I've won various entrepreneurship competitions using Produce Mate prototype in Oregon and earned roughly $20,000.
Hey! My name is Dagan Kay, I’m the CEO of Produce Mate. We’re a mission-driven startup company focused on reducing household food waste. We make an anti-microbial silicone kitchen mat that extends the life of fruits and vegetables! Simply place one on your counter top or in the crisper drawer of your fridge, load produce on top, and we’ll handle the rest. We’re live on Kickstarter now, and I’m so very grateful for the chance to share my story with Project Hatch!
Produce Mate started as a promising idea to reduce food waste and grew into the business it is today through the Entrepreneurship Scholars program at the University of Portland.
I graduated in May 2019, with a major in Philosophy, which usually catches people off guard. “How did a philosopher end up in business?” is a question I get asked all the time. In reality, my education has proven to be really invaluable in my entrepreneurial journey so far. Importantly, philosophy taught how to sit and marinate with difficult problems; and boy-oh-boy did we find one hell of a problem.
Besides studying philosophy, I’m a total foodie and an environmentalist at heart. I remember feeling completely pessimistic about climate change when I first joined that entrepreneurship program. I knew I wanted to be in the environmental space, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to focus on. One day, I stumbled upon one simple fact that would shape the course of the next few years of my life; 40% of the food in America ends up directly in a landfill. 40%!It blew my mind, and opened the door to my (somewhat unhealthy) obsession with fighting food waste.
Food production and food waste contribute heavily to climate change - combined they’re responsible for something like 33% of all greenhouse gas emissions. My inner-philosopher was intrigued to learn that our food systems contain a myriad of deeply systemic and interconnected problems just waiting for bright solutions. So what was my solution going to be?
The next really important bit of information I learned is that microorganism damage causes fruits and vegetables to spoil. Bingo. Eureka. Aha! From there, the fun began. Building a team, designing, prototyping and testing different approaches to fighting bacteria on fruits and vegetables so that they would last longer. Produce Mate is the result!
Once we had a working prototype, I competed in and won various entrepreneurship competitions in Oregon. We won roughly $15,000 that has helped pay for molds, software, and a few too many cups of coffee. Besides that bit of capital, we’ve bootstrapped the startup costs so far. Now, we’re running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the capital required to order our first production run of mats.
I began to feel like I had found a way I could do my part in helping the planet. Now, that idea is central to what we’re doing at Produce Mate - Let’s make it as easy as possible for real people to have a measurable impact on climate change. We believe in the power of cumulative action - lots of small choices really do add up. The next step was to validate the idea and to share our story with the world.
We’ve started building a community of food-lovers, eco-warriors, penny-savers, at-home-cooks obsessed with freshness, big families and conscious consumers.
Produce Mate helps the average US household save up to $300 worth of wasted fruits and veggies. That’s $300 that stays in your pocket and roughly 100lbs worth of produce that won’t end up in a landfill.
Entrepreneurship has been my main source of income since I was 16. I hopped on the chance to be my own boss! I ran a digital marketing company, worked as a private tutor, and more recently ran a passion project selling recreated 1948 collegiate football jerseys. Now that I’m a bit wiser, I’m starting to realize how much I don’t know. I see entrepreneurship as a chance to learn and to create something novel. I love the challenge of overcoming big obstacles. I love the inherent riskiness involved. I feel compelled to add real tangible value to the world. But most of all, I’m lucky enough to call some amazingly inspiring people my friends and colleagues.
I’m also so very grateful to be supported by my amazing family, mentors, professors, teachers, housemates, and friends. Too many to list here so I’ll spare ya. Thanks for believing in Produce Mate!
Besides the fact that I’m slowly turning into a food-waste-facts-dispenser, I’ve learned so much about my relationship to risk and failure. Failure is an ever-present fact of entrepreneurship. It’s not a by-product, or something that just happens occasionally, but it’s been the main driver in my pursuits so far. Rather than let it defeat progress or define us as “failures”, the goal is to try and reframe “losing” as an opportunity to learn and grow. Often easier said than done, but always worthwhile.
Produce Mate lasts longer (2+ years), works better, and has a more convenient form factor than just about any other approach to reducing household food waste.
Simply place one on the counter top or in the crisper drawer of your fridge, load produce on top, and we’ll handle the rest. Our competition requires constant upkeep, a shift in how you store your produce, or regular replacement, which is totally counter-productive (adding to the landfill to try and reduce food waste? what?!).
We currently hold a US design patent, which we’re quite proud of!
I love the book Creative Confidence - total game changer for me.
I listen to lots of podcasts, but my favorite is RadioLab - not strictly business related but they do a good job of bringing child-like curiosity and vigor to interesting stories from around the world. Another great and inspiring storytelling/marketing podcast is The Story Engine.
Not quite a podcast, but great for passive listening is this amazing course called Edible Education from UC Berkeley that’s recorded and uploaded weekly entirely for free.
We’re currently pre-revenue, and are coming very close to hitting our goal on Kickstarter! Besides that,we’re working on tons of stuff right now. Expanding our lineup of products that help people waste less food at home, building partnerships with nonprofits and organizations in the food-waste space, hiring soon, optimizing our manufacturing and fulfillment processes, and lots more exciting stuff.
I think about the big picture every day. Going forward, I want Produce Mate to balance three basic things:
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