An investment fund that supports IU student innovation announces investment in FoodMeets and Solesca
An app that connects people through dining-out experiences and a startup creating software to help farmers implement solar power are the latest student startups to benefit from the Shoebox Fund, an investment fund that supports student innovation and entrepreneurship at Indiana University.
The startups, which each received a total of $5,000, are:
- FoodMeets, an app that matches like-minded people who share the same interests and food choices, founded by Victoria Nopporn, a sophomore at the Kelley School of Business in Bloomington, and Jayapriya Una, a sophomore at the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.
- Solesca, a startup creating software to assist in the implementation of solar power systems co-located with crops or livestock, co-founded by Sam Schierloh, a junior at the IU Kelley School of Business in Bloomington.
“The Shoebox has continued to foster a strong community of IU student inventors and entrepreneurs, which is reflected in our ability to have teams as strong as FoodMeets and Solesca be eligible for support through the Shoebox Fund,” said Travis J. Brown, senior executive assistant dean of innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization and executive director of the Shoemaker Innovation Center at the Luddy School. “They are a reflection of the high caliber of startups we are incubating.”
Based upon a “swiping and matching” algorithm popularized in dating apps, FoodMeets is a social networking application that connects two or more people who want to discover new places to eat. After matching people based upon their interests, the app also assists with the planning process, recommending local restaurants for users based on their food preferences, schedule and budget.
The app, which is currently in beta testing, is based upon an idea developed by Nopporn and Una during their participation in a DECA competition. (Formerly known as Distributive Education Clubs of America, DECA is a youth organization for American and Canadian high school and college students interested in business, marketing, management and entrepreneurship.) More recently, FoodMeets won $20,000 from Elevate Venture’s 2021 Regional Elevate Nexus Pre-Seed Competition and earned status as a finalist at the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s 2021 Vernon Clapp IDEA Competition and a semi-finalist at the The Mill’s 2021 Crossroads Pitch Competition. The startup aims to pilot a more developed version of the app in larger cities such as Chicago and New York by early 2023, and nationwide by 2024
“As foodies and avid users of social media and matching apps, we came to realize that we could transform our high school project into a viable business,” said Nopporn, a graduate of Carmel High School, along with Una. “The Shoebox Fund has given us access to valuable one-on-one relationships with mentors who are dedicated to helping the entrepreneurs before their startup launch. The guidance has been crucial as we leapt into the deep end learning to run a startup for the first time. We’re grateful to the Shoebox Fund for the chance to learn and grow.”
Individuals who want to sign up to beta test the FoodMeets app can learn more on FoodMeet’s Instagram page.
Driven by the founders’ desire to address climate change, Solesca is a software startup focused on assisting in the development of “agrivoltaic systems,” or solar panels located on the same land as crops or livestock in order to maximize efficiency and land usage. The app provides users with the most cost-effective layout for their solar panels, maximizing megawatt hours while considering factors such as crop shading, accommodating equipment and safety.
The company, co-founded by Schierloh and Brendan Devine, a junior mechanical engineering major at Harvard University, began as a backyard project to convert used solar cells into phone battery chargers. After efforts to turn the project into a larger business revealed challenges related to scalability and patenting, the founders shifted their focus to agrivoltaic system software to capitalize upon their previously established relationships in the solar industry. With support from the Shoebox Fund, Schierloh and Devine will attend the Large Scale Solar USA conference this June in Austin, Texas, where they will showcase their software and connect with future customers. The team also plans to integrate feedback from solar developers at the conference to strengthen their product prior to launching for early adopters in the fall.
“The Shoemaker Innovation Center has been a huge help in the development of our business,” said Schierloh. “Getting 24-hour access to a center where you can work on your business is not something you see at many other universities. The Shoebox has provided access to resources such as legal help and venture capital guidance — as well as a community of individuals who all share a similar desire to have an impact through their business. We want to make Solesca a major player in the solar software industry.”
Established through a gift from Donna and John Shoemaker in 2021, the Shoebox Fund supports companies to emerge from the Shoebox, the student startup incubator in the Shoemaker Innovation Center at the Luddy School. The fund is administered by the school in partnership with IU Ventures, which leads IU’s investment in high-potential new venture opportunities with strong university connections.
“Shoebox clients are given a wealth of resources through the Shoemaker Innovation Center, but they come with the expectation that the startups continue to show progress,” said Brown. “Thanks to Donna and John’s generosity, we have managed to build a thriving hub of dedicated, serious entrepreneurs.”
Kevin Fryling, a senior communications specialist at IU Studios, was the lead contributor on this story.