Anyone that’s tried to make sustainable choices when dining out knows the research and time involved. EIT InnoEnergy Master School graduates have streamlined the process and created a sustainable restaurant locator app called Verdantips that connects eco-conscious diners with nearby restaurants that are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact. We spoke with co-founder, Mackenzie Banker, to hear how these three best friends came up with the idea and have turned it into reality!
The three co-founders (Mackenzie Banker, Natalia Fano Yela, and Mahima Rathore) met during their first year of EIT InnoEnergy’s MSc in Energy for Smart Cities programme at KTH. Mackenzie (who majored in Electrical Engineering from University of Florida before joining the programme) shares how their idea was born, “We decided to form a team during the Entrepreneurship Journey in our second year. The three of us wanted to focus on addressing problems within the food industry since we’d personally become increasingly sustainable (we were studying sustainability after all – which motivates you to change your daily habits!) I learned how to cook, went vegan and stopped buying plastic packaging, etc., but everyone enjoys going out to eat sometimes, and we realised just how un-sustainable eating out can be.”
They thought, “What if we could help people decide where to eat out by providing transparency into the restaurant’s practices?” The idea for Vertantips was born! When restaurants meet a threshold for their practices (i.e. Plant-Based Friendly, Sustainable Meat, Sustainable Produce, Plastic Conscious, Waste Conscious, Energy Efficient, etc.), they receive an icon for that category. If a diner wants to avoid plastic, they can choose restaurants with a Plastic Conscious icon. Or if someone only eats organic and grass-fed meat, they can choose a restaurant with their Sustainable Meat icon. She adds, “And for us energy engineers that want to support the energy transition, we can choose restaurants with our Renewable Energy icon! We are helping reward restaurants that make efforts to be kinder to the planet, while also incentivising (and providing the tools) for restaurants to keep lowering their footprint.”
Mackenzie shares: “Using AI, the app will provide restaurant recommendations to users based on their preferences, friends’ recommendations, and similar users’ – with an algorithm to suggest restaurants that match the preferences of a group eating out together. For restaurants, analytics provide ways they can improve to gain customers. For example, we look at the most popular categories that our users have selected in each city, so restaurants can gain insights into what people want. There are many possibilities to use data and analytics to help these restaurants become more sustainable, have better supply chain logistics, and reduce their operating costs. I think the most exciting part of the app is empowering users and restaurants to make more sustainable choices – through education and access – so they can make changes to help the planet!”
When asked about their time in the programme, Mackenzie shared, “It has helped prepare us to create a start-up in lots of ways. Alongside the technical engineering courses, we had classes with an entrepreneurial focus, teaching us how to look at things from a business perspective. Through the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Journeys, we learned the basics of creating a start-up – how to find a solution for a real-life challenge, design thinking and user experience, the business model canvas, finances and return on investment, patent law, and much more. This really helped lay the foundation. We also had mentoring sessions, expert coaching, and learned how to work as a team. The whole EIT InnoEnergy ecosystem has been very supportive – from helping me intern at an EIT InnoEnergy start-up during my Master’s, to everyone I have met (fellow students, coordinators, CommUnity leaders, or employees working in the incubator and investment side of EIT InnoEnergy). They have all been kind and knowledgeable people willing to help out.”
Mackenzie offers some final thoughts on her journey to entrepreneur: “It’s been so rewarding to create something myself (and with two of my best friends!), learn a ton along the way, and be truly passionate about the work I am doing. For now, we are focusing on launching our app in key cities in Europe and expanding from there. We are starting with restaurants, but this concept can be applied to many different types of businesses and stores. We envision Verdantips to be a whole sustainable lifestyle platform that helps both people and business make sustainable choices in everything they do!”