Daniel Blake always knew he was interested in starting a business. He just didn’t know his journey would start with a plate of french toast at Magleby’s Fresh and end with one of the largest food waste recycling companies in the United States. Because of Blake’s experience, he now mentors entrepreneurs and students as an adjunct professor at the Ballard Center for Social Impact to create widespread, sustainable social impact.
The idea for Blake’s first company blossomed while he consumed the all-you-can-eat french toast at Magleby’s Fresh, which Blake refers to as a nice way to end a semester at BYU. “French toast doesn’t make for very good leftovers, and I was surprised at how wasteful I was being as a poor college student,” Blake says, describing people dumping plates of leftover french toast in the trash.
After finishing his meal, Blake went home and learned about food waste. “I think I spent time researching food waste in part because I was done with finals and I had nothing else to study,” he says. Blake learned that 40 percent of all the food the US grows ends up in a landfill.
That summer, in 2009, Blake started gathering food scraps from dumpsters around the Provo area and experimenting with composting. With the help of two BYU professors, Blake created a recipe for composting that speeds up the process from six months to three weeks. In 2010, EcoScraps was born.
“From a business standpoint, garbage is interesting. Instead of purchasing raw materials, you’re getting paid to take people’s garbage out,” Blake says. He decided to convert food waste into lawn and garden products—a scrappy start to sustainability. “From that point on, every school project I did, I did for the benefit of EcoScraps,” he explains.
“I view my post-mission experience at BYU and the beginning of my company EcoScraps as one and the same,” he says. Although an English major, Blake took several business classes at the BYU Marriott School of Business. One of his professors, Ron Lindorf, taught classes on entrepreneurship and was instrumental in Blake’s path. “He helped shape the rest of my time at BYU,” Blake shares.
“Lindorf told me business plans don’t make businesses, you have to go out and actually sell a product,” Blake says. The first year, EcoScraps made $1 million. Blake deferred, then dropped out of school to continue working on his business. After growing to be the most widely distributed organic garden product in the country and one of the largest food waste recycling companies, EcoScraps was acquired by Scott’s Miracle-Gro in 2014.
From starting a company quite literally from the ground up, Blake knows the importance of mentors. “My involvement with the Ballard Center started when I was a student with EcoScraps and has continued to where I am today,” Blake says. Alongside teaching, Blake works as a managing director at University Impact—a nonprofit organization focused on strategic grant-giving and impact investing. The program is separate from BYU, but most of the students affiliated with the program come from the Ballard Center. University Impact formalizes the process Blake went through as a student to build EcoScraps, providing student entrepreneurs with mentors and real-world experiences.
“University Impact embraces a more sustainable way of creating large-scale, positive, social impact,” Blake says. In the last 12 months, University Impact has funded dozens of organizations in 16 different countries. Through his work at University Impact and the Ballard Center, Blake promotes sustainable problem-solving. “We want to be careful and make sure that the people who decide how the problem is solved are the people that best understand the problem.” Blake views his mentor-like role as an opportunity to understand people. He hopes to empower others and enable them to affect solutions.
“My job gets to combine supporting entrepreneurs with coaching students,” Blake explains. “Because of my background, both groups are close to my heart, and it’s the combination of the two that is personally meaningful for me.”
Written by Liesel Allen