Julia Collins: Saving the World by Feeding the Planet

Kids tend to have limitless expectations when it comes to deciding what they want to be when they grow up. Some say they would like to be world class chefs or the President of the United States. No role seems far fetched. Yet, as kids turn into adults, there are setbacks and challenges that tests their dedication to that dream. Some lose hope and change their plan, while others embrace these challenges with their eyes fixed on the prize. For entrepreneur Julia Collins, every roadblock and obstacle she encounters has only brought her closer to her dream.

Collins is the co-founder of two billion dollar company Zume Pizza, a pizza company that enlists the assistance of artificial intelligence to replace human employees in the production process. The robots cook the pizza in a self-driven car while en route to the customer’s house, seamlessly aligning with the still current zeitgeist for “all things automation” in Silicon Valley. Collins began the company in 2015 and was valued at 170 million U.S. dollars by 2017. At the end of 2018, Zume Pizza was valued at 2.2 billion US dollars; Collins had officially staked her claim as the fiercest up and coming black, female entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Collin’s modeled Zume catering to demographics that want access to low-priced, convenient food, which is otherwise rare to come across in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Collins’ grew up in the Bay Area, where her grandparents acted as the main catalyst in preparing her for future success. Collins’ grandparents moved to the Bay Area from North Carolina to start their own dental practice in the 1930’s, sparking a long lasting line of familial achievement within Collins family. Simultaneously, Collins’ grandparents made the time to unite their family and community through food. In an interview with Afrotech, a technology and investment platform for the Black community, Collins said:

“At my grandparents’ house there was never any notion of setting four places and sitting down at the table at six o’clock. It was much more ‘come one, come all, there’s always something on the stove, everyone’s invited.”

 It took Collins attaining two degrees from Harvard and Stanford Business School before she understood that her connection with food was her authentic passion. 

Collins grandparents emphasized the hard work, grit, and tenacity that would be required of her if she wanted to make a difference in the world. They ensured that she was aware of the disadvantages and discrimination she faced in society as a Black female growing up in the 1970’s, but pushed her to defy these boundaries. In her interview with Afrotech, Collins said:

“The experience of being a black woman in Silicon Valley can really give you imposter syndrome. When you drive up Sand Hill Road and open those doors and you do not see a single person who looks like you, it can really shake your confidence. So it was a difficult experience, it continues to be a difficult experience and it is why I spend so much time accelerating the success of black women, of intersectional people, of people of color in these spaces.”

As a mother and a wife, Collins cites the stigmatism against these facets of her identity in the business world. She acknowledges how her career as an entrepreneur interacts with her life as a mother in an article written for Inc. Magazine; Collins hails the practice of “radical self acceptance” in the face of balancing her respective roles, which includes forgiving herself for the “missed bedtimes” and moments spent away from her son. In this vein, Collins makes it a point to declare that it is possible to enjoy being a parent while advancing one’s career; she is actively campaigning against the notion that black, female professionals must choose “one or the other.” Collins said in her article written for Inc. Magazine:

“I’d rather focus on paving the way for other women than limiting my choices to appease the heteronormative patriarchy.” After starting Zume in 2018, she is now widening her lense to champion Planet Forward Ventures, a food company employing and promoting  regenerative agriculture in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Now that Collins has established her name in the business world, she’s aiming to “save the planet and feed the world,” with her newfound platform and audience. She cites her son and all children’s future on Earth as her primary motivation to take action against climate change. 

“Regenerative organic agriculture is like turning back the hands of time and delivering our children a healthier planet,” Collins said in her interview with Afrotech.  

Collins hopes to attract the attention of food megacorporations with regenerative organic agriculture in an attempt to affect permanent change within the methods of food production. She wants to fundamentally redirect the ways that human beings consume food towards a more “righteous approach” that she hopes will ultimately bring the planet to a carbon negative level. For Collins, she views Planet Forward Ventures as her starting point on the long road ahead to increase environmental consciousness in the realm of food consumption. 

“For the dreamers, it’s often the case that no one thing is big enough to hold them forever. And I’m a dreamer.” (Afrotech)

-Jack Stewart