<a href="/live/news/1514-going-for-the-greenlight-coa-pair-compete-for" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ReProduce</a> is a sustainable start-up that addresses food waste by utilizing excess and cosmetically imperfect vegetables and fruits. The idea was conceived in COA's <a href="/live/profiles/1759-sustainable-strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sustainable Strategies</a> course by Anita van Dam '18, who is competing on Greenlight Maine for $100,000 in seed funding.ReProduce is a sustainable start-up that addresses food waste by utilizing excess and cosmetically imperfect vegetables and fruits. The idea was conceived in COA's Sustainable Strategies course by Anita van Dam '18, who is competing on Greenlight Maine for $100,000 in seed funding.

From the time she was young, Anita van Dam’s parents focused her attention on values that she holds important to this day. They taught her to always appreciate what she has, to understand the benefits of hard work, and, maybe most importantly for her current project, how to find her way around a kitchen. These values, combined with an abiding interest in food justice, are what led van Dam to help create ReProduce, a business startup now in the running for a $100,000 prize.

After getting through the semifinals on the TV business pitch competition Greenlight Maine in the fall of 2017, ReProduce now joins 12 other teams (including COA alumni business North Spore) in the mentor round of the show. If van Dam can succeed with her pitch in this round, which airs in April, she’ll move onto the finals and a chance for the $100,000.

Anita van Dam ’18, developed ReProduce in COA's <a href="/hatchery/">Diana Davis Spencer Hatchery</a> sustainable business incubator.Anita van Dam ’18, developed ReProduce in COA's Diana Davis Spencer Hatchery sustainable business incubator.Van Dam has put a lot of hours into the fledgling business and is excited about the opportunities that Greenlight Maine offers — along with two $100,000 winners during the first two seasons of the show, angel investors have funded other competitors to the tune of $1,250,000.

Whatever the outcome, van Dam says it’s rewarding for her to be involved with a business that encapsulates some of her core values for food justice and better practices in our food systems.

“I really enjoy what I’m doing, and I think it’s very important to be passionate about what you do,” she says. “My end goal is to keep doing things that I love and things that matter. I have shaped my whole life around that philosophy.”

Born and raised in Thailand to a Thai mother and Dutch father, van Dam grew up hearing about how hard her mother had to work when she was younger as she and her eight siblings had to take care of a store in the local street market — a far cry from the middle class life van Dam enjoyed. Those stories and others have helped motivate her to put in the necessary time, both within and outside of school, to make ReProduce a success.

“My parents are my biggest inspiration. I’ll always be forever grateful for everything they’ve done for me,” van Dam says. “It’s always so inspiring to hear about how different their lives were.”

ReProduce aims to create products such as chopped frozen veggies or baby food from cosmetically imperfect or excess fruits and vegetables from Maine farms. The business focuses on increasing local food access, addressing food waste, and creating extra revenue streams for Maine farmers, van Dam says.

Grace Burchard '17, left, and Anita van Dam '18, right, utilize the COA kitchen to process surplus squash from COA <a href="/farms/beech-hill-farm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Beech Hill Farm</a> as they work to develop ReProduce.Grace Burchard '17, left, and Anita van Dam '18, right, utilize the COA kitchen to process surplus squash from COA Beech Hill Farm as they work to develop ReProduce. Credit: Ana María Zabala ’20

The one and a half-year-old startup has already taken two titles in Maine, winning the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge in November 2016 and the UMaine Business Challenge in June 2017.

Van Dam cultivated the idea for ReProduce in COA’s Sustainable Strategies course and worked on it with Grace Burchard ’17 in the Transforming Food Systems course. The pair honed the idea in COA’s Diana Davis Spencer Hatchery sustainable enterprise accelerator, which is run by COA Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business Jay Friedlander.

Grace Burchard '17, left, and Anita van Dam '18, right, at the <a href="/live/news/1442-coa-startup-wins-umaine-business-challenge" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">UMaine Business Challenge on</a> in June 2017 after winning $5,000 in seed-funding and another $5,000 in in-kind services for ReProduce.Grace Burchard '17, left, and Anita van Dam '18, right, at the UMaine Business Challenge on in June 2017 after winning $5,000 in seed-funding and another $5,000 in in-kind services for ReProduce. Credit: Maine Startups InsiderGetting ReProduce off the ground has taken a lot of work, van Dam says, but she has so far managed to maintain a balance between other academic work, the business, and her free time.

“I try to be organized and it’s also crucial to learn how to prioritize,” she says. “Taking classes that assist me with the business also helps. If it hadn’t been for the Hatchery, I don’t think I would have been able to work on ReProduce as much.”

COA’s Hatchery provides students with experts in business, PR, and other disciplines to inform their business acumen, up to $5,000 in seed funding, office resources, and an opportunity to develop a working business prototype. The program allows students to follow their desire to solve thorny problems in the world — in the case of ReProduce, the fact that up to 50 percent of fresh foods can go to waste along the modern food chain.

Eligible Hatchery students earn academic credit and access to professional services for 9-months after the course including after graduation.

“The Hatchery allows students to walk the entrepreneurial high wire with a safety net and support,” Friedlander says.

Whatever the outcome of her time on Greenlight Maine, van Dam says that she wants to keep ReProduce small and local, to replicate the business plan rather than scale.

“It might expand in terms of a business, but not in terms of size,” she says. “With a smaller size, it’s also easier to keep the quality of our products in check and communicate with the consumers.”