My lightbulb moment: Food entrepreneur Tessa Clarke reveals the inspiration behind her business

My lightbulb moment: Food entrepreneur Tessa Clarke reveals the inspiration behind her business

  • Tessa Clarke, 44, who lives in Wiltshire, co-founded free app Olio in 2015
  • Olio tackles the problem of food waste and is used in 59 countries by 4m people
  • Inspiration came from growing up on her parents’ dairy farm in Yorkshire
  • She learned how much hard work goes into producing the food we eat 
  • Told at end of lease to throw food and she went to find someone to give it to 

Tessa Clarke, 44, co-founded Olio, a free app tackling the problem of food waste, in 2015. Today it’s used in more than 59 countries by four million people. She lives in Wiltshire with her husband and their children, aged eight and six, and has four grown-up step-children.

Growing up on my parents’ dairy farm in Yorkshire, I learned how much hard work goes into producing the food we eat. So I feel passionately that food is meant to be eaten, not thrown away.

My background is in management consultancy. I was managing director of e-commerce for Dyson, before relocating briefly to Switzerland.

Tessa Clarke, 44, who lives in Wiltshire, co-founded free app Olio in 2015, which tackles the problem of food waste and is used in 59 countries by 4 million people

I spent eight months there before deciding to leave in 2014. I was packing up our apartment in Geneva, getting ready to move back to the UK but, despite our best efforts, we were left with six sweet potatoes, a cabbage and several pots of yogurt in the kitchen.

The removal men told me that all the food had to be thrown away, but I couldn’t do this. I got my newborn baby and toddler dressed and set off with this food to try to find someone to give it to. I thought: ‘This is crazy. Why isn’t there an app that will help me share it with someone nearby who wants it?’ The idea for Olio was born.

Back in London, I brainstormed the idea with a Stanford business school friend.

Removal men told her to throw food away and she went in search of someone to give it to, thinking why wasn’t there an app to help – giving her the idea of Olio

We undertook a two-week experiment with 12 volunteers and a WhatsApp group, and people started to share food. Olio launched in five postcodes in North London in 2015. It was so successful that we made the app available across the UK by the end of 2016.

Today, we also help businesses deal with food waste, including Tesco, Pret A Manger, Selfridges and Costa Coffee. They pay Olio to collect unsold food and redistribute it to the community.

Since launching, Olio has helped to share more than 18million portions of food that would have gone to waste.

During lockdown, I was inspired by neighbours supporting one another. So we launched our first new service on the app, ‘Made’, which allows neighbours to buy and sell homemade food, crafts and art, commission-free. We’ll be launching a ‘Borrow’ function on the app in June.

We just want to make sharing easier for people.  

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