An app that takes the guesswork out of grocery shopping
When Sang Lê moved from Vietnam to Canada in 2017, she had a problem. As a student juggling classes, homework and campus activities, she was often too busy to cook, so the groceries she bought would spoil or pass their expiry date before she could eat them. She also tended to over-buy certain items, which created more waste.
"At that point I realized this is not good for my wallet nor for the environment," says Lê, a fourth-year Bachelor of Commerce student at the UBC Sauder School of Business who is specializing in Marketing and Business Analytics.
Researching further, she found that food spoilage – a challenge for many households – results in food waste rotting in local landfills, where it produces methane gas and contributes to global warming. Sang decided to tackle this environmental issue at the consumer level. By channelling her interest in business, marketing and technology, she launched a new venture: Peko.
Less waste. Less guilt.
Peko is a pantry analytics software solution that helps minimize food waste both for consumers and stores.
While currently in the development stage, Peko has already received a boost in its young journey. Lê and her teammates successfully pitched Peko at the 2021 TELUS Innovation Challenge, a national competition co-hosted by the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary for students interested in entrepreneurship, engineering innovation and product design.
After making it to the final round with 19 competitors, Peko secured a $20,000 package that includes seed funding and infrastructure support for their venture. TELUS’ Chief Technology Officer, Ibrahim Gedeon, has also extended mentorship support to Lê and a possible collaboration between Peko and TELUS' agriculture division.
"It feels absolutely surreal," says Lê, reacting to the news. "I know there was tough competition and some brilliant individuals pitching their ideas, but what set us apart was that our value proposition of food sustainability and improving the food supply chain aligned with TELUS' vision too."
Cook smart and sustainably
The Peko platform lists all grocery items purchased on a user's smartphone and tracks their expiry dates, sending push notifications when an item is nearing its expiry date.
Not only does Peko manage the pantry, but it also acts as a smart cookbook. The app curates recipes for users based on what’s in their pantry, thereby simplifying the task of what to make for dinner and ensuring supplies are used before they expire.
Lê's team is also set to add a new feature that will bring Peko users together virtually.
"We're working on a virtual community hub where users can exchange recipes and share their culinary knowledge,” she says.
Peko tracks grocery spending and the expiry dates of purchased food. It also generates simple and tasty recipes based on what’s stocked in a user’s pantry.
Laying the venture building blocks
The nine members of the Peko team come from various academic disciplines, including cognitive systems, computer engineering and business. As a co-founder, Lê credits the New Venture Design course at UBC Sauder with helping her move from idea to action.
"New Venture Design really taught me the framework of how to start a venture in a very logical way. Although there's no one definitive way to build a business, the course minimized the risk for me because I could apply my new knowledge as I was building my company," says Lê.
One of her takeaways is that your team is your biggest asset.
“We learned that investors aren't only interested in your product, they also look at your team's chemistry and composure and those are big factors in the decision to invest in you or not," says Lê. "I need to have a team that's willing to take risks with me and also create an environment where we uplift each other. That's the mentality I brought when leading the team at Peko and I have my professors to thank for imparting that knowledge."
UBC Sauder Adjunct Professor and New Venture Design instructor Blair Simonite is pleased to see his former student pursuing her entrepreneurial vision.
“I’m impressed by Sang’s positive energy and her ability to apply what she has learned, as clearly shown by Peko’s success with TELUS. I and the NVD teaching team wish Sang and her teammates every success as they continue along their startup journey.”
With a strong team and innovative product, Lê is optimistic about what the future has in store.
"I hope Peko will be a low-cost, low-barrier solution, so everyone can curtail food waste, save money, save mental hassle and importantly, play a role in protecting our planet."