“We divert food waste to address food scarcity,” announces the website for Sharing Excess.
This fast-growing nonprofit was launched by Evan Ehlers ’19, a member of the inaugural class of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship.
"I've been studying entrepreneurship and innovation since my first day at Drexel," says Ehlers, who stumbled on his concept when he impulsively used leftover meal-plan credits to purchase and give out 50 meals on the streets of Philadelphia before heading home for winter break in 2017.
"Close taught us from the very beginning to see everything as an opportunity, especially if it involves your passions and what makes you happy," Ehlers recalls. "And this ... made me feel the most fulfilled I had ever felt in my entire life."
That entrepreneurial mindset is exactly what the founding dean of the Close School, Donna Marie De Carolis, wants to bring to every Drexel student. "There is a difference between an entrepreneur — the person — and entrepreneurship — the process," she explains. "Most business schools teach the process of entrepreneurship, but we teach both."
It started with a gift
Alumnus and Board of Trustee Vice Chair Stanley W. Silverman ’69, ’74 and his wife, Jackie, were so impressed with De Carolis’ philosophy of entrepreneurial education that they endowed the Silverman Family Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership, which De Carolis holds.
"We believe in entrepreneurial education for all students because it helps develop a mindset that is creative, innovative and pushes the boundaries of possibilities," Silverman wrote in a blog. He continues that this style of education teaches people to take risks and recover from inevitable failures.
So far, failure has not challenged Sharing Excess. The organization redistributes unused food from grocery stores, restaurants, university dining halls and other providers, while helping shine a spotlight on food insecurity and waste in the Philadelphia region.
Unique co-op incubates success
Thanks to the nimbleness and security stemming from her endowed professorship, De Carolis has spearheaded an experiential, interdisciplinary curriculum at the Close School of Entrepreneurship. A unique co-op for startups has also evolved in partnership with the Steinbright Career Development Center and the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, an incubator for the entire University that is housed inside the Close School.
“Close taught us from the very beginning to see everything as an opportunity, especially if it involves your passions and what makes you happy.”
With support from donors, the Close entrepreneurship co-op gives students six months of seed capital, work space, technical support and mentoring. A highly competitive application process determines which ventures have the right combination of student vision and commercialization potential.
Ehlers had both. His innovative approach combines student-donated dining hall credits with more traditional methods of securing excess food, and a smart distribution plan. Thanks to the Close School co-op and Baiada’s 360-degree support, Sharing Excess now employs six students and is on track to distribute 100,000 pounds of food by the end of 2019.
What’s the recipe for the success of Sharing Excess? Start with a professor’s vision; leaven with insightful investment from an alumnus; stir in a student’s innovative, socially minded impulse; and bake inside a university powerfully committed to entrepreneurship and community engagement.
As Ehlers puts it: "To me, this path at Drexel was a no-brainer."