Five student teams competed for the chance to win $25,000 March 18 as part of Hotel Ezra Cornell’s seventh annual Hospitality Business Plan Competition. Each team was given 10 minutes to present and 10 minutes to answer questions posed by any of the competition’s four guest judges.
This year’s winner was Team Natural Cuts, composed of Harrison Willis ’17 of the School of Hotel Administration and Vipul Prakash Saran ’17 of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Having manufactured a new food preservation technique, the team seeks to decrease food waste by extending the shelf life of fresh produce, most notably potatoes.
“We … are very familiar with the fact that the short shelf life of vegetable goods causes massive food waste,” said Saran. “In the U.S. itself, more than 44 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables [wind up as] food waste, and this accounts for over $127 billion. With Natural Cuts, we have the ability to significantly reduce this number.”
Natural Cuts’ preservation technique, when applied to potatoes, could extend shelf life to up to 50 days without refrigeration. The technique is GMO-free and does not incorporate chemicals, preservatives or other additives.
“Who needs Natural Cuts?” was one question Saran and Willis sought to answer in their presentation. The team cited Kevin Sullivan, owner of local Ithaca restaurant Luna Inspired Street Food. Willis explained that Sullivan faces high energy and labor costs as a result of the short shelf life of produce. Willis also said that Natural Cuts could solve the space and time constraints experienced by Sullivan and other restaurateurs.
“One of the largest issues Kevin faces is getting consistent quality ingredients throughout the year, especially in winter,” said Willis. “[He] demands consistent quality produce because his customers demand consistent quality produce. [Natural Cuts] can help Kevin deliver consistent quality produce throughout the year with our shelf extension technology.”
The team also expressed interest in expanding the technique to produce beyond potatoes, provided their initial venture proves successful.
Natural Cuts’ success represents a hefty slice of the Cornell entrepreneurial ecosystem, utilizing mentors and resources from across campus.
Willis and Saran take classes at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management with lecturers Tom Schryver ’93, MBA ’02, executive director for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) at Cornell, and Ken Rother, entrepreneur in residence and director of Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, Ithaca’s local business incubator. The Natural Cuts team is also in the Class of 2017 at eLab, Cornell’s accelerator for student startups.
Natural Cuts will give a presentation at eLab Demo Day on April 27, during the Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration.
The Hospitality Business Plan Competition was run through SHA’s Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, where Interim Director Susan Fleming, Ph.D. ’09, also works closely with CREA and Rev as a speaker on women in entrepreneurship.
Second place was awarded to Team Bill’s Will Mangan and Lydia Xu, both MMH ’17, who proposed a Philadelphia-based bar that would specialize in flavored beer. In third place was Team Doña Nata, composed of Angela Lindsay ’17, Antonio Miceli, MMH ’17, and Natalia Ruiz, MMH ’17, whose plan outlined a food service management company tailored to Mexican cuisine. Teams began work in the fall, progressing through several rounds of cuts before qualifying for the final competition.
The presentations, held in Statler Auditorium, attracted an audience of more than 100 people.
Teagan Todd ’20 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.