Climate Change and the Future of Food Salon Sprint

Melanie Sync Labs
Venture Lab startup Sync Labs
From left to right, Saige Roshkoff C'25, John Colavito SEAS'25, Melanie Herbert SEAS'25, Matt Park SEAS'25
Photo by Venture Lab, Amy Zhou

Beginning on September 18th, students participated in the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative’s week-long Climate Change and the Future of Food Salon Sprint. During this Salon Sprint, students identified impactful business solutions to the challenges facing the food system and iterated their ideas through a series of workshops mid-week. The week concluded with a pitch competition on September 22nd, which offered students the opportunity to win a validation prize of $500.

The winner of this Salon Sprint was Melanie Herbert E’25 with her startup Sync Labs. Herbert is a junior studying Electrical Engineering and Entrepreneurship. She is currently developing her first product, Alice, an AI nutritional smart home device that attaches to a user’s fridge and tailors a personalized meal plan based on what the user puts into the fridge along with their nutritional goals and food preferences.

Having always been interested in entrepreneurship, the Salon Sprint gave Herbert the push to continue working on her startup. After creating numerous prototypes and projects in her classes and working at a startup this past summer, she wanted to develop her own prototype and to learn how to make it profitable and marketable.

The Salon Sprint began with a virtual interdisciplinary panel discussion to explore the intersection of climate change and the food system. The panel was moderated by Associate Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics Brain Berkey, and featured Co-Founder of Impact First Ventures Sam Strickberger C’22, and Co-Founder and COO of Momentum Foods Brice Klein.

It was really valuable to listen to all three of them talk about their experiences and also their advice. Coming from an engineering background, it’s easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole and focus only on engineering problems. But when you're creating a product, it’s important to understand what different perspectives your customers or investors might have
Melanie Herbert
Melanie Herbert E’25
Melanie Herbert E’25
Photo by Venture Lab, Amy Zhou

Over the next few days, students attended the Social Entrepreneurship Design Thinking Workshop, the Theory of Change Workshop, and the Social Entrepreneurship Business Model Workshop. During these workshops, students iterated their business solutions and began to identify a viable business model.

“What I really liked about the Salon Sprint is that you have people with a lot of different ideas who are coming from a lot of different backgrounds. During these events, you directly surround yourself with people that are also in the entrepreneurial space, and it was great to be able to actually talk with other students. We all just started writing on whiteboards with different ideas and problem-solved together,” Herbert reflected.

At the end of the week, the Salon Sprint gave Herbert the opportunity to practice pitching her idea for the first time. “Pitching is a very valuable skill, and the only way to practice is to go up and do it…I was very happy that I had the opportunity to just stand up there and to also receive feedback from other people,” she said.

After winning the pitch competition, Herbert is excited to continue growing her startup. She has grown her startup to a four person team, including Saige Roshkoff C’25, Matt Park E'25, and John Colavito E'25. and they are currently working on their newest hardware iteration – a PCB (printed circuit board) that prepares the product to be manufactured. From there her team is tailoring their product’s features through interviews with Penn Health Nutrition specialists and students. . “Our next step is to also talk to specific groups of people and to conduct focus groups and interviews. At Tangen Hall, there's a lot of people that have really great experience in these areas, which has truly been very helpful,” she said.

Herbert encourages all students with even a slight interest in entrepreneurship to attend events and to become involved with Tangen Hall, “Here at Penn, there’s a lot of resources to get started, and Tangen is a great place. Everyone has a lot of different ideas, and you really get the opportunity to put yourself in an entrepreneurial environment and to surround yourself with people who can support you in your endeavors.”

The next Salon will take place the week of November 14th, 2023. Register today for the upcoming Clean Tech Social Entrepreneurship Salon and join Venture Lab and the Mack Institute for Innovation Management in Tangen Hall to explore what it means for tech to be 'clean', why it's needed, and the emergent innovations and impactful business solutions that have arisen in response to a changing climate.

Learn more about our Social Entrepreneurship Program here