Last June, as she looked out her office window in San Francisco and observed waves of smoke and ash rolling across the bay, Copia’s founder and CEO Komal Ahmad immediately thought of ways to help. “We were safe from the fires, yet also so close to the disaster unfolding,” she says. “We sprang into action.”
Ahmad and her team at Copia — the company she founded that takes unused food from university cafeterias, chain restaurants and corporations and distributes it to nonprofits — were some of the first people on the scene during the devastating California wildfires of 2017. They weren’t there to battle the blaze — which eventually consumed some 1.2 million acres and destroyed more than 10,800 buildings — but rather, to feed the displaced and the emergency responders working around the clock. “Our head of sales mobilized our existing food donors and called dozens more restaurants and other food providers to get them onto our platform,” she says.
For a team who was used to working with food banks, not fast-changing emergency situations, delving into disaster relief was a big, new challenge. But Ahmad knew her algorithm was ready, as she had already been able to solve so many other problems.