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Foodsteps: scaling up for a more sustainable future

A passion for the environment

Anya has always been passionate about sustainability with a strong interest in science. At school, chemistry, maths and biology were the classes she always looked forward to. Excelling in these subjects, in 2015 she began studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge University.

Her degree allowed Anya to explore all areas of science, however the topic of food production and its impact on the environment really caught her interest. Despite the food sector accounting for over a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the sector has struggled to reduce its impact due to the challenges of measuring sustainability within the supply chain. Anya and a group of her peers decided this needed to change. Supported by funding from Cambridge and a range of academic mentors, in 2018, Anya led the group’s research into this issue, assessing the impact of the University’s own catering service.

Shocked by the results, Anya realised this was a service which would benefit the wider food sector, and it only took one year following graduation from university to turn this idea into a reality. Foodsteps is a platform that holds a database of over 3,000 ingredients; based on this information, it assesses recipes uploaded by clients, and provides advice on how to improve sustainability. It also provides traffic-light labels which allow consumers to see climate-related information about the product, so they can make informed choices.

She initially ran the business with a group of friends from university. However, everything changed in November 2020, when Anya won £90,000 from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund. This funding gave Anya more confidence in her future as an entrepreneur and allowed her to expand the Foodsteps team beyond her close group of friends. In the six months following, she hired two software engineers, and the first version of the platform was built.

Entering the world of funding

As demand for Foodsteps’ expertise grew, Anya realised that funding would be instrumental to success. As is the case for many female founders, this was an extremely daunting process. Anya had never done a pitch before, and being a younger entrepreneur, found that people didn’t always take her or her business seriously. Driven by her passion for the environment she was not deterred, and successfully secured a pre-seed funding round from a group of angel investors.

The business has grown from strength to strength. By 2022, it was already helping well-known restaurants such as Pizza Express, Wagamama, Ask Italian, as well as food delivery services Allplants and Mindful Chef. This gave Anya the traction needed to approach a new set of investors, and in May 2022 Foodsteps raised £3.2 million in a seed funding round led by Octopus Ventures, a signatory of the Investing in Women Code.

The importance of like-minded investors

For Anya, it is vital that anyone working with Foodsteps – whether employees or investors – believes in the company’s founding ethos. While profit is important, it is ultimately driven by the desire to reduce the negative impact of people and businesses on the environment. From early conversations, Anya sensed that Octopus is just as passionate about this issue and understood what she is trying to achieve. She notes that the feedback and questions she received after her initial pitch made it clear that they were genuinely excited about what she was doing, and had full confidence in the future of the business. For Anya as a young founder, this sense of support was so important and gave her the confidence to continue to grow.

Looking ahead

As companies face more demand for increasing transparency on sustainability from regulators and consumers, Foodsteps’ role has become more important. It now works with over 60 food brands across three continents and has grown to a team of 27. In the next few years, Anya remains focused expanding the team further, and enhancing the business to consolidate its market position as a leader for robust environmental data. Anya remains driven by her desire for a more sustainable future and hopes by showing there is an easy way for companies to reduce emissions, this will accelerate the journey to net-zero.

Besides growing the company, in the future Anya is also excited to share more about her entrepreneurial journey with the rest of the ecosystem. Having experienced the power of mentors and expert advice early on in her career, she hopes that by sharing her experience, she will inspire other young women to follow their ambitions.

If there was a piece of advice that Anya would give to female founders, it would be to “believe in yourself, follow your passion and don’t let other people’s doubts affect your success”.