How CHOMP Succeeded as a Female-Led Social Impact Startup
Hong Kong/ Terra/ Sustainability

Carla Martinesi on Powering Her Female-Led Social Impact Startup, CHOMP

CHOMPs Carla Martinesi

This interview is part of The Beat Asia’s International Women’s Month coverage. Through highlighting women’s voices, we are celebrating and uplifting the women around us through their stories and multifaceted experiences.

Amidst the various climate crisis challenges that have arisen in Hong Kong, the mounting travesty of food waste stood out as a pain point for the young entrepreneur, Carla Martinesi. Taking the issue by its horns, she founded a “food-rescue” app named CHOMP, an initiative designed to redirect food from its journey towards landfills to conscious diners’ bellies instead. Meaningful as this social impact-driven mission was, bringing the startup to fruition was no easy feat.

It is difficult enough as is to fundraise as a young and small business; being a female entrepreneur adds another level of challenges. The World Economic Forum states that the gender finance gap for MSMEs (Micro-Small-Medium-Enterprises) was measured at a shocking USD$1.7 trillion as of 2023.

While Hong Kong enjoys a reputation as an attractive springboard for creating new businesses, the numbers seem to indicate that the odds for success are stacked in favour of men. Visa reports that over a third of female entrepreneurs are more likely to be limited to relying on family or government funding, cutting them off from various external investors and other like-minded industry players.

Sharing with us her experiences in navigating this gendered financial imparity, Carla gives a glimpse into the small steps of courage it takes to follow your passion. With tips for aspiring young female entrepreneurs seeking business collaborators to bring their ideas to life, or women leaders who want to realize their green dreams, read on for our exclusive International Women’s Month interview.

CHOMP carla martinesi interview

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier to your CHOMP journey so far? How did you overcome it?

The most significant barrier I've faced as a female leader in my CHOMP journey has been navigating the double standards that exist in the business world.

I previously had a male co-founder, and I could see a stark difference in the way people interacted with him compared to me. This was a challenging reality to confront and definitely one I’m still dealing with today!

Few of the things that have really helped me were to address the biases directly – call them out on it! – and the “Proof in the pudding” method. The latter is simply proving them wrong through showing our progress and achievements.

The startup environment can be quite a relentless and competitive space. How did you overcome that roadblock to get the support and mentorship you needed?

This was definitely tough. CHOMP is my first start-up and the only one I’ve ever worked at, so it was hard to make the switch and try to figure out the right way to do things.

I found a few women who were in the same green space and added them on LinkedIn, I loved reading their reflective posts and felt inspired by them.

As the industry is so small, I ended up crossing paths with those women, and they later ended up being friends of mine! A special mention to Olivia from LÜUNA and Anushka from Breer. I had several mentors throughout the years but the most notable would have been Mandy Pao who helped me overcome my burnout stage and steer me in the right direction!

You have mentioned the importance of networking events and how it’s important to leave any self-doubt at the door. What are some words of advice for less experienced women looking to make the most out of a networking event?

A big fear I've noticed among female founders at the beginning stages is that they're too scared their ideas will be copied, or worried that they’re not developed enough to share. If you can, get your ideas to a point where it’s close to launching or ready to be tested, go out to networking events with your business cards and start chatting!

CHOMP carla martinesi interview

While Hong Kong is a city known for its prowess in corporate business and finance, CHOMP has found success as a sustainability and social impact-driven initiative. What was the first step to convincing people to care about/bring attention to the cause of eliminating food waste?

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t care about food waste, so we had to give a bit of incentive, and that’s where our 50% discount on the app comes from.

Even if you don’t care about sustainability, finding a great food deal will bring you to the app and after that, on the receipt, it’ll say something subtle like “Thank you for saving the planet!”. It’s just a kind reminder that even if you don’t care for our main cause, you still contributed something good, nonetheless.

We push a lot of sustainable messaging through our social media, especially with our #TuesdayTips where we showcase food waste tips you can do at home!

How has your training background in hospitality affected your approach to CHOMP's customer service and user experience?

A background in Hospitality has helped in so many ways. Hospitality teaches you to anticipate and meet the needs of customers, whilst ensuring a high level of satisfaction whether in person or over the phone, we had to learn this in school and the Hospitality industry.

I try to bring this understanding of how to deliver excellent customer service to all of CHOMP's services, contributing to a more enjoyable and seamless experience for our users and our vendors.

CHOMP carla martinesi interview

Similarly, how has your experience studying hospitality helped in establishing yourself in the entrepreneurial scene?

Studying Hospitality has significantly aided my journey into entrepreneurship.

The hospitality industry is centred around providing excellent service, creating memorable experiences, and managing operations efficiently – all invaluable skills for an entrepreneur.

The ability to understand and anticipate customer needs, honed through hospitality studies, is crucial in developing a product or service that truly meets market demand. We had to learn how to manage every aspect of “a hotel” so anything from finance, to marketing, to operations. I feel like this is the perfect foundation for building a start-up from the ground up.

Lastly, the emphasis on creating unique, memorable experiences translates into building a brand that stands out and hopefully, resonates with customers.

While we continue to move towards a more green and circular economy, how can we continue to ensure a gender balance in sustainability leadership and roles?

There’s still unfortunately a bias in leadership roles in any industry, whether you notice it or not, it’s definitely still there.

Give a seat at the table for those who are trying to climb up, help lend a hand to those who aren’t able to, and last of all, create an environment around you that is fair and equal.

Reflect on yourself: do you have biases you aren’t aware of? Has that affected anyone you know or your workplace? Start by answering these questions and see how you can change to create a better place for yourself and those around you!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Download the CHOMP app here. Keep up with Carla on Instagram at @carlamartinesi and through @chompfoodwaste

Click here to see the rest of our International Women’s Month series.

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