Impact Connections: A Conversation with Texas Social Innovation Challenge Finalist Throw-A-Weigh


by Sandi S. Ruddick

The Throw-A-Weigh founders (Becky Xu, Paige Livingston Lopez, and Rosaline Chen)

Throw-A-Weigh, a dynamic start-up developed by UT student Becky Xu and UT alums Rosaline Chen and Paige Livingston Lopez, was a recent top winner of the Texas Social Innovation Challenge (TSIC) final pitch competition ( This intrepid trio took home second-place overall, along with a cash prize of $2,500 and a chance to represent UT-Austin at the prestigious Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge in June. A data collection and analysis tool for food waste, Throw-A-Weigh empowers grocery stores to make data-driven decisions when strategizing how to reduce their waste. According to the team, food waste is a big problem, with environmental, health, and financial implications. Waste occurs at all stages of the supply chain, ultimately leading to 30–40% of all food produced going uneaten. U.S. grocery stores experience losses of up to $16 billion/year in produce alone. This also creates a lost opportunity to solve hunger/food insecurity, conserve resources, and mitigate climate change. Throw-A-Weigh aims to solve this by using biochemical metrics to provide insight into food waste. It provides real-time data that gives grocers actionable insights and allows them to recover the lost profits of unsold produce and increase their tax benefits by quantifying donations. As another benefit of their efforts, food banks and non-profits will benefit from more high-quality, edible produce donations.

Sandi: How did you all meet, and what inspired you to start Throw-A-Weigh?

Throw-A-Weigh: Becky — We met Fall semester 2019 in a food and health curriculum class. We were all classmates and decided to pick the same problem statement to work on. When the class ended, the three of us wanted to continue to work on it as a venture idea. I think for me personally, it’s the food waste problem. As an immigrant family in my household, we always see food as a means of family bonding. Food for me means more than just your source of a meal or something that we need to do to survive — it’s showing others that you care; that’s the kind of meaning that I hold onto, and it really hurts me when I see all this good food going to waste. Also, throughout the class, we were going through the statistics about how 40% of food is just thrown into landfills — I just couldn’t stop thinking about how we could save that, so that’s why I was really interested in forming Throw-A-Weigh as a company, as well as a product, so we can redirect some of that food into feeding more people and also learning more about the scope of this problem, how it affects climate change, etc. Paige — I’m similar to Becky where there’s a large food culture in my family. Also, I’ve come from a public health background; when I had just finished writing my senior thesis, I was in this class where part of the mantra was: “in order to improve health care, you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. In other words, you need granular data and insight into what’s going on in order to ideate and improve. It’s really awful that this much waste is happening, but it just means that there’s that much opportunity to make an impact.

Sandi: Why target grocery stores?

Throw-A-Weigh: Particularly in the grocery store, there are already systems that are in place, and we think it’s much easier to change a system or to help a system than it is to change individual behavior. It is also more scalable since grocery stores are everywhere, with more than 40,000 store locations in the US. It only takes a few major customers to make a significant impact.

Sandi: What special knowledge or skills do you each bring to the team?

Throw-A-Weigh: Paige — I feel the fact that we all have different strengths, weaknesses, and backgrounds is really helpful. Rosaline (a UT graduate in December 2019) studied biomedical engineering; Becky is a computer science major; my track was biochemistry and Plan II Honors. Each of us has a really different take on the world. If you had to put us in terms of a motorized vehicle, I am definitely the gas pedal, Rosaline is like the brakes, and Becky is the steering wheel. They’re all essential parts, but they do very different things.

Sandi: Why did you join the Texas Social Innovation Challenge?

Throw-A-Weigh: Rosaline — For our team, any opportunity that comes we’ll take, but we also aligned to the social impact aspect of TSIC. The fact that it’s UT-affiliated is always great for us as alumni or for Becky being a student still. I watched the competition a year ago, and I was thinking about how cool it was that all the teams were tackling such diverse issues. I was diligently taking notes on my phone and thinking about what would we need to do to get there. It was almost manifestation that got us to TSIC.

Becky Xu pitching during the Texas Social Innovation Challenge finals

Sandi: What activities did you participate in as part of the Texas Social Innovation Challenge?

Throw-A-Weigh: Becky — I was part of one of the workshops where we got put into groups to talk about our social impact ideas, and I think it was really helpful to be able to pitch to peers. In the peer group breakout room, I pitched our Throw-A-Weigh idea, and everyone was asking really good questions that I had never really thought of before. Someone asked if we had any thoughts about how it might impact produce managers. At the time, I said, “It’s going to help them; it will make their day easier, and it’s going to save them time.” Then a follow-up question was, “What if it completely replaces their jobs? If they know that their job will be replaced by a machine, are you sure that they will still want to adopt this kind of technology?” At the time, I didn’t really have an answer to that. It was a great experience to hear new questions about our venture and learn about other people’s venture ideas.

Sandi: How did TSIC support your entrepreneurial journey? What did you learn from the program?

