Getting a Taste of Success: INNoVATE Graduate Valerie Coffman Wins REDI StartRight! Women’s Business Plan Competition
by Aliyah DeVille
Last December, Valerie Coffman was a member of the first graduating class of the JHU Carey Business School INNoVATE program, which educates scientists as to how to start and run a business. Today, she is the winner of the Rockville Economic Development (REDI) StartRight! Women’s Business Plan Competition. Oh, and she’s also the CEO and founder of Feastie, a recipe search engine, grocery list creator, and coupon finder that launched in March. The idea, which Coffman came up with while planning a Thanksgiving dinner, started to take shape during the INNoVATE program.
“It was really serendipitous because I was just coming up with the idea,” says Coffman of learning about the program, which is hosted on the Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus.
Feastie, which she describes as “Google for recipes,” allows users to search recipes from a collection of selected food blogs which she indexes on her site. Once a user chooses a recipe, the necessary ingredients are added to a shopping list and the site searches for coupons for the ingredients. The site is free to use – affiliate revenue is generated from the coupons – and users have a choice whether or not to create a username and password. (The advantage to doing so is the ability to save a shopping list and download it from any computer.)
With a background in theoretical and computational physics, Coffman didn’t know much about the business world before starting INNoVATE. She says the program “really helped with the transition from academia to business.”
Created in 2009 for postdoctoral fellows from NIH but now open to any post-docs, the year-long INNoVATE program educates science professionals about entrepreneurship and business so that they can start and sustain businesses in Maryland.
While the program focuses mainly on creating companies within the biotechnology and life sciences arena, Coffman said she felt it helped her as well, even if her business doesn’t fit the traditional definitions for those fields.
And she cites the invaluable network of mentors, professors, and fellow students provided by the program as one of its biggest benefits. The teachers and mentors helped her succeed in the StartRight! Competition, in which she had to present a full business plan and pitch her ideas for how to further develop Feastie. Coffman thanks INNoVATE for helping her feel confident going into the competition. She said she felt she had a headstart on meeting the competition’s requirements because she’d already produced a rough draft of her business plan that had been vetted during the program.
With a $5,000 prize and a first place title under her belt, Coffman hopes to expand her company and further improve her product through the use of new features such as mobile apps. She also hopes to expand the public health implications of her site by focusing on healthy recipes and by incorporating health and nutrition information for any recipes the site indexes.