Looking forward after Israel in the Gardens victory

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At first glance, Feeding Forward seems like an unlikely winner of the award for best tech company at Israel in the Gardens’ “Innovation Alley.”

The startup — which uses Internet and mobile technology to give people with excess food ways to donate it — is not Israeli or Jewish, per se, and its CEO, Komal Ahmad, is a Pakistan-born Muslim.

But Feeding Forward did indeed win the Roselyne C. Swig Tikkun Olam Innovation Prize at the June 2 event. Visitors to the 13th annual festival and three judges voted it the winner over three other nonprofits featured in Innovation Alley.

Adam Swig, who organized the tech showcase of 12 startups and other entrepreneurial enterprises, said he wasn’t surprised that Feeding Forward won the $2,013 prize.

“I think everyone can connect to [Feeding Forward’s] goal, especially in San Francisco with how many hungry people we see on the street,” Swig said. “I think it’s just something everybody could relate to.”

Komal Ahmad photo-feeding forward facebook page

Feeding Forward was co-founded by Ahmad and Andrew Finch, who oversees the technology behind the project. Finch, who is Jewish, met Ahmad last winter when she was still a student at his alma mater, U.C. Berkeley.

With Finch’s help, Feeding Forward began in earnest in January, but it grew out of another similar project Ahmad had been working on during her time at Cal. That project, Bare Abundance, collected leftover food from the university dining halls and other campus sources to donate to local organizations.

But Ahmad said she had difficulty getting homeless shelters and soup kitchens to even answer their phones, and when they did, they often only wanted 10 or 15 sandwiches.

“I was like, great, now what am I supposed to do with 485 sandwiches in my trunk?” Ahmad said.

Feeding Forward aims to solve that problem. After creating an account, people can use a website or an app on their smartphone to list what food they’re trying to donate, how much they have and when it can be picked up. An algorithm matches the food with local nonprofits, and Feeding Forward delivers the food from donor to recipient.

Ahmad and Finch are targeting caterers and restaraunts that have larger quanities of excess food, rather than individuals’ leftovers (as they might not conform to health codes).

Innovation Alley organizer Adam Swig (left) and Feeding Forward’s Andrew Finch, Vyushita Sahay and Harrison Lee photo-feeding forward

“We measure our impact through the amount of food recovered, which is close to 2,300 pounds since we launched,” said Finch. “That is equal to about 2,700 meals.”

According to Finch, www.FeedingForward.org has been visited more than 800 times since it launched around five months ago, although not many people have downloaded the iPhone app. There is also a Facebook page that lists the venture’s short-term goals, including fundaising ($300,000) and “likes” (1,500 by the end of summer).

As for how Ahmad ended up showcasing her nonprofit at a festival celebrating Israel, she said it grew out of a trip to Israel she took under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee. Out of that experience, she met Swig, who invited her to participate in Innovation Alley.

“Both Muslim and Jewish people have the concept of tzedakah and zakat [charitable giving] — and of tikkun olam, healing the world,” Ahmad told j.

The Tikkun Olam Innovation Prize was chosen by three “undercover” judges and a vote of festival attendees, each accounting for 25 percent of the decision. The judges included Ken Goldberg, a U.C. Berkeley professor who focuses on robotics, automation and new media, and Peter Hirshberg, a Silicon Valley executive, entrepreneur and marketing specialist.

Only nonprofits engaged in tikkun olam were eligible for the prize. Besides Feeding Forward, the others were Hazelnut, which wants to turn exercise into fundraising opportunities, kind of like a personal walkathon; Reactful, which offers detailed Web analytics to nonprofits; and Carbon Lighthouse, which helps companies reduce their emissions.

Arno Rosenfeld
Arno Rosenfeld

Arno Rosenfeld is a reporter at the Forward. He is a former J. intern and has worked as a correspondent for JTA and The Times of Israel.