Oasis Foods: Not Your Average Start Up

The following blog post was originally published by the Simon Business School Admissions Blog on June 29, 2016

What do you think of when you hear the word “entrepreneur”?

A young man in a hoodie hunched over a computer, perhaps? A graying–but young at heart–millionaire venture capitalist, maybe?

Whatever you envision, I bet you didn’t picture three young women from Simon Business School trying to end food deserts in upstate New York. We’re not your average entrepreneurs; we’re social entrepreneurs.

Trying to solve social problems through business is tough. Launching a start up is difficult even if profit is your main motivator, but when you add in a mission for social impact, the challenge becomes that much trickier. This is compounded with skepticism from many sides: those who believe that companies have no business trying to do more than increase shareholder return and those who are hesitant to trust for-profit businesses to handle today’s most pressing issues.

Kat Cook, Fahria Omar, and Sarah Spoto celebrate their Finger Lakes Regional win of the New York Business Plan Competition.

at Cook, Fahria Omar, and Sarah Spoto celebrate their Finger Lakes Regional win of the New York Business Plan Competition.

Fahria Omar, Kat Cook, and myself launched Oasis Foods as part of Professor Michael Wohl’s Urban Entrepreneurship class. For the class, we were given this daunting task: end food deserts in Rochester, New York. Soon we had an idea for a frozen pre-prepared meal company that served its healthy products straight to consumers via vending machines. We want to give people access to healthy food where there are very few choices besides convenience stores and fast food. After six weeks of work that extended far beyond spreadsheets and formulas (think: cold calls, food pantry tours, and chats with City representatives), we presented our final project.

The course might have concluded, but it was only the beginning for Oasis Foods. We applied for our first business plan competition. And failed. So we tried again. And again. We eventually got the break we were looking for: a chance to present at the Finger Lakes Regional Contest of the New York Business Plan Competition in Geneseo. There have only been a few other times in my life when I was as nervous as I felt while we were waiting for our results from that competition.

Oasis Foods won $10,000 in seed money for taking 1st place in the Social Entrepreneurship/ Non Profit track of the New York Business Plan Competition.

Oasis Foods won $10,000 in seed money for taking 1st place in the Social Entrepreneurship/ Non Profit track of the New York Business Plan Competition.

Ultimately, the hard work paid off, and we made it to the final round of the New York Business Plan Competition in Syracuse. That was a whole new ball game. We worked feverishly to prepare, including one marathon 12-hour meeting, which took place after I had literally run a half marathon that morning. We couldn’t pull off those long nights if our team wasn’t a good fit. Fahria is creative, innovative, and the best relationship manager of the group. Kat is all about the operations and logistics, not to mention keeping us all sane with her humor. Launching a start-up is like no other experience. You can’t accomplish it simply by going to class. You need to step out into the world and solve a problem that really matters.

When Oasis Foods was announced as the winner of the Social Entrepreneurship category in Syracuse, I knew that it was only the first happy step in a long road filled with challenges, failures, and wrong turns. But I also knew we were committed, focused, and bold enough to try to make a positive impact through social entrepreneurship. I know our team won’t stop until we’ve done just that.

Cheers!

Sarah

www.OasisFrozenFoods.com

Learn more about Oasis Foods and experiential learning at Simon in WHAM 1180’s Eyes on the Future podcast from June 25, 2016, featuring Prof. Michael Wohl, Associate Dean David Tilson, Kat Cook, and Fahria Omar.

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healthy goals

For just over a year I’ve tried to stick to a modified plant-based diet. Along the way, I ended up deciding to add back in small amount of fish and eggs (for protein and iron), but otherwise, I more or less committed to healthier plant-based eating habits. However, recent travel in Europe and general convenience led to me eat a bit more cheese than I’ve planned.

That said, I’m ready to start feeling better and eating better, so I have some new healthy goals! One way to help achieve a goal is to make your intensions know; build in some accountability. Which is why I’m sharing my goals with you all today.

Restaurant De Kas Amsterdam #100DaysofMiaPrima

Goal #1: Increase my iron and protein intake

How? Include at least one serving of iron and protein-rich food a day, along side vitamin C (to help absorb the iron)

Foods: tuna, salmon, spinach

Timeline + Measure: Feel noticeably more energized mid-day and during workouts by June 1st

 

Goal #2: Improve digestion

How? Include at least one serving of high fiber food a day. Drink ginger tea four time or more a week. Decrease cheese intake to one meal a day or less.

Foods: oatmeal, whole wheat bread, veggies

Timeline + Measure: Evening stomach issues occur less frequently by June 1st

 

What are your health goals?

 

Cheers!

Sarah

This post is #38 of the #The100DayProject. For more updates on my progress, be sure to follow me on Instagram and look for the hashtage, #100DaysofMiaPrima.

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The FAQs of a New Vegan

FAQs of a New Vegan. For example, "What about ice cream?" and "Why? As in why would you do that?" on miaprimacasa.com

I’ve been following a plant-based diet (think: vegan + limited refined sugar and processed foods) for a couple weeks now, and there are a few things I’ve learned. First of all, I feel a whole lot better already. My energy is up. I don’t rely on caffeine like I used to. Netflix marathons do not have to simultaneously accompany a candy binge after which I feel like total crap but for some reason still want to lie on my couch, drinking beer, and thinking sad guilty thoughts about my body/heath/exercise habits.

