Entrepreneurship wasn’t something Kim thought she would pursue in college, although she knew she wanted to start something. Growing up, she admired entrepreneurs and felt excited about the idea of building a company that creates social impact. Entrepreneurship “was always a dream,” she says, “A secret dream.”
About halfway through her college career, Kim discovered the Student Startup Center. That year, she took the Student Startup Center courses Intro to Entrepreneurship (ENG 008) and Launching a Business (ENG 080). She also applied to the PLASMA accelerator, without success. With encouragement from the Student Startup Center’s director, Kim applied to PLASMA again the following year and was accepted for her new project: the app FreeBites.
The idea for FreeBites originated with a documentary about food waste called Just Eat It. It reawakened Kim’s passions for sustainability and the environment and sparked a specific interest in food waste. After working with Food Recovery Network to recover excess food from campus dining halls and markets, she quickly realized that a volunteer-staffed operation like theirs would never be able to also recover the food waste from the many events hosted throughout campus. The event schedules and locations varied too much and there were too many events. Kim saw this as an opportunity to apply the technology skills she developed as a UC Davis computer science student to food waste, a problem she felt passionate about.
When Kim got involved in entrepreneurship at the Student Startup Center, she naturally found mentors. They were crucial to her growth. “That sense of someone caring and believing in you...that’s really really powerful,” Kim says. “It’s hard to prioritize as a student entrepreneur because there are a lot of school-related things to prioritize. And then there’s your dream. Mentors remind you to get back to your passion and guide you to resources.”
According to Kim, being a student entrepreneur feels liberating. She says there’s no better time to become an entrepreneur. Students have the perfect network and the energy. Yes, it’s very challenging to balance the realities of getting a job and getting good grades, but being a student entrepreneur is also “empowering because it takes a lot of believing in yourself to go after it.”
Since those early days, FreeBites -- the application and the team -- have been through multiple iterations. The app was fully developed and launched for use in spring 2019. The response from users made Kim see that FreeBites could be more than just a passion project; she realized she could have more impact by expanding to universities beyond UC Davis.
The societal disruption caused by COVID-19 required Kim to change her vision for FreeBites. It was uncertain when universities would again host events and when funds would be available for services such as FreeBites. Kim decided the pandemic gave her the opportunity to expand FreeBites’s customer base to the general public. She is now working with DT Bhogishetty and Shubham Pandey, two UC Davis graduate computer science students, to re-engineer FreeBites as a community-based application. With this change in audience comes a change in focus: FreeBites will now prioritize food insecurity. Kim is looking for connections with people who have expertise in food ecosystems, food supply chain, or food policy to assist with this new direction.
Kim sends thank yous to those who invested in her success: especially to PLASMA directors Aaron Anderson and Dawn Strickland, PLASMA mentor Mariah Lichtenstern, CITRIS program manager Nate Metzler, and Venture Catalyst analyst Mike Lemcke.
Kim Quach ‘20
ENG 008, ENG 080, PLASMA Alumna