Solving the Wasted Food Crisis, a Conversation with Ryan Begin, Co-Founder and CEO, Divert, Inc.

by | Jun 28, 2023

This article is included in these additional categories:

Ryan Begin C-Suite Series

Divert, Inc., led by Co-Founder and CEO Ryan Begin, fosters a climate and culture that values curiosity, innovation, and pushing boundaries. With over 250 diverse employees, Divert acknowledges the importance of varied perspectives and recognizes the role they play in the company’s evolution over the past 16 years. Divert is a mission-based organization focused on protecting the value of food, attracting individuals who are passionate about making a positive social and environmental impact.

How would you describe the climate and culture where you work?

Here at Divert, we are seeking people who are curious, inquisitive, and are always looking to push the envelope. We have over 250 employees who bring something unique to the table, and we want to hear from all of them. Divert’s story is one of adaptation. Over the last 16 years, our business has evolved and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the diversity of ideas across our team.

As a mission-based company focused on Protecting the Value of Food™, we also find that we draw in individuals who are looking to contribute to the greater good. That commitment and focus is core to our culture – being able to do work that will have a positive social and environmental impact.

What major industry changes do you anticipate seeing in the next 5-10 years?

The food industry will become more sustainable. We’re already seeing increased awareness of the wasted food issue in the U.S. That is evident in the amount of food tech-focused companies, the growing public discussion around the topic, and expanding investments in the space.

Just this year, we secured a $1 billion agreement with Enbridge to build out Divert’s anaerobic digestion facilities across the country, which will enable us to eventually process 5% of all wasted food in America.

As a part of this transition, I also expect technologies like artificial intelligence to be implemented at most retailers, analyzing what is wasted and finding ways to stop it from ever being tossed out in the first place. We already provide this visibility for many of our retail partners. The actionable data that this type of technology provides will inform the decisions that will lead to food having a longer shelf life, or being donated rather than being tossed out. It will revolutionize how we tackle this issue at scale. And much of what we’re learning now in the food retail space can also be applied to adjacent industries, like restaurants and consumer packaged goods.

Share three (or more) pieces of advice you have for new executives

Do what works best for your business, even if it’s not the traditional path. Early on, we decided to seek out a customer to prove our concept and secure funds to drive the business, instead of going through the more traditional pitch process with investors to secure venture capital. If you believe in what you’re doing, go find an early adopter of your services. It helped us learn from our mistakes on the fly. It also enabled us to find the best solutions to scale.

To that point, you have to be able to ask yourself, “Are we approaching this the right way? Is this the right solution to the problem?” We started our business working out of the back of grocery stores. It took us doing the wrong thing to better understand the right way to scale our business. You have to be creative, willing to pivot, and question yourself about the complexities of your business in order to grow.

Finally, be forward-thinking. At the time we started Divert, the business model for managing wasted food was uncertain. We saw the need for sustainable infrastructure and increased insight into shrink for retailers. We knew this was a big problem that needed to be addressed, so we set forth on finding a solution to make that a reality.

What was your most difficult career-related decision to date?

Taking the leap of faith to start Divert after business school and leaving my first role at Raytheon. At the time, not many people understood the vision of me and my co-founder, Nick Whitman. My parents were scared to death. They grew up in a time where you worked for the same company for 30 to 40 years, secured your pension, and then retired.

What’s more, at the time, the idea of generating profit from wasted food was not a widely accepted idea. We were definitely going against the grain and we had to put a lot of time and energy into convincing food retailers to be early adopters of a technology that didn’t exist yet. But we were extremely passionate about the space and building a company that was going to have a positive impact on the environment.

Despite this, I wouldn’t change any part of our journey. Going through that career change and the early stages of building the company satisfied my desire to do something meaningful, and led us to the position we are in today – to drive real change.

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever shared with you?

Early on in Divert’s history, we met with an investor who sat us down, literally banged on a table, and told us to “stop trying to chase venture capital and go secure a customer.” We took that message to heart and secured our first customer, Hannaford. That relationship opened our eyes to the enormity of the wasted food problem in the U.S. We spent long days analyzing what was tossed out of the back of grocery stores, trying to wrap our heads around the types of food being thrown away and the sheer scale of it. That experience shaped the company and our strategy, putting us on the path to where we are today.

Is there anything else you would like to share with E+E Leader’s audience?

(As previously mentioned,) We recently announced a $1 billion infrastructure agreement with Enbridge and an additional $100 million in growth equity. We think the agreement marks a major turning point in the fight against wasted food. The partnership will allow us to continue scaling our anaerobic digestion facilities across the U.S. We believe that anaerobic digestion is one of the best ways to take inedible food and recycle it in a sustainable way. This expansion is poised to put us within 100 miles of 80% of the U.S. population within eight years, allowing us to make significant progress in addressing this crisis.

Ryan Begin is the CEO and Co-Founder of Divert, an impact technology company on a mission to Protect the Value of Food™. Bringing deep interest and expertise in solutions-oriented technology, he co-founded the company in 2007 to drive social and environmental impact through advanced technology and sustainable infrastructure. Over the last 16 years, Ryan has led the development of Divert, its technologies, and its vision. As CEO, he is helping bring to life Divert’s mission to solve the wasted food crisis by establishing the company’s data-centric impact platform.

Before Divert, Ryan was a Senior Systems Engineer and Laboratory Manager at Raytheon. Prior to Raytheon, he was a lead engineer at Proton Energy Systems (now Nel Hydrogen) where he delivered the first zero-carbon PEM Electrolyzer to fuel a fuel cell bus in Barth Germany, and on-site hydrogen systems in Nikopol Ukraine. His experience exposed him to a rapidly scaling decarbonization technology, with the disciplined approach to product delivery from Raytheon. These experiences set the early technical foundation at Divert.

Ryan holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from Clarkson University.

Additional articles you will be interested in.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This