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"With Graapz, we create new value for discarded fruits and vegetables”
During the open days of PSL-Lab, the coworking space for PSL student-entrepreneurs PSL-Pépite, we met with Alexandre Durand, entrepreneur and founder of the startup Graapz, who made his the fight against food waste.
Graapz was not born by chance. Since high school and continuing through higher education, I have been involved in environmental preservation initiatives, both volunteering and studying biology. I studied a year in Montreal where I took a Bachelor's degree in the fauna and flora: at the time I thought I was destined for research. But after doing internships and field studies, I realized that this was not the path I wanted to take, it was not the career that fit me.
A third of everything that is produced is thrown away every year in France, and half of these products are fruits and vegetables. With this in mind, I wanted to set up a personal project that would have a positive impact on the environment.
At the same time, it was during this period in Canada that I discovered “dumpster diving”- people were picking up products in the dumpsters that were still good to eat after the supermarkets had thrown the vegetables away. It was the starting point in my focus on food waste. You have to know that a third of everything that is produced is discarded every year in France, and half of these products are fruits and vegetables. With this in mind, I felt the need to set up a personal project with a positive impact on the environment. After returning to France, the February 2016 law on the fight against food waste came up to be voted on. A new circular economy was born, aligned with my fight against food waste. In this context, I founded Graapz.
My first steps in entrepreneurship
In 2016, I had the idea to begin my startup, but with my training as a biologist, the business plan, the budget, etc, it was not easy to sort it out. I first became a student-entrepreneur in Paris-Saclay where I studied the basics of entrepreneurship and where I met Enactus France and took my first step in the social economy. In the same year, I joined the La Ruche incubator (La Social Factory) where I was able to train. It inspired me and I came out with a viable business model. It was then necessary to prototype it: in September 2017, I integrated PSL-Pépite with a solution to implement.
What a great opportunity. Today, we can have the status of a student-entrepreneur, a coworking space, meetings with experts and the network of founders of dozens of projects.
The launch of my startup
Graapz is a food waste prevention service offering baskets of unsold fruits and vegetables at low cost to customers of small businesses (areas of less than 400 square meters). Very few solutions are offered to small retailers, unlike supermarkets and hypermarkets. Instead of throwing away their unsold products, we offer them,through our network, to sell them at low prices to customers. This is the specificity of Graapz. We distribute jute bags to traders who, every day, fill them with fruits and vegetables for "gleaners" Graapz. To benefit from these offers, you have to subscribe to our web platform and you have access, via a map, to local shops. A single basket of 3 kg is 2100 liters of water saved and 11m2 of cultivated land preserved. We created value on products that were being previously discarded.
We are now located in the Paris region (18 shops in Paris and suburbs) where we can measure the effectiveness of our approach and be attentive to customer / merchant returns. We obviously have the will to develop the initiative on a larger scale.
Graapz is for whom?
It is for everyone! At this stage, we have two well-identified profiles: Marie, a student or young employee, 25 to 30 year-old, engaged in the fight against food waste and for whom this solution corresponds, above all, to its values (about 90% client). And the other profile is have Martine, in her forties, with a tight budget and for whom the cost of baskets (note: 20 euros / month for 4 baskets of 3kg) is a real asset (10%). Our channels to reach our future customers: social networks, street marketing and word of mouth.
To embark on entrepreneurship, you have to ...
You must know how to frame and build good networks. What a great opportunity. Today, we can have the status of a student-entrepreneur, a coworking space (the PSL-Lab), meetings with experts and the network of founders of dozens of projects.You must be able to seize this opportunity. It is important to have a bit of composure to distance ourselves from what we hear: it is best not to put too many barriers on a project, but to embark enthusiastically. Well, I did not do business school, so what? At our age, when we do not yet have family life, credit, heavy professional constraints, we can start. We have safety nets, and big support devices like PSL-Pépite.
The tests are part of the project
The hard part is finding the right people, the right partners. My first experience went very badly. I quickly found myself alone in carrying the project for almost a year. If I had not been convinced of the viability of my project at that time, I could have let go, clearly. It is a feedback that I often hear: the association is a crucial and delicate step, something we can miss.
I felt my legitimacy as a fragile project founder. For example, I have always spoken on behalf of a group saying "our" instead of "I", even if I was alone in the meeting. Today, I can say that I am proud not to have given up; I have gone through this crisis and have been able to question myself. My new team is much stronger today, we are complementary and I know why we each have our place. I do not regret anything of my "dark" period: it allowed me to join for good reasons, to take into account the real needs of the project, and not mine. I could have associated myself for fear of assuming my role alone, because of psychological fragility. I was able to go beyond this and I know even more why our collaboration seems to me all the stronger!
As a conclusion..
This year was a great one for our launch: PSL-Pépite allowed me to have access to an exceptional space in Paris, to be better informed, to run ideas by other students-entrepreneurs with similar problems, and participate in competitions offered internally to PSL-Pépite! We also received the "Prototyping" Award, which allows us to finance the latest version of our website.
Madame Fang, manager of "Monge Primeurs" in Paris, is one of the shopkeepers who collaborates with Graapz: "It was unbearable to me to throw out my unsold products ; then I found the solution of Graapz formidable: I have the feeling I’m also doing my part in the fight against food waste. "
PSL-Pépite (Pépite stands for student poles for innovation, transfer and entrepreneurship), is a national program run by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. It is dedicated to all students or young alumni of PSL carrying a business creation project, or students simply driven by the desire to undertake a project. Students are given the skills, services and support they need to carry out their project. 52 students and 42 new projects were launched in the beginning on September 2017. Join the movement!