Second of all, friends and family have a lot of questions. That’s fair! They are concerned about my health and well-being. I’m not (yet?) a jaded vegan who thinks everyone is judging their nutritional habits. That said, I want to shed some light on the answers to some of those common questions. Maybe I can just start referring inquirers to this blog post. 😉

The FAQs of a New Vegan. on miaprimacasa.com

Why? As in, why would you do that?

Because I am young and by today’s standards healthy. That is to say, I don’t have a disease, I’m not overweight, and I have no broken bones. But I do have anxiety, allergies (to, like, every plant ever), trouble sleeping, adult acne, neck problems, fatigue, and a strong urge to binge eat candy the moment I get home from work and set eyes on my couch (why does candy taste best when you eat ten servings of it!? I have a feeling there is a vey logical scientific answer to that one…).

In other words, I don’t feel healthy.

I exercise regularly (see: Pittsburgh Marathon, Here I Come!) and don’t smoke, so I figured a factor to my feelings of crappiness probably had to do a large part to what I was eating (and also to stress, but that is hurdle to discuss at another time).

So there you have it. It’s really quite simple. I’m eating plant-based because I am trying to feel, and be, the best version of myself.

Make sure you are getting enough protein!

Very good advice. But good advice for anyone. Before I became vegetarian (about six months ago), I would eat on average three turkey sandwiches a week. I didn’t really care for red meat, and I didn’t really know how to cook meat at home either. I also wasn’t consuming plant protein like nuts or beans or using protein powder.

Today, I am more careful than ever about ensuring I eat enough protein. In fact, I am sure I eat more now than I did before I was vegetarian! My energy level has gone up, and I feel like I’m getting more from workouts.

Bottom line is: just because you aren’t a vegetarian, doesn’t mean you are getting enough protein. And just because you are, doesn’t mean you’re not!

Healthy Cookie Dough Brownies

Cookie Dough Brownies from Desertswithbenefits.com. Yes, these are vegan. And yes, they are delicious.

But what about ice cream? And cheese?!

There may be nothing better than fresh Wisconsin cheese curds. But truth be told, I stopped craving cheese after I stopped eating it for about a week. All I did was avoid it. Seriously, I just didn’t buy any cheese at the grocery store, and I didn’t order dishes with cheese in it

when I went out. What kept my self-control strong was the disappearance of that fuzzy feeling I got in my head after a cheesy pizza or the bloated stomach after a grilled panini that I scarfed down at my cubicle.

And as for ice cream, I switched to coconut ice cream. Which is as good as is sounds! Yum!

Why are refined sugars so bad for you?

First of all, sugar doesn’t contain: nutrients, protein, healthy fats, or enzymes. So, from my perspective (as in, not a scientist), sugar sounds like empty calories. Which actually doesn’t sound that bad. I mean, sugar is clearly not good for you…but does that mean it’s bad for you?

The cincher for me is that sugar is addictive. I have sugar. Then I want more sugar. And more sugar. And eventually nothing else (honey, maple syrup, fruit)  tastes all that great because it’s, well, not as sweet and delicious as sugar (and now I’m going to get all fancy and give you a scientific source for what seems to be an obvious observation).

Other research suggests that refined sugar can cause also weight gain and poor sleep. Bummer.

What are you going to eat when you travel abroad?

For me, eating is a huge part of exploring another culture. I tried gelato in every major Italian city I visited. I ate margherita pizza in Naples. Tasted octopus in Southern Italy. Enjoyed cheese filled sausages in Bavaria. And fish and chips in London. Eating is part of the adventure. Since I don’t travel often, I’ve decided not to follow a strict plan-based diet while, say, visiting my expatriate twin sister in Amsterdam. I’m going to try my best (she already has some great vegetarian restaurants in mind!), but let myself experience the food of that culture. I’ll just try to stick to one stroopwafel…instead of ten.

The FAQs of a New Vegan. on miaprimacasa.com

THE BEST HOMEMADE BURRITOS EVER. Recipe from thekindlife.com

Eating out is going to suck.

Actually, no, it really hasn’t. Combining appetizers with salads or soups makes for a good option when visiting a less vegan-friendly

restaurant, but if you live in a city, my bet is you can find some pretty decent vegetarian places as well. That said, I’ve come to an understanding that compromises will be made. Non-whole wheat pasta at an Italian restaurant, for example, or a bit of cream in some tomato soup.

And the truth is, eating a vegan, plant-based diet hasn’t diminished any joy I get from eating (out, in, or otherwise). In fact, I think I enjoy food a whole lot more. Imagine discovering food that tastes wonderful and that you can eat without abandon or guilt to your heart’s  content (literally!).

Because nobody ever felt shitty after binge eating homemade sweet potato fries.

Thoughts? Recommendations? I know you got ’em, and I want to hear ’em!

Cheers!

Sarah

Resources:

Forks Over Knives by Gene Stone, T. Colin Campbell, and Caldwell B. Esselstyn

The Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition by Julieanna Hever

No Meat Athlete

The Kind Life

Wellness Mama

The China Study

T.Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Thrive Fitness by Brendan Brazier

Plant Based Diet Reading on miaprimcasa

Related Posts:

Adventures in Plant-Based Nutrition

Running Hard, Getting Healthy, & Going (Almost) Vegan

Euro Brunch, Vegetarian Style

Vegetarian Pasta Dish in Just Ten Minutes