FOCUS Foods: 2015 Wharton Business Plan Competition Finalist

By Julia Kurnik WG’15 (Team Leader) and Geoff Becker (Team Member) for FOCUS Foods

FOCUS Foods’ urban aquaponics farm will be a self-sustaining symbiotic fish and produce system serving the local Philadelphia community.

FOCUS Foods team pic w logo sm

What’s new and exciting about your business plan?

FOCUS Foods is going to revolutionize farming and change the way we source, collect, and eat our food. Excitingly, however, we’ll do this in a way that completely aligns our business and social impact. Unlike many businesses we won’t have to choose between making a profit or having an impact. The more food we grow and sell, the bigger our impact. We think this alignment is incredibly exciting and means there is no limit on what we can do in the future.

How did you come up with this idea?

Interestingly, we each were interested in aquaponics independently. Julia has had a lifelong passion for environmental sustainability. She then developed a deep concern about the food system in our country during her time on the Obama campaign 2007-2008; she spent nearly two years traveling the country and living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the US. She realized just how broken our current food system is and became dedicated to doing something about that. When she learned about aquaponics she was immediately captivated by its ability to fix so many issues while being a sustainable business model.

Geoff, at the same time, had come across aquaponics through his passion for sustainable engineering methods. He had been fascinated by its growing presence in other countries. As longtime friends we were thrilled to find this common interest. It then became an iterative process whereby we ended up with the plan we have today.

What does it mean to you to be one of the eight finalists in the Wharton Business Plan Competition?

We’re absolutely thrilled to be finalists. We were quite excited when we first received the email! Not only is it obviously a great honor, but it’s such a good learning experience. The feedback and support we have received has been invaluable to molding and growing our business. We’re really looking forward to participating in the finals on April 30 and to show how far we’ve come in the past couple months.

What’s one fun fact about each member of your team?

When Julia was 9 years old she saved up all of the UPC labels from her Cheerios for months so she could get a free copy of the book “50 Things a Kid Can Do to Save the World.” She then drove her family nuts insisting they implement all of them.

After taking part in college a capella at MIT, Geoff founded and directs a post-collegiate a capella group in Philadelphia.

If you win the Perlman Grand Prize ($30,000 cash prize, $10,000 in legal services, $5,000 in accounting/strategy services, GLG Share Fellowship), what will you do with the money?

The Perlman Prize will get us one step closer to building our first full-sized, industrial farm. This will be a 60,000 sq ft system located inside of a greenhouse on top of a partner grocery store. We cannot wait until we can start building it!