Small-Business Success Story: Copia

Komal Ahmad's app connects food purveyors with groups that make good use of excess food.

(Image credit: © 2016 Eric Millette, All Rights reserved)

Kiplinger's spoke with Komal Ahmad, 26, founder and CEO of Copia (opens in new tab) (pictured above), a San Francisco, Calif.-based tech company that matches companies with excess edible food with people in need. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

How does it work? We ask nonprofits to create online profiles: What foods do they need? When do they need them? How do they need to be packaged? What storage facilities do they have? Donors go online or use our app to quickly schedule a pickup of their excess food. Our back-end system matches the amount and type of food to the nonprofits that need it, and we dispatch our drivers, who are certified food handlers, for pickup and delivery.

What’s in it for the donors? We help them unlock the full value of their unused food. They get an enhanced tax deduction of up to 15% of its fair market value. Donors pay Copia a per-pound pickup fee. We provide data that helps them reduce food waste and improve their bottom line, as well as marketing and branding support. The nonprofits provide testimonials and confirm receipt of the food, so we can provide businesses with proof of their donation in case of a tax audit.

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How did you finance your rollout? Initially with the Bank of Komal—my life savings. In January 2016, I participated in Y Combinator, which provides seed funding and a support network for start-ups. It gave us $120,000 in exchange for 7% of the company. We’ve also worked with venture capitalists. Toyota honored me in 2016 as one of its Mothers of Invention, and we won $50,000.

Where will you go next? We anticipate taking Copia to Sacramento, and within the next two years or less we want to be in large cities nationwide. We may license our technology and model in smaller cities.

Are you making a living? I took a salary for the first time in 2016, but I’m not the highest-paid person on our full-time staff of eight. Solving the world’s biggest problems requires the smartest people, and my greatest success is our extraordinary team.

Patricia Mertz Esswein
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Esswein joined Kiplinger in May 1984 as director of special publications and managing editor of Kiplinger Books. In 2004, she began covering real estate for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, writing about the housing market, buying and selling a home, getting a mortgage, and home improvement. Prior to joining Kiplinger, Esswein wrote and edited for Empire Sports, a monthly magazine covering sports and recreation in upstate New York. She holds a BA degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minn., and an MA in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University.