Year Founded: 2017
Headcount: 5 team members
In 2017, soon-to-be San Diego State University (SDSU) graduate Reyanne Mustafa was working as a server at True Food Kitchen when she witnessed copious amounts of perfectly edible food being thrown away on a regular basis. These weren’t scraps off people’s plates; they were grains fresh out of the rice cooker. It wasn’t long until Mustafa decided to do something about the enormous food waste.
Mustafa’s first attempt at repurposing the waste was to feed downtown San Diego’s homeless population. After handing out the grains to those in need, she realized food waste was a large-scale problem that affects communities everywhere. For some time, she resisted the idea of starting her own business to combat food waste, but Mustafa finally gave in and founded SOULMUCH with her then-coworker, Kristian Krugman (who graduates from SDSU this year).
Today, SOULMUCH has saved over 7,000 pounds of food from local eateries, repurposing ingredients like carrots, beets, brown rice, and coffee grains, and incorporating them into delicious cookies. For every vegan, gluten-free, protein-rich cookie they make, about one pound of food is saved from being thrown away. The team has also participated in countless conferences and competitions, including last year’s San Diego Startup Week and the Hera Venture Summit, where they served their products to attendees and gave pitches.
We chatted with Mustafa about being an Aztec entrepreneur, the copious amount of resources and guidance she’s received from SDSU, and the impact SOULMUCH has made on the local community.
Planting the Seed: Ironically, the idea of running a business was never something that appealed to Mustafa growing up. “I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, as crazy as it sounds. Both my parents are entrepreneurs and I have seen how hard it is. It’s not very glamorous,” she said. “My whole life I had grown up seeing my parents work so hard and I didn’t want to have to put myself through that much pain. They’ve had some success with their businesses, but for the most part, they are still grinding today. I always wanted something in a corporate setting because to me, that was something that was very attractive. Stability was sexy at that point. But, what I learned in life is what you resist will persist, and I kept resisting the idea of having my own company, but it was something I couldn’t avoid. Because I had seen my parents do it, I think it just became embedded into who I was. And also, the problem was that no one else was solving the problem, so I realized that if I care so deeply about it, I have to solve it or we have to create a solution to figure it out.”
Before deciding to start her business, Mustafa’s reluctance was apparent as she had shared her thoughts with her entrepreneur mother. The then-student tried thinking of solutions to reduce the food waste in her workplace but she initially did not want to have full ownership of the process herself. “Just to give you an idea of how much I didn’t want my own company, I even thought of giving this idea to True Food,” she said, referring to her idea for True Food Kitchen to turn the excess brown rice into brown rice flour so that the company can use it in its restaurants, sell it as a protein powder, or something of the like.
“My mom just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you dare give them that idea. You better take the idea and run with it. You’re going to do it right and you’re going to do it big,’” Mustafa said. These words of encouragement from her mother pushed Mustafa to begin thinking of herself as someone capable of running her own business. “It’s so crucial to have people believe in you even when you don’t quite believe in yourself,” she said.
SOUL-MUCH Tech: While the business does not operate in the tech industry, the team at SOULMUCH still uses a fair amount of technology on a daily basis. “We try to use social media to be as transparent as possible with the company because the concept is so unique and different, we want to be as clear as possible with how we’re doing everything,” Mustafa said. From time to time, she will take SOULMUCH Instagram followers behind the scenes of the entire cookie-making process, showing every step from picking up the grains to baking them.
Edible Agreement: After striking up a partnership with True Food to use the restaurant’s brown rice for cookie-making, SOULMUCH worked to partner with other eateries to upcycle their food waste. Their mutually-beneficial partnerships do not entail monetary exchanges. SOULMUCH takes excess food off restaurants’ hands as a service to them, while benefiting from having ingredients for its cookies.
“If you think about a trash company, you have to pay to have your trash removed,” Mustafa explained, adding that restaurants risk being fined for having trash that exceeds a certain weight limit, so handing off excess food waste to SOULMUCH reduces that risk while also letting the company do its part to combat food waste.
SOULMUCH derives its upcycled food from local restaurants and cafes throughout San Diego County. Ingredients like brown rice from restaurants, coffee grounds from coffee shops, and carrots and beets from juice shops are transformed into nutritious cookies. SOULMUCH offers flavors like chocolate chip, red velvet, carrot, and espresso, depending on what’s available. Ultreya, a local college-area coffee shop, contributes its coffee grounds to the SOULMUCH and regularly sells its cookies. Things have come full circle, as the espresso-flavored SOULMUCH cookies the coffee shop sells are made with the shop’s own coffee grounds.
