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Students compete to fund app to combat hunger

A team of two graduate students, one undergraduate student and an ASU alumnus traveled to Sydney to pitch their social entrepreneur idea, called FlashFood, at Microsoft's annual Imagine Cup July 6-10.

FlashFood is a mobile phone application that networks food providers, such as restaurants and catering services, with collection volunteers and community centers that collect leftover food. The application then connects those in need with a center where food is available by sending out text message alerts to subscribers.

The team won the U.S. Imagine Cup in April, making them eligible to go on to the international competition. Along with achieving a spot at the international Imagine Cup, the team was awarded $8,000 for their project and the students' program at ASU received a $10,000 donation.

The group competed with 71 other software design teams worldwide and did not place at the international Imagine Cup. The team was required to give a 20-minute pitch at the international competition that described how the project solved a social problem, how the application worked technologically and how the idea could be turned into a business venture. The grand prize for the international Imagine Cup was $25,000.

Along with competing in the Imagine Cup, the team has been involved in several other competitions, such as the ASU Innovation Challenge, in which the project was awarded funding.

Alumnus Jake Irvin, graduate students Eric Lehnhardt and Steven Hernandez and materials science and engineering junior Katelyn Keberle began working on the project in a fall 2011 Engineering Projects In Community Service class in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The idea for FlashFood was inspired after the team members' research indicated food insecurity was a large problem in Arizona.

Lehnhardt, the FlashFood team leader, said Arizona has a lot of "food deserts," which are areas with low incomes and not a lot of access to food.

"We want to be able to develop a venture that not only helps people but is self-sustaining," Lehnhardt said.

Keberle said her involvement with the team was focused on recruiting food providers, collectors and distributors to join the FlashFood network.

Keberle said participating in the Imagine Cup finals was a "surreal experience."

"There are so many other people who are so passionate about changing the world," Keberle said. "There are so many resources you're surrounded by and so many professionals who want to help you."

She said FlashFood aims to make it easy for people to prevent food from going to waste when others could use it.

Keberle said the team hoped to make FlashFood go beyond Phoenix to help combat hunger.

"We want to make it a reality in Phoenix and then move it around America and hopefully around the world," Keberle said. "Ideally, this will go all the way."

Irvin brought a background in marketing and sustainability to the team, adding a business perspective that enhanced their economic strategy.

Irvin said food providers benefit from the process through tax write-offs.

He said the team has been communicating with potential partners such as Le Cordon Bleu, an international network of culinary schools.

"In their classes, they prepare a ton of food," Irvin said. " At the end of the day they have a lot leftover. That's one source of food we're looking to pull from once we start our pilot runs."

He said the application hasn't been launched, but will reach its beta version in a couple of weeks.


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