability to think outside of the box. The world is always changing and you will always face problems, but the way that you respond to these challenges will determine the success of your product. I have always been a very creative person who is very motivated and I think being able to craft well developed, innovative solutions is essential. This ability to think outside of the box has enabled me to think of ways to combat all types of problems that I face along the way.
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
Priya Mittal: It is important for an entrepreneur to focus on maintaining a futuristic mindset. Sure, the problem you are trying to fix at any given moment might be extremely important, but the world is always changing. It is important to not just think about what might be needed today, but what will be needed in a couple years. Entrepreneurs should not just get held back by nitty gritty detail or by small problems, but they should be thinking about the greater problem and challenges they may face going forward a year from now.
What are some of the best books you’ve ever read?
Where do you see yourself and your product in a couple years?
Priya Mittal: I am currently a Senior in High School, but in college, I hope to study Computer Science, Social Entrepreneurship and Visual Arts. I would like to use these skills in order to make a difference in the world by addressing an unmet need that has significant impact on our community. Without computing and technology, it would be impossible to create GroGreen. Obviously, computing is also necessary to further develop the app, as well as external databases and API. However, without a significant focus on Visual Arts, even the best idea can fail. As Apple’s success has taught us, the user interface is critical to the long term success of an app or any consumer facing technology.
I really hope to not only continue working on GroGreen in college, but also join initiatives like CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that are trying to combat food waste. This environmental goal is something so important to me and I hope that I will be able to make a difference within this subject wherever I go.
Also published on Medium.