It’s no secret that food has taken the social media scene by storm. There are countless blogs, social media sites and platforms geared toward helping you satisfy all of your culinary cravings. And even the more general social media sites are filled with photos of food and happy diners.
Two college graduates are looking to cash in on this buzz by carving out a food-centric blog geared towards delivering edible news to today’s college crowd.
Developed by two Northwestern undergraduates in 2012, Spoon University is a digital publication that provides information on everything from navigating the college dining hall to learning how to cook for one. The company recently announced the close of a $2.67 million seed round led by SoftTech VC with participation from Lerer Hippeau ventures, Box Group, and RuggedVC. The company will use the new funding to expand its existing network of contributors and to launch a video content platform.
The idea for Spoon University was sparked when Sarah Adler and Mackenzie Barth found themselves sharing a similar frustration over the lack of food-related resources available to college kids. One of the hardest parts for many students after leaving the nest is learning how to navigate the supermarket and the kitchen.
“We were going through all of these new food experiences — trying to cook for the first time, trying to navigate dining halls and all that stuff — and there was no resource for us,” Barth, who now serves as chief executive, told Capital, a New York publication. “There was no place for the whole campus to come together to share our ideas.”
The pair launched Spoon University as a magazine for Northwestern students in Fall 2012 and entered the internet sphere in 2013 with a website launch. It didn’t take long for people from other college campuses to express their interest in creating something similar for their fellow students.
The New York-based company’s web content pulls no punches when it comes to catering to the things college kids love most. Many articles offer practical tips that college newbies won’t find in textbooks, like how to fend off a walloping hangover, or a list of meals that use five ingredients or less. Other articles tap into the wilder side of college life, such as their recent primer how your eye color can dictate your appetite for alcohol. Most articles are written in a style designed to appeal to today’s twenty-something crowd, including references to pop culture and just enough slang to make some members of older generations scratch their heads.
Amid the easily digestible material, however, are a variety of substantive articles that help today’s youth learn more about our current food system and how they can play a part in shaping its future. A recent post provided an investigative look on how lobster went from prison fare to a highly sought-after delicacy while another article gave a glimpse into the potential future of farming. These posts would increase the culinary IQ of any college student who adds them to their menu of daily digital media fare.
There must be some magic in Spoon University’s recipe. Today, the digital publication has grown its initial base of 100 staff writers to a network of over 3,000 volunteer contributors hailing from over 100 university campuses across the country. Although it may seem like Spoon University is getting the better end of the bargain, volunteers who have their content featured increase their exposure and pad their resumes. “We’re taking an entire generation and crowdsourcing editorial content,” Barth told Capital. Above its email newsletter subscription box, the company provides a call to action for today’s college youth: “Join and define the future of food.”
What’s bringing all these youthful volunteers to a career in culinary journalism? In an interview for TechCrunch, Barth cited the recent food movement as a major factor. Social movements advocating organic, locally produced and sustainable fare are leading many students to spend more time considering what they put on their plate each day. Spoon University is aiming to become the twenty-something-crowd’s trusted source for tips, information and updates on how to achieve that goal. Although many digital publications like BuzzFeed Food and The Daily Meal provide insight into a college kid’s dietary interests, Spoon University appears to be the first platform geared solely toward the demographic.
As Spoon University continues to gain popularity with hungry college students across the country, the company hopes to eventually use its leverage to develop unique packaging for major brands and to conduct target-specific marketing research using its increasing ties to college communities throughout the nation.
For SoftTech VC, the investment falls in line with some of their current portfolio holdings providing innovation in the health, food, and farming industries. Current portfolio holdings include health tracker fitbit, frequent restaurant coupon provider Groupon, and Farmeron, a company that helps farmers manage their online data and perform farm analytics.