Komal Ahmad is a woman on a mission to solve what she believes is the world’s dumbest problem: hunger. Her start-up company, Copia, is a technology platform that connects businesses with excess food to nonprofits. The businesses schedule pickups of their excess food on the app, Copia Connect, and Copia drivers come to pick up the food and deliver it to nonprofits in need. Nonprofits create profiles on the app to indicate their food needs and constraints and request recurring or on-demand food donations so that they only receive food on days when they are able to accept it. Copia has recovered over 1 million pounds of food and delivered over 900,000 meals according to its website. The 29-year-old was featured on Forbes 30 under 30 and Copia is recognized as one of the top three startups run by a woman in the U.S. to name a few of the numerous awards and recognition Komal has received.
Komal studied International Health and Global Development at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. She had no plans of becoming an entrepreneur and starting her own technology company, but rather was training to become an officer in the Navy upon graduation. Meeting impoverished and hungry veterans is what really made her start thinking about issues of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. In this Forbes article Komal explains how she encountered a homeless man who was begging for food one day and felt compelled to invite him to join her for lunch. He was a veteran who had just returned from Iraq and hadn’t eaten in three days. Ahmad explains that she thought, “This is a veteran, someone who made a selfless sacrifice for our country, only to come home to face yet another battle…to add insult to injury, right across the street Berkeley’s dining hall is throwing away thousands of pounds of perfectly edible food.” After her lunch with the veteran, Ahmad was determined to alleviate the hunger around her but was told by Berkeley’s dining hall that there was too much liability in donating unused food to the local homeless community. Unsatisfied with this answer, Komal did more research and eventually convinced her university to start a food recovery program. Starting this program, Komal saw firsthand how hard it was to match places with excess food to nonprofits. She would call nonprofits in the area and they wouldn’t be interested in the food she had recovered or would only be able to take a small portion of it.
Three years after graduating from UC Berkeley, Komal founded Copia in 2015 and experimented with various business models while she was starting out. First, she thought that Copia should be a non-profit, but found the time it took to apply for grant funding to be consuming all her time. So, she decided to see if the businesses she worked with would pay Copia a percentage of the tax deduction they receive from their donations in exchange for data about where their food surpluses are coming from. The businesses agreed to this arrangement. Copia quantifies the impact of the businesses that use its service, like how many people they feed by donating food and what their environmental impact is, so they can share that information with internal and external stakeholders. It’s really a win-win situation for businesses with excess food and communities with people in need.
Komal has hit rough patches in getting Copia to where it is today. She admits that there were times when she was sleeping on a blow-up mattress at a friend’s apartment and rationing out a pizza for a week because she didn’t have any money. Additionally, without a business background, Komal has had to surround herself with people who have expertise in areas that she does not. Despite the obstacles she’s faced, her mission to find a solution to the world’s dumbest problem has pushed her to keep going.
In the future, Komal hopes that Copia can expand beyond food and redistribute items like clothes and books, understanding that many of the same logistics issues exist with the redistribution of these items. Her LinkedIn bio begins with “The reasonable woman adapts herself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to herself. All progress, therefore, depends on the unreasonable woman.” Komal has found success by believing that she is capable of solving a huge global problem through a simple yet well-thought-out solution. She has persisted through the trials of entrepreneurship and is on her way to growing Copia and recovering more food. Komal was once a student with a growing passion for a problem she saw in her community. She is proof of the fact that if you believe in yourself, you can turn your passions into a career and make a great impact on the world.
By: Allison Desantis