ECU student innovator selected for unique train journey
An East Carolina University Honors College student's app led to an invitation to ride the Millennial Trains Project this summer.
Mona Amin, a senior majoring in biology at ECU, co-created a smartphone app called Freshspire that notifies consumers about discounts on perishable foods nearing the expiration date, allowing them to take advantage of lower prices and helping retailers throw away less food.
The Millennial Trains Project is a nonprofit that hosts crowd funded, cross-country train trips for young innovators from around the world. (Contributed photo)
Amin was one of a few university students and the only North Carolinian to take part in the Millennial Trains Project (MTP), a nonprofit that hosts crowd funded, cross-country train trips for young innovators from around the world.
From Aug. 1-7, Amin traveled from Pittsburgh to Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, before ending in Los Angeles.
During the trip, Amin focused on how Freshspire can expand and help retailers across the nation reach communities in need. The app aims to help grocery stores capitalize on lost value, give consumers access to nutritious foods at affordable prices and leave a positive impact on the environment by reducing food waste, according to the project website.
"Before boarding MTP, I was nervous about my plans for the trip because our app development was delayed. However, I ended up completing analogous research for Freshspire, traveling to numerous farmer's markets, interviewing various food rescue initiatives and looking into food waste recycling programs," said Amin.
Amin and 25 other participants traveled on vintage train cars, which included a domed observation car and a Pullman sleeper. The setting aimed to foster creativity and networking opportunities.
"Besides completing research, I was also able to learn and reflect on my personal growth," she said. "Because we were able to build such a close-knit environment, I know that I will always have people supporting me in all my endeavors."
The "change" trip offered meetings with specialists in Amin's field as well as local leaders at each stop, including Pittsburgh's mayor, Bill Peduto, and Chicago city treasurer Kurt Summers.
Amin, right, visited several cities including Pittsburgh, where 412 Food Rescue - a food-saving distribution project - is headquartered. She met CEO and founder Leah Lizarondo, left. (Contributed photo)
Following her MTP journey, Amin won a $3,000 Comcast NBCUniversal Impact grant which will be used to host a Hult Prize quarterfinal round at ECU, giving other students an opportunity to participate in an international start-up accelerator competition for young social entrepreneurs. The competition was held Thursday, Nov. 17 at the Innovation Design Lab.
According to the website, The Hult Prize Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to launching social entrepreneurship. The team competition fosters innovative ideas for sustainable start-up enterprises to solve the planet's biggest challenges.
Recently, Freshspire was one of the 26 startups presenting their ideas to Wal-Mart for the Technology Open Call in Bentonville, Arkansas. Amin and other entrepreneurs spent the day with Wal-Mart representatives to show how their ideas might provide viable solutions in areas such as food waste, security, sustainability and artificial intelligence.
Throughout the years of working on the Freshspire app, Amin hasn't lost her entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, her drive to succeed has grown.
The Millennial Trains Project group shared ideas along their trip. (Contributed photo)
"I have become more confident in thinking critically and contributing my opinion on issues and causes that I am passionate about," Amin said. "I am more comfortable with the feeling of vulnerability and failure, and have gained an understanding that both may be necessary for further success."
At ECU, Amin has been an advocate for social justice, innovation and youth engagement through her work with the Global Campaign for Education, Clinton Global Initiative and ECU's Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement.
The idea for Freshspire originated when Amin was in high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. She and other classmates recognized the ongoing food waste problems and decided to approach the solution technologically. The five women now attend four difference colleges, but each is committed to seeing Freshspire succeed.
Freshspire now has an office at Greenville SEED, located at the Willis Building. Greenville seed SEED operates as a co-working location where new entrepreneurs can develop and commercialize their ideas, according to the Greenville SEED website.