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Odd is great - how this founder is saving food waste

We sat down with Emilie Vanpoperinghe, co-founder of Oddbox, the veg box saving wonky fruit and filling our homes with delicious produce.

Virgin StartUp Oddbox co-founder Emilie Vanpoperinghe

It all started with a wonky tomato in Portugal back in 2016. This led to founders Emilie Vanpoperinghe and husband Deepak Ravindran to look into what happened to misshapen fruit and veg in the UK. They discovered that around 40% of all food grown goes to waste - and Oddbox was born. It’s now a household name synonymous with fighting food waste, as they collect surplus and misshapen fruit and veg directly from growers to add to their delivery boxes.

  • Start Up Loan amount: £15,000

  • Year funded: 2016


Oddbox Virgin StartUp

What would you tell yourself as a new founder just about to start on your journey?

Embrace uncertainty and failure as part of the journey. It will take longer than you think before you see any traction. Stay focused on your vision, but be open to pivoting and adapting along the way. Surround yourself with a strong support network and don't be afraid to ask for help when needed.

What was the biggest mistake you've made as a founder?

We were too optimistic during Covid and, like everyone, expected the share of online grocery shopping post-Covid to remain at the level it was during Covid, and for habits to have permanently changed. We didn't think enough about the downsides and didn't plan for the fact that people would go back to their pre-Covid habits pretty rapidly.

What have been the biggest learnings on your startup journey?

The importance of building a strong team culture and of recruiting people who exhibit our company values, in addition to having a growth mindset. 

The importance of market validation and understanding your customers' needs deeply, of talking regularly to them, but also that your customers will not necessarily know what they want until you offer it to them. We deliver overnight, but everytime we ran a survey around overnight delivery, most people said they wouldn't want it - but we actually made it work. 

What's been the most exciting achievement for you as a founder?

Successfully scaling the business and making a meaningful impact on reducing food waste and promoting sustainability within the food industry, as well as attracting amazing people and offering them opportunities to grow and further their career.

How has Virgin StartUp helped you to get your business to where it is today?

Virgin StartUp provided valuable resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities that helped accelerate the growth of Oddbox, particularly in terms of connecting us with other entrepreneurs.

What has been the most valuable piece of advice that you've got from Virgin StartUp?

The importance of building a strong brand and customer community from day one, as well as the significance of having a clear and compelling story to communicate your vision to investors and stakeholders.

Do you have a mentor? If so, how did that relationship begin, what do you gain from it and how do you maintain it?

I've had several mentors along the way - some of them were experienced founders themselves, professionals who opened their network to support Oddbox. I am also part of a founders group and we offer each other peer mentoring.

The relationship often begins through networking events or introductions, and maintaining it involves regular communication, seeking advice on specific challenges, and being open to feedback.

How do you get through tough times in your business? 

Developing resilience is essential. I am a pretty optimistic person but sometimes the challenges become overwhelming. I have relied on my husband/co-founder and other founders who have gone through tough times and can offer perspective.

I also make sure I go to the gym 3-4 times a week as it keeps me sane, and I try to eat relatively healthily and sleep 7 hours a night.

I love what I do and the team I work with. Also hearing the impact we have when speaking to growers and customers is key in helping me get through the tough times.

What do you wish you'd have known when you were first starting out as a founder of a startup?

I thought it would get easier as we scaled but actually the challenges are different at each stage of the journey and there are constant ups and downs, but that's what makes it exciting and a continuous learning journey.

Has anything surprised you about running a startup? 

I have been amazed at how supportive people are - whether it’s other startup founders or our customers, a lot of whom invested in Oddbox when we crowdfunded, or people I reached out to through cold emails.

What's been your biggest business achievement to date?

I am very proud of the community of food waste fighters we have built with Oddbox, of how we are rescuing valuable resources and helping growers as well as enabling thousands of people to do something good for the planet on a daily basis.

We are challenging the food industry to operate differently and move away from our demand-led consumption by starting with what's available and what needs to be eaten.

I am also very proud of being part of the amazing B Corp community and showing that we can do the right thing, but also do it right.