Recipe for success

By Lara Moamar

Yuru Guo, a Trevelyan postgraduate student, like many others, was stuck in college during lockdown. Left with minimal options for entertainment, she and her friends cooked homemade dinners together often. That experience of shared community and cultural exchange of food sparked the idea for an online marketplace to host cooks of diverse backgrounds, deliver authentic home cooked food to the UK market and “share food cultures and the stories behind food”. 

About 9% of UK university students have already started their own business, according to a recent study by Santander – and, as of September 2021, Yuru Guo and first year Trevelyan student Francesca Docker are included in this statistic, successfully co-founding Hey! Food is Ready. 

I sat down with Yuru and Francesca following their impressive win at Durham’s Blueprint Challenge, a fierce competition that has run continuously for 19 years to support student and graduate start-ups. Such an achievement does not come easily, as Yuru candidly shared she had applied to the competition three times before and had not reached the semi-final round. It is this determination and perseverance that evidently helped Yuru win the Young Innovators Award this year. “Before running a business, I was really bad at handling rejections and I would always take criticism really personally. If I didn’t start a business, I would never learn that you need to be resilient, and put 100% of yourself into it.”

As for Francesca, it is her tendency to take initiative that is most apparent. She describes how she started working on the business: “I saw the idea on our college’s Instagram and I really wanted to be involved in it, so I reached out to Yuru. I’ve always been really interested in business and whenever I’ve met people I ask them a lot of questions, particularly on the marketing side”. Together, they work constantly to come up with new ideas and strategies – both agree emphatically that running a start-up is “like having a baby, you think about it 24/7!”. 

But what is it about Hey! Food is Ready that distinguishes it from other food delivery platforms? Francesca explains, “we’ve been inspired by companies like Deliveroo and JusEat, but what we want to do is bring the kind of authenticity and cultural diversity that we don’t see on these platforms. That’s really our social mission”. Outlined in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review is the need for leaders who are proactive on social issues, identifying an increasing demand by customers that businesses have an observable social impact. In line with this shift stands Yuru and Francesca’s start-up, as their mission of empowerment fuels their decisions and motivation. 

Food is just an amazing medium for communication

“After we launched the platform we always wanted it to help refugees, immigrants, or anyone who loves to cook to generate a meaningful income and to share their culture with the wider community”. Yuru goes on to recall the work they’re doing with several charity organizations in Newcastle such as one to help refugee home cooks receive food hygiene certificates. “Right now we are working with three women, all from different areas such as Sudan, Tanzania… I was telling them how our business can help them and at the end of the meeting they were really excited to start and to become food entrepreneurs.” Paired with this financial empowerment is the possibility of connection encouraged by the platform. Yuru expands: “We have a home cook community and for refugees coming to the UK, a lot of them feel very isolated because they don’t have a lot of friends here. By joining our platform they feel instantly more connected, they can all talk to each other and make friends”. 

Around 9.5 million people of the UK population are immigrants from highly diverse backgrounds, making it one of the most multicultural countries. Hey! Food is Ready asks an important question: Why don’t our favourite food delivery platforms reflect this multiculturalism? Offering plenty of homemade dishes from incredibly diverse cuisines, the platform encourages customers to try authentic cultural foods difficult to just pick up at a local restaurant. “Food is just an amazing medium for communication. Think about a family kitchen table, people share the food, they talk about the food, they’ll talk about where the food and home cook is from”, reflects Francesca. Communication and community are clearly major incentives for the Hey! Food is Ready founders who are looking forward to growing the business and plan to work with more organizations in other major cities.

Image: Durham Venture Labs

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