Co-workers to Co-founders: The founding SOULMUCH duo met while waiting tables at True Food Kitchen. “We were actually not that good of friends before. I had just seen that she has a really good work ethic. She was always such a hard worker, so that was always in the back of my mind,” Mustafa said of Krugman. One day, the two were in the dish pit, sorting out utensils when Krugman struck up a conversation about sustainability. “It was the first time she and I had a real conversation,” Mustafa said. “She was totally nerding out about sustainability and I thought ‘wow, this chick’s super cool.’”
What had really solidified Mustafa’s bonding with Krugman happened the night that Mustafa decided to finally take the excess brown rice into her own hands and feed it to the homeless. She walked around the restaurant asking her co-workers if they wanted to help her distribute the food to homeless people the next day. “Krissy was the only one who really showed interest,” Mustafa said. The fact that she genuinely wanted to help out confirmed to Mustafa that Krugman was someone she wanted to partner with.
When Mustafa was finally certain that she wanted to start a business focused on reducing food waste, she asked Krugman to meet with her so that she could share her idea. “I said, ‘I need to talk to you about something. This is life-changing. I have this great idea and I need to talk to you about it. Can we meet at the library?,’” Mustafa said.
A day or two after their library meetup, Krugman officially committed to becoming Mustafa’s business partner, and they’ve been inseparable ever since. “We’re essentially in a marriage,” Mustafa joked.
Aztec Resource: The SOULMUCH team has been able to take advantage of many on-campus resources at SDSU, joining the Lavin Center and the Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP) Launchpad, which it still receives guidance from, as Krugman is a current environmental science student. Mustafa raved about the entrepreneurial resources on campus, sharing, “I didn’t feel like I needed to get an entrepreneurship degree because they essentially gave me one in a crash course. I felt like I could start this business because I’ve have so much mentorship and a good education to lead me there.”
While business-centric resources are absolutely crucial for entrepreneurs, Mustafa was able to find value elsewhere on campus too. “I don’t think I give the nutrition department enough credit because I truly believe I got good value out of my education and I’m really thankful for that,” Mustafa said. “I genuinely feel very well equipped with what I’ve learned in my classes.”
Mustafa, a food science and nutrition major, was able to learn how to launch a food product and how to measure the macronutrients and micronutrients food items – things she would have had to learn on her own had she been an entrepreneurship student launching a food company. She was also able to use lab equipment that gave her both experience and knowledge about the food science industry.
“SDSU has been extremely helpful and kind to us. They paired us with mentors and they put us in front of people to learn how to give a pitch…Those are things that are really crucial for entrepreneurs to know how to do,” Mustafa said. Referring to a popular business pitch television show, she said “I almost feel like they put me in a baby ‘Shark Tank’ and now I feel like I’m equipped to be in the real one.”
Meaningful Mentorships: The SOULMUCH team has received guidance from a number of mentors, including one to help them with their finances as well as a lawyer. “We have almost everything we need, and if they haven’t given us everything we need, we can just ask them and they can connect us with the right person,” Mustafa said. “I am forever indebted to what they have done. I truly don’t think I would have wanted to do this without them because I was so lost.”
San Diego Scene: Mustafa shares that she feels like her team is in good hands in the San Diego startup scene. “I feel so protected and so hugged, in the sense that any corner we turn, there’s support,” Mustafa said. “What I love about the San Diego startup ecosystem is that it’s still small enough where people can connect you to almost anyone and people know each other, and there’s a sense of community. I also love that it’s big enough where you’re constantly finding out about new startups. I feel so incredibly grateful.”
Looking Ahead: This is looking to be a big year for SOULMUCH, as the team is working to launch a new product that will be complementary to their cookies. The surprise product will be launching on Earth Day on April 22, so stay tuned for details on the team’s social media outlets. Also, prepare your taste buds because their seasonal strawberry shortcake cookies will be available soon for the summer.
The team has two big goals for the next year. “We’re really trying to work on packaging and making SOULMUCH more accessible to people, so that they’re not limited to having to go to a farmer’s market. We just opened up our online sales, so that’s helped a bit,” Mustafa said.
Taco ‘bout a Recommendation: When she’s not making cookies, you can find Mustafa spending her taco Tuesdays at Hugo’s Cocina in Ocean Beach. The primarily plant-based taco joint is perfect for those looking to reduce the environmental impact of their meal choices.
Track ‘em Down: You can find SOULMUCH at farmers markets, including those in Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, and Leucadia. You can also find their sustainable cookies at a handful of retail locations, including Ultreya Coffee Shop and Tapshack.
Editor’s Note: AzTech is an original Fresh Brewed Tech series on San Diego State University Aztecs (current and alumni) who are blazing a trail in technology and entrepreneurship. These innovative ideas born in the halls of academia are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond. Don’t miss these compelling stories of passion, hard work, and problem solving by the next generation of entrepreneurs. #GoAzTechs