GET TO KNOW STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR PROGRAM FINALIST REY MUSTAFA, FOUNDER OF SOUL MUCH
Rey Mustafa, a Food Science and Nutrition student at San Diego State University, worked in a restaurant that threw away mass amounts of perfectly edible food every night after closing. The issue, she realized, was that her experience wasn’t unique to the restaurant industry. Every year in the U.S., 63 million tons of food are thrown away. Simultaneously, there are many people in need of food. This is how SOUL MUCH was born.
While SOUL MUCH began by handing out otherwise wasted food to the homeless population in San Diego, they realized that the scale of the problem was much larger than their small restaurant. They began to re-purpose food waste into cookies. Every cookie sold removed one pound of food waste from a landfill. (Not to mention, they’re delicious.)
Rey was the fourth-place winner in the 2019 WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program (SEP) Pitch Competition, which took place in June during the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Baltimore. As the premier startup program for collegiate female founders, SEP fosters growth for the next generation of women-owned businesses through a tailored entrepreneurial curriculum, mentorship, and a pitch competition, where students compete for $25k in seed capital.
We interviewed Rey to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey, her advice for other female founders, and what’s next for SOUL MUCH.
What has the entrepreneurship journey looked like for you so far?
I would say so far it has completely taken me by surprise. I had not expected the amount of love and support and people willing to help as much as I’ve received. I also didn’t realize the amount of resources out there. It was really to my surprise when I found about all these pitch competitions, grants, accelerators, and incubators out there. It’s almost like there’s this underground startup scene that you don’t know about until you’re a part of it. So far that’s been a really exciting journey that I did not expect.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur?
I think right now it’s a such an exciting time to not only be a young entrepreneur but a female young entrepreneur. There’s this stigma around females, and even female entrepreneurs that we tend to be competitive with one another and we’re always competing to be better. But in my perspective and the experiences I’ve personally had, I’ve found that females are really uplifting to each other. Because we’ve had to face turmoil in our past, and maybe we have more obstacles in front of us, we’ve really been more open to having a helping hand towards each other. So for me, that’s what’s really rewarding — seeing the community coming together and women entrepreneurs lifting each other. It’s really an exciting time to be in this industry.
What three traits define you?
Curious, Passionate, Optimistic
Where do you see yourself in one year? How about 5 years?
In one year, I hope to see myself getting a WBENC Certification. That’s something we didn’t really know about until getting accepted into SEP. I really want to get that done within one year. In about five years, I want to expand our team outside of San Diego into neighboring cities. Maybe creating a rescue hub into our neighboring cities, Los Angeles or even San Francisco.
What are you reading or listening to now?
I’m reading Happy Accidents. It’s actually kind of funny because it matches my personality. It’s about having an optimistic point of view and how do you uplift your team. Now that the team is growing, I feel as though I need to learn a lot more leadership and management skills. That book is really helping me not only on how to be a manager, but a good leader.
I really love the podcast, The Art of Likability with Arel Moody. He can be cheesy, but he tends to have really good things. Something I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur is no matter how good your product, service, or innovation is, you’ve got to be likeable. That is first and foremost. So, I’m really learning how to do that.
What advice would you give to other female founders just starting their business?
I would say get involved with your community. That is the number one thing. Go to meetups, go to startup weeks, go to creative mornings, go to incubators. Really put yourself within in the community. It will not be easy in the startup world. But getting in a community that can relate truly makes it a lot more of a smooth sailing process.
How did you first learn about the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program?
Andrew recruited me at the EOGSEA Nationals. We were just talking and I asked him, “Hey, why are you working for this? You’re a male, and it seems like it’s very female-based. What inspires you?” He was just genuine and real and raw about it. It really inspired me. He was so passionate about female entrepreneurs. I was like, wow this dude is rad, of course I want to be part of this program. That was the first time I heard about it and I was sold.
How would you describe your experience in SEP?
By far, it was not only one of the most beneficial pitch competitions I’ve been to, but conferences. I wasn’t even there to try to win the money. I was really there to try to soak up the relationships that I’d built. I had never knew about the diversity quota that these big companies have to fill, so they have to spend a percentage of their money on women-owned or LGBT or those diversity companies. I realized that the opportunity to be a women-owned company in the market is so great. I think that was really inspiring. Just being within arms reach of some of the biggest companies in the world was really refreshing. It just made me realize that at the end of the day, these companies are run by people. Once you connect with those people, anything is possible.
What did it feel like getting up in front of an audience and judges to pitch your business?
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the first time I’d done it. It wasn’t the second time I’d done it. I’ve done it quite a bit of times. I absolutely love going up to audiences and pitching. But what was different about this conference was that people in this audience were potential partners we really really wanted to work with. Walmart, Kroger, Toyota. With all of these people we wanted to work with in the audience, it was really exciting being able to pitch and putting our best foot forward with such crucial players in the audience.
What did you learn during the program that will help you grow your business?
I think I learned that there are all these people that are just in arms reach of each other. That was really refreshing in knowing that these big companies are owned by humans once you create that relationship and make that connection. I also learned that companies have budgeted to be spent on diverse businesses. Knowing that our company is women-owned and the whole sustainability aspect that we bring as well, we have a pretty high value proposition. I’m excited to grow the business in that way.
What’s next for you and your company?
Currently, we are in London. We are rooted for the next five weeks. We are here doing an accelerator program that will help us game plan and strategize how we want to scale our company, which is very exciting. We’re really strategizing on how to replicate what we’ve done in our city across the nation.
Learn more about SOUL MUCH.