Throw-A-Weigh: Becky — In general, I think going through the pitch and preparing for Q&A was really helpful because, although we had prior experiences from other pitch competitions, we didn’t really get to prepare so extensively. It also helped to collect all the questions that we had received before and formulate actual answers to them; writing them out and getting our ideas across was really helpful. We also met with Madison and Dr. Kothare; hearing from them about how we can improve our pitch and other things to include in our slide deck was really beneficial. Going through the impact canvas together helped us formalize the direction that we want to take the product, as well as understanding what exactly our macro-economic environment was and other aspects of the business we didn’t really think of before. Rosaline — I remember that the executive summary wasn’t required, but it was really helpful in the end, because it prompted me to do all this research about the methane emissions/carbon dioxide emissions and what that really means in terms of food waste and climate change. Just having that exercise was really helpful, and we use that information now in every other application and pitch deck moving forward.

Sandi: What advice would you give to aspiring student impact entrepreneurs?

Throw-A-Weigh: Paige — I would say start with the people; the team is so integral to everything. I think you could try to solve any problem in the world, but if you don’t have the right team, it just does not flow. Rosaline — I second that having really passionate team members makes all the difference. In this entrepreneurship journey, things are always evolving. It’s okay to not have all the answers as long as you have a game plan or some kind of strategy moving forward. Also, I think storytelling is a really important piece; even if you don’t have all the facts, you at least have a story to tell. Becky — One of my mentors told me to not be afraid to go out in the world and seek opportunities. I think our team does a pretty good job trying to find all the opportunities available to us at UT, in Texas, and even in Singapore. Just do it — go out and talk to people, like customers, peers, and mentors.

Sandi: What is the best thing for you personally about this journey to create Throw-A-Weigh?

Throw-A-Weigh: Becky — I’ve grown so much just from juggling between Throw-A-Weigh and school. One of the biggest takeaways from Throw-A-Weigh is the resilience along the way. Sometimes we’re hit with roadblocks and we don’t know what to do, but we just keep trying to find ways to get through it. Eventually, there are other directions that we never knew would come our way, and we just go for it. Somehow, it all works out. Paige — I second Becky, and I think also it’s very satisfying. I think one of the early things that we learned was that you can’t boil the ocean, and so I think there’s a lot of satisfaction in having found a small way that we can participate in a huge space. We’re going to make it happen. Realizing that no one else at the end of the day is going to do it, we are the three people who have raised our hands and stepped to the front of the line saying, “this one’s ours!” Rosaline — It’s been my life mission to do something in the sustainability space. I remember thinking to myself in middle school, “I’ll work anywhere as long as it’s a green company or making positive change for the environment.” I love that Throw-A-Weigh is one angle of helping the environment, so I’m fully committed to this journey. The whole experience has challenged me in unexpected ways, and I’ve gained confidence throughout our journey.

Sandi: What is the next step for Throw-A-Weigh?

Throw-A-Weigh: In terms of next steps, we’re still working on doing a concierge model pilot testing with the local grocery store we’ve been partnering with. After we get feedback on the first iteration of testing, we plan to approach a larger grocery store chain and show them what we did as a case study, so we can pique their interest. Our next step is going through higher fidelity prototypes, as well as developing more of these customer relationships. We also want to expand our tech team, if possible; right now, we’ve been having students or friends that come and help us with the product development, but we do want to bring on more professionals to help tackle the product development process. In terms of a pre-sale or go-live date, I think next year or Fall 2021. Just having the first prototype built out can definitely help others visualize what our product would look like, as well as gain traction and credibility from our customers and potential investors in the future to scale our product.

Sandi: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Throw-A-Weigh: Paige — I think just that it means a lot to be here, and that we’re really grateful for the opportunity to have gone through the TSIC program and the opportunity to be at UT. Every time I heard the word “business” beforehand, I would think, “Oh no, I do not like business, I’m not a business person!” Like I said, the public health space, especially regarding food, has always interested me, so I started the class basically ignoring the entire entrepreneurship part. It’s been such a special journey to fill those shoes, and it’s been a really impactful experience to find a new identity in Throw-A-Weigh and be able to live that out through programs like TSIC. Rosaline — I’m thankful for TSIC’s support. Every time we are chosen, even as semi-finalists, I get pumped up because it means someone else believes in us. Entrepreneurship is a hard journey, and it’s tempting to call it quits sometimes. Just seeing other people have faith in us and imagine what we can accomplish in the future is empowering. I’m very glad TSIC has become a part of our village of supporters. Becky — TSIC was a great opportunity for me to improve on public speaking. Although I’m the quietest person on the team, I’m the only current UT student, so I had to do the pitch for the team. Pitching in front of so many people and answering tough questions from judges were not things I prepped for before being in Throw-A-Weigh, because I didn’t realize that I would be in this situation. Just having that kind of experience was helpful for my personal growth.

This interview has been edited in context and length for clarity and brevity.



Global Sustainability Leadership Institute

Welcome to Impact Connections, the GSLI’s blog space! We were formerly known as the Social Innovation Initiative.