Riana Lynn, Founder of FoodTrace
For Riana Lynn, thinking just outside the lines has helped her connect major dots with her exciting Chicago-based startup, FoodTrace.
Her company makes software tools to connect restaurants and distributors to local farmers in order to manage daily sourcing needs. In other words, FoodTrace helps farmers and artisans sell more and buyers buy better.
A little over a year ago, Lynn had built databases and a blog, and was looking for a way to be a connector between farmers and buyers. “There was a lack of discovery for food buyers,” explained Lynn. “Say I own a salad shop and I want to source kale within 15 miles, now how would I do that?”
Today, she and her seven-member team are focused on creating their software business to do exactly that.
Tech makes combining Lynn’s vast interests possible. With an undergrad degree in biology and a Master’s in Public Health and Public Policy, her route could have appeared to be leading down an academic path. But the FoodTrace founder has some serious entrepreneurial roots, too.
Facebook launched the year she went to college, which sparked her own interest in learning to code and optimizing websites. She put these skills to work for herself when, in the months leading up to the 2008 Obama inauguration, she created a media company just so she could get invited to major political events. “I also taught myself Photoshop and design so I could make press passes to other kinds of events; I found a lot of value in that,” joked Lynn.
All jokes aside, this created a serious amount of value for her career, indeed. While attending a top awards ceremony during the inauguration, Lynn met and began working with Dr Rick Kittles, a University of Chicago professor and founder of AfricanAncestry.com. This allowed her to envision how a life balancing research and entrepreneurship might look.
Lynn began consulting on a larger scale and noticed similar issues in all food businesses she worked with: food quality and food access, waste issues on the supply side and the ability to serve fresh options on the buyer side.
It was during this time her consulting company caught the eye of Marcus Lemonis of The Profit, who brought her on board to offer her consulting services to the businesses featured on his show. She jumped at the chance to refine her own skills, but Lynn continued to feel herself drawn to the idea of FoodTrace. She launched her company in January of 2014.
Backed by Google, destined for growth
FoodTrace runs on a freemium model where both sides create a free profile with upgrade options for tools, insights, analytics and increased discovery.
While there are competitors in the space similarly looking to reduce friction and decrease barriers between farmers and suppliers, FoodTrace is “more scalable because rather than focus on logistics or delivery, we put our energy toward big data, analytics and connection, much like LinkedIn for small food businesses,” explained Lynn.
She continued, “we are in the business of helping businesses, but I always operate with my 96-year-old grandfather in mind.” He is a small farmer and like most small farmers only, sells only 45 percent of his harvest on average. “What we do is try to make sure that their goods are being sold elsewhere, so farmers don’t have to rely only on a farmer's market.”
Just one year after launching FoodTrace, Lynn’s company has skyrocketed. She was chosen as one of three companies to join the CODE2040 Residency program backed by Google, with a mission to create pathways to success in tech for Black and Latino entrepreneurs. The team has just recently expanded to seven members, seen investment from local chefs, an investor on the West Coast and Lynn and her team are now looking to close their $1-1.5 million seed round.
Currently, buyers are located across the United States, while suppliers are mostly small farmers and artisans based in and around Chicago. Within the next year, FoodTrace would like to expand throughout the Midwest and the West Coast.