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News > Careers Spotlight > Tessa Clarke (née Cook 1992-94), Co-Founder and CEO, OLIO

Tessa Clarke (née Cook 1992-94), Co-Founder and CEO, OLIO

"I absolutely loved the family feel at Kelly"
Tessa Clarke (left) with business partner, Saasha Celestial-One
Tessa Clarke (left) with business partner, Saasha Celestial-One

House at School:  Marwood

A Levels: English, History, Economics, General Studies

Extra-curricular involvements/interests at school: Hockey, Ten Tors, Duke of Edinburgh, Choir, CCF (Navy)

University/Further Education (institution & subject studied):  Social & Political Sciences, Cambridge University; MBA Stanford Graduate School of Business

Tessa has been extremely successful in various leadership roles in the world of business and is highly thought of amongst her peers.  She branched out in 2015 to co-found an app called OLIO, which helps individuals and companies to save on food waste by passing on perfectly good but unwanted food.  The Alumni Office was in touch with Tessa recently to find out more about her and this exciting venture.

Tessa remembers her time at school with much fondness. “I absolutely loved the family feel at Kelly, and I can remember being amazed at how well the teachers got on with the pupils, and vice versa - which was in contrast to my previous school where there was a big divide between staff and pupils. Some of my most vivid memories are being tipped out of a van onto Dartmoor in the middle of the night in preparation for Ten Tors, and nearly burning down the tent cooking sausages in the morning! School plays, hockey matches, and chanting ‘video, video, video’ at Mr Bott in A level history, as well as making friendships for life also make me smile.”   She also believes that her experiences at Kelly shaped the person she has become and gave her confidence.  “It was at Kelly that the refrain ‘character building’ entered my life. While I used to roll my eyes at the time, I look back and am very grateful to have had so many experiences that helped create who I am today and I’ve continued to be the sort of person who will get stuck in and give most things a try! I also got my first taste of performing whilst at Kelly, both in the school plays and public speaking, and that’s a skill I’ve continued to master over the years. And finally, through living alongside so many different people from all walks of life, I learned a lot about diverse perspectives on the world, which is invaluable for any form of leadership.”

Tessa has vast experience across the business world having worked in leadership positions for companies such as Dyson and FTSE 100 media company Emap; she has been involved on many boards, been a mentor and a Leadership Fellow.  Entrepreneurship is clearly in her blood, however, because the inspiration for her latest venture came to her suddenly one day when she was moving country.  “I found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. I’m a farmer’s daughter so I absolutely *hate* food waste, which prompted me to set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give our spare food to, and I failed miserably. Through the whole process it seemed crazy to me that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love to have it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it.”  Tessa began to research the problem of food waste and realised she had to do something about it. She says that “globally one third of all food produced gets thrown away, which is worth over $1 trillion; meanwhile 800 million people go to bed hungry each night – who could be fed on just one quarter of the food we waste in the Western world. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, food waste is absolutely devastating for the environment: if it were to be a country it would be the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China – that’s because a landmass larger than China is used every single year to grow food that’s never eaten. And most shockingly of all, in a country such as the UK, half of all food waste takes place in the home, with the average family throwing away over £700 of perfectly good food each year, which collectively adds up to a whopping £14 billion. This means we’re half the problem; or it also means we can be half the solution!” 

From there, OLIO was born!  It is a free app tackling the problem of waste in the home and local community by connecting neighbours with each other, and volunteers with local businesses, so that surplus food and other household items can be given away, not thrown away. It can also be used to lend and borrow everyday household items too. Over 5 million people have joined the OLIO community so far.

 It was a huge decision to take the plunge with her co-founder but Tessa has not looked back.  “OLIO has grown largely by word of mouth. We have over 50,000 Ambassadors spreading the word about OLIO in their local communities. And we have over 35,000 volunteers (Food Waste Heroes we call them) who collect and redistribute unsold food from companies such as Tesco and Pret A Manger, so that helps word spread pretty fast too!”

Tessa feels very strongly that businesses are not properly addressing the climate crisis. “In all industries, companies should be embedding sustainability into the DNA of their businesses, but they aren’t. The climate crisis is very, very real and accelerating rapidly towards us and yet there’s a massive disconnect between this reality and what businesses are doing in their day to day operations.”

Tessa is doing her bit, that’s for sure, and anyone interested in finding out more should visit the OLIO website

Finally, when we asked her for any words of wisdom on finding the ideal job, Tessa looks back “I really, really wish I’d done the hard work of figuring out what I was passionate about when I was much younger. I always had no clue what I wanted to do when I grew up and so took the lazy route of following the opportunities that were immediately in front of me, rather than finding my personal areas of passion. As a result it took me a long time to find entrepreneurship and the concept of ‘profit with purpose’, and I wish I’d discovered both sooner.” 

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