Iris Guo is a 4th year Accounting and Financial Management student, with a Minor in Computer Science by day, and a startup founder of OpenMeal and Neutrify by night. While running her startups, she is also working as a Product Manager Intern and Google X. With all of Iris’s success thus far, it is hard to believe she only transitioned into the world of entrepreneurship in 2020!
After learning about the xenophobia and anti-Asian racism that Asian-owned restaurants were facing in Oakland and San Francisco’s Chinatown due to COVID-19, Iris founded OpenMeal in March 2020. OpenMeal is an online non-profit marketplace collecting donations from generous community members to support these family-owned restaurants, while also providing free meals to families who are experiencing food insecurity and job loss. Since its founding, OpenMeal has raised over $24,000, provided over 3,300 meals, and has expanded to New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and more!
Less than a year later Iris founded Neutrify, a chrome extension for Instacart. Neutrify empowers users to make informed grocery purchases by providing details about the carbon footprint produced by the food they are purchasing. It then offers suggestions for more sustainable food choices. Her team has now expanded from 4 to 70 volunteers in just 4 months! Neutrify has also launched a newsletter giving tips on eating sustainably, which you can sign up for here.
Iris has been heavily involved with Concept programming to help guide her entrepreneurial pursuits. She has attended many of our intro sessions to absorb invaluable knowledge, taken advantage of 1:1 coaching sessions to get professional advice and refine her pitches, and has won various funding competitions for her startups, including our Pandemic Challenge, and Climate Change Fund.
We spoke with Iris for a short Q&A where she offered some great advice for fellow student startup founders or those looking to begin!
Q: What advice do you have for students who are navigating the initial stages of their startups?
A: Focus on a problem you are passionate about, not ones that just seem popular or cool to solve. Being a student startup founder will become challenging down the road, so you want to make sure that every minute you’re thinking about it, that it is something that you WANT to think about. Secondly, you want to make sure you are obsessed with the problem and not the solution. Often people get caught up with ‘well I already built this app or this website’, and they don’t want to let go, but every startup needs to pivot sometimes. When you are in love with your problem, you can easily pivot your solution as needed. Lastly, make sure you utilize the resources around you and find a support network. This journey will be hard so it’s important to keep speaking to loved ones and connecting with resources like Concept who will support you along the way.
Q: What advice to you have to students who are thinking about getting involved with Concept?
A: Attend events, get to know people in the community and really absorb the knowledge you are offered. Also, get to know different Concept coaches and ask for their advice. The coaches are very helpful and understanding. Each of them has their own skillsets which is why I spoke to multiple coaches at once. They helped me spot problems in my solutions before I could. Once you’ve done that, shoot your shot at all these pitch competitions. You may think, ‘those people are so accomplished, I won’t be able to do that’ but you need to overcome that imposter syndrome. Before winning the Pandemic Challenge for OpenMeal at Concept, I never thought that this would be possible for me. I never thought that those people who seem so accomplished could be me. Be confident in yourself, your team and your solution! Do your best but never shy away from trying.
Q: What do you love about being a student startup founder?
A: As a startup founder you are an entrepreneur. You are essentially working on accomplishing a dream of yours. Every entrepreneur is a dreamer who wants to see the world in a different way. I am working on my startups because I believe the world can be better if everyone is more educated on the sustainable impact of food and choosing more sustainable diets based on our recommendations.
We are extremely proud of Iris and her accomplishments thus far in her career and are excited to see where OpenMeal and Neutrify take her. Iris is doing an Instagram takeover on @concept.uw all day on Saturday May 15, 2021, so be sure to say ‘hello’ and ask her questions!
Want to follow along on Iris’ journey? Check out some of her links below!