Being a full-time pre-medical student hasn’t stopped Maria Rose Belding from becoming the founder and CEO of a company fighting to end hunger across the nation. This dedicated collegiette became passionate about this issue in middle school, when she realized how much food Americans actually waste and how many people struggle to feed their families. So, she has made it her mission to “waste less and feed more”.
Maria Rose created MEANS database, an interactive website that connects more than 200 large-scale food banks with one another in hopes of reducing food waste. MEANS database is currently connected to food shelters across 49 states and U.S. territories and counting. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Maria Rose and her fight to put food on every table across America!
College: American University
Majors: Public Health/Pre-Med
Expected Graduation: Spring 2019
What was the most difficult challenge you faced when creating MEANS database?
The most difficult challenges for me were actually building the website and managing my time as a full-time pre-med student and the executive director of a nonprofit. Thankfully, our co-founder Grant [Nelson] did an incredible job building out the website itself and really crafting MEANS into the sustainable start-up it is today.
How do you balance school and your position as CEO of MEANS database?
Coffee! Actually, it’s more so a mix of time management, strong staffing at MEANS, understanding professors and a loving support network. I’ve learned how helpful it is for both my physical and mental health to have a consistent workout schedule, to set timers on my phone, to make sure I remember to eat breakfast and lunch, etc. I also had a wonderful role model, Grant, who was in law school when we co-founded MEANS together. I was able to watch him successfully pull off an absolutely crushing class load and building the website from scratch himself without losing his mind, which was both mind-boggling and inspiring for me.
Who in your life inspires you the most?
Our staff at MEANS. Easily. I get to work with incredible young women and a few young men as well, who are pulling off the same balancing act I am. They are high school and college students, for the most part, and they are some of the most selfless, smart people I know. How can you not be inspired by a 16-year-old who comes into your office, begging to write code for you, because he just wants to learn and help? How can you not be touched when, of all the options hyper-intelligent college students have for the use of their time, they choose helping others in a way that involves hundreds of hours of hand-addressing and stamping a bunch of postcards to potential food pantry partners? (Because the data they studied showed they’d be more likely to get a better response if the cards were hand-written?) I’m inspired every day by these generous young people.
What advice do you have for other women hoping to make a difference in the world?
Show up and get it done. Most of running a startup, for-profit or nonprofit, is just working really, really hard. 5 percent inspiration, 75 percent perspiration, 20 percent sheer luck.
If you’re lucky enough to come along at the right time with the right idea, fight for it. Build a team of people who are better than you are. Stop saying you’re sorry for breathing. (I’m very much still working on this one myself!) As women, we are conditioned to apologize for literally everything. Say you’re sorry when you mess up and absolutely mean it, but don’t apologize for your existence.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Either speaking at the Obama White House, or seeing MEANS move more than 1,000,000 pounds of food in less than two years.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
As a second-year medical student, pursuing a specialty in emergency medicine with a focus on low-income communities and psychiatric crisis. MEANS will not need me forever and it is becoming strong enough that, as a founder, I will be able to step away and leave the organization in the hands of our very capable team.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Compassionate, clever, courageous, curious, chronically-caffeinated.