When Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler were students at Northwestern University a few years ago, the two lived in an off-campus apartment and had no idea how to cook for themselves.
“The only thing we could spend our money on was going to eat out with friends at restaurants nearby, but we didn’t really know where to go or had the resources to figure it out, except for talking with our friends,” Barth told Business Insider.
To solve their cooking woes, the two friends had an idea: they started a website where everyone they went to school with could share recipes, review local restaurants, and talk about food.
Spoon University — a website to share recipes, health and lifestyle stories, restaurant reviews, BuzzFeed-esque quizzes, and other food-related content — went live in March 2014 and quickly grew to a 100-person student staff at Northwestern’s campus.
Spoon University caters to millennials, offering localised and more general stories about food, wellness, and lifestyle. The website has a national main page, as well as individual verticals for every participating college campus. Barth says she wants Spoon University to “emphasise the real, authentic, raw fun side of food that you don’t really get with other companies like Food Network.”
Here’s what Spoon University’s homepage looks like.
Students at other schools saw Spoon University and came to Barth and Adler, telling the cofounders that they wanted a similar publication at their own campuses. So the cofounders replicated their project at five other campuses to try it out.
A year and a half later later, 23-year-old Barth and Adler have moved to New York City to grow their company, which now has 120 participating college campuses.
Just months after completing TechStars’ NYC accelerator program, Spoon University has raised a $US2 million seed round. SoftTech VC led the round, and additional investors include Joanna Wilson, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Box Group, VaynerRSE, BBG Ventures, MATHS fund, Howard Morgan, Project Mayhem Ventures, Kosinski Ventures, and RuggedVC.
Stephanie Palmeri of SoftTech VC will also join Spoon University’s board.
The new cash infusion will let Spoon University keep building out new chapters on college campuses around the world. Spoon University is also launching a video program, the company’s CEO says, in addition to its existing written and multimedia content.
Here’s just one of Spoon University’s videos. There’s a heavy emphasis on things like cooking hacks and how-to guides.
Spoon University says it attracts 2 million unique visitors every month — 10x growth from the 200,000 it had earlier this year. Schools like Penn, NYU, Dartmouth, and Michigan all have their own Spoon University pages, with 3,000 students actively contributing stories, photos, and videos to the website.
Spoon University’s advisors include digital media startup talents like Bryan Goldberg, the CEO and founder of Bustle and Bleacher Report, and Chris Altchek, the CEO of Mic. Its readership is 75% female.
Spoon University’s staff appoints a leadership group for each campus, which includes an editor in chief, a marketing director, and a photo director. Those students are the ones to maintain their team, and they can receive credit as you would for an internship. Spoon University rigorously vets the students who apply for the leadership roles, and writers are also interviewed and vetted to ensure the quality of writing remains consistently good. It takes about a month for Spoon University to jumpstart a campus’ chapter.
“We empower our editors in chief to really produce better content, to lead their editorial vision for their chapter, because every school is so different,” Barth says. “But then we curate the best content on Spoon’s national homepage, and we give people analytics feedback so they know what’s performing well. There’s constant learning going on. For having 3,000 contributors, the content overall is pretty strong, which is great.”
Students who write for Spoon University get national and international exposure. Spoon University has syndication partnerships with media companies like BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Yahoo Food, and USA Today College. To monetise, Barth says Spoon University has worked on experimental campaigns with Whole Foods and other brands, consisting of sponsored content, social advertising, and experiential marketing.
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