Each year in February, the Center for Social Impact co-sponsors a track with the Zell Lurie and Erb Institutes in the campus-wide Michigan Business Challenge. This special track awards a prize to the most compelling business plan that delivers social or environmental impact. One of the finalists from the 2016 Social Impact Track was Cart. In addition to that competition, Cart has been very active:
- They won first prize in the 6th Annual Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition
- Cart represented student innovation at the University of Michigan’s SXSW booth
- They won the Audience Choice Award this past summer at the A2 Health Hackathon
- Cart participated in U-M’s Techarb Student Venture Accelerator and won MVP of Techarb this past summer
- They presented at the UM Ventures in the Valley in San Francisco
- Cart received Center for Social Impact’s Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, which included funding, mentorship, coaching and networks
- They presented at TechArb’s Showcase (video, article)
- Cart was accepted into Grand Rapids’ Seamless Accelerator
- They are working with Meijer on launching a second pilot in the winter
We sat down with Cart CEO Stacey Matlen (MPH ’16) to find out just how exciting it’s been for them since last February, and since her graduation.
Remind us, what was the inspiration for your business?
Cart was conceived through Innovation in Action, the student innovation competition which tasks you to think through a public health problem, and develop an innovative solution for that problem. Four of us came together because we were passionate about food insecurity. We were sick of kids only getting two meals a day. We were sick of reading about malnutrition and its impact on obesity and health. Anger and despair fuel innovation. We are truly humbled by the chance to scratch the surface of this problem.
Tell us briefly about your business idea.
Cart uses existing rideshare infrastructure (think Uber) to get low-income, low-vehicle access individuals to and from fully stocked supermarkets. We want to tackle the barrier of transportation when accessing healthy foods. Inspired by the Medicaid Cab, in which Medicaid beneficiaries who don’t have transportation can get reimbursed for a taxi to their medical appointments, we want to improve access to supermarkets. The best part about Cart is that we use existing infrastructure, so there is very little in the way of development.
In what way did the 2016 Michigan Business Challenge Social Impact Track help you with your start-up?
The MBC Social Impact Track helped us really think through our business model through the social impact lens. While the general MBC was great – and we were able to think through what long term success would mean for Cart – the Social impact Track gave us the platform to think through how we’re going to measure our social impact, and how we’re going to ensure that we’re truly serving the community. Also, the feedback we got from the social impact judges was specifically in line with the needs of our target population. This helped us realize the type of funding we should seek out moving forward. Instead of VC funding, we need funding from investors with who share our values and want to see not just a strong economic ROI, but a strong social ROI as well.
What has been the biggest surprise during that past six months?
Every day as a social entrepreneur presents a new surprise–things change all the time and everything is so fast-paced. Maybe the biggest surprise is the fact that I’ve been able to adapt to this chaos and actually enjoy and embrace my day-to-day life. And while at first the unpredictability was terrifying, I learned how to cope with it by providing myself with structure and relying on my networks to help get me through. Being okay with failure has also been a constant challenge, but it’s now one that I’m learning to embrace.
Since February, you have teamed up with Meijer. Can you describe that relationship?
We first engaged with Meijer by pitching to their CSR director at a UM job fair. He took a chance on us and was able to get us a meeting with Meijer’s top executives. They liked our idea and gave us some initial funds to run a one month pilot with their 8 Mile Rd. store in Detroit. Months later, when we came back to share the pilot results, they agreed that if transportation is a major barrier for customers to get to their store, they need to work to help fix it.
They told us they’d be willing to fund a bigger pilot moving forward. We then spent the summer doing intense customer discovery and creating a solution that worked for our target population. After that, we came back and were able to share those findings and work on a plan for pilot 2.0. They recommended we join the Grand Rapids-based accelerator, Seamless, to help us with this, so we did. We’ve now been able to work with them to create a technology-enabled MVP. Customers will order rides through our mobile web app, and they’ll pay their portion of the ride in the store.
We plan to test this MVP with the two Detroit Meijer stores, with a slow launch in December and a full launch starting in January 2017.
How did the Center for Social Impact and its Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship help Cart over the summer?
The Center for Social Impact’s Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship is the reason I was able to continue working on Cart post-graduation. I really don’t know if I’d be here, working full-time on Cart, had it not been for that fellowship. It was a really tough decision and big risk to decide to stay on and not look for a corporate job. The fellowship helped mitigate the risk and was the push/opportunity I needed to help make the decision to stay.
What advice do you have for other student social entrepreneurs?
Take some time to figure out how you work best, and structure your days accordingly. Play around with different project management tools until you find one that works for you. Also–know that entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster, and surround yourself with a good support system to help you make it through the ride.
Lastly, don’t let the perfectionist in you take control and drive you nuts. Things are going to be messy. Also know that you’re not expected to know everything – this is where it helps to reach out to mentors and experts in the field to help guide you through the chaos of entrepreneurship.