"Congratulations, you are now a graduate of the University of North Carolina."
As I heard these words, I moved my tassel from left to right, not knowing I would lose a longstanding part of my identity: being a student. An identity I didn’t realize was so useful to the beginning stages of my sustainable venture and that meant so much to others. I remember reading articles about "The Power of Being a Student," so I knew how useful playing the student card was to entrepreneurs. Despite these articles, I took my student card for granted.
As a student, I was able to build a mentor-mentee relationship with my sustainability and business professors, was inspired to start my own sustainable venture at UNC during my senior year and joined the Launch Chapel Hill Accelerator program. This accelerator was free for students but required a fee for founders out of college, another student perk I hadn’t realized at the time.
My venture leveraged the combined buying power of local restaurants to secure low prices on compostable food ware, and incentivized restaurant patrons to compost those products. The first step was to understand our customer. So we started with a listening tour to conduct market research. I reached out to restaurants in the Chapel Hill area via Instagram direct messages and email.
I had just graduated college and I already felt like I was failing.
Every message began with "Hi, my name is Kirstie Moore. I am a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill." Most of the restaurant owners I sent interview requests to responded. One even said he was so excited to talk to a student because it allowed him to feel closer to youth and the hope he once had for the future when he was a college student. The network and resources I was given as well as the assurance people were eager to talk to me made planning my venture feel easy as a student. I felt like I could do anything.
And if I did have problems, I could talk through them with my professor and work through challenges. Another extremely useful perk of being a student: access to wisdom from professors. Thankfully as a post-grad, I am able to go back to those relationships when I feel like I have nowhere to turn to understand the sustainability world.
Two months after I graduated college, I had a case of post-grad blues. For the first time in 22 years, I was no longer Kirstie the Student. My venture wasn’t working out so my co-founder and I decided to part ways. I had just graduated college and I already felt like I was failing. I knew I wanted to continue working on my mission to eliminate food waste, but I didn’t know how.
Now, my LinkedIn headline says "SHINE Marketing Associate." My job at Deloitte isn’t in the sustainability industry. When I first started, the most sustainable thing about my job was my email signature that said, "Please consider the environment before printing."
Luckily, I could join my companies Green Team chapter that allowed me to bring my passion for sustainability to my job. But after a few months settling into my post-grad life and job, I was itching to get back into my passion to eliminate food waste and food insecurity. My new partner was an old roommate, Alex Mariscovete. The first step was the same as my venture during college, conducting market research. I employed the same strategy to request time with restaurant owners, which had worked so well for me in college.
However, the beginning of my messages was different this time — "Hi, my name is Kirstie Moore. I’m a marketing associate at Deloitte." The response rate to my messages dropped considerably. One restaurant employee who emailed us back assumed since I worked at Deloitte, we were going to pay him $75 an hour for his "consulting services." Rereading his email, I realized I was no longer a student to the outside world anymore. Loosing that identity made getting my sustainability work off the ground that much harder. People no longer wanted to engage with me just because I was a student. I felt slighted by the congratulations I received on the day I graduated.
I’m still learning how to navigate through my new post-grad life while working on my venture. It is tricky balancing everything, but slowly we are making progress. We’re actually working with students at UNC to help us with our market research. With their help, I’m confident people will open their emails this time. As I go through this process for the second time, I am realizing every entrepreneur needs a community behind them. Especially in the sustainability space, community is so important. Separately, we can’t fix the problems this world has, but together we can. To all the post-grads, don’t give up on your mission or ideas you had in school. Our ideas are needed.