Female-Led Think Tank Feeds New York


( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Black Harvard Graduate Helping Combat NYC Food Crisis

ENSPIRE Contributor: WaTeasa Freeman

Covid 19 has impacted so many people’s lives, especially the impoverished and homeless community. Element 9, led by Tamecca Seril, have been working tirelessly to combat the New York City Food Crisis. Element 9, in partnership with GetFoodNYC, operates with Industry City as its last-mile distribution center, where roughly 45,000 meals per week are picked up via taxi and delivered directly to households in need. Launched in 2001, Tamecca is continuing to scale and expand Element 9’s involvement in the community and has many projects underway to do so.

Seril is a Harvard University graduate who has worked hard to build her company to where it is today. Element 9 consists of Seril and her team of 10 employees who works in multiple fields. ENSPIRE had the chance to talk with Seril about her company and how people can get involved.

Tamecca Seril

What led you to start Element 9?

I started Element 9 in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the dotcom bust. The confluence of the events was a signal to start a consultancy focused on digital innovation. In 2001, very few organizations had an online presence, strategy, or tech team beyond conventional IT. Element 9 was there to fill the gap, especially in the public and non-profit sectors. I also needed greater control of my time and pursuits as a single parent; Element 9 created a pathway to be [a] better parent.

What is the mission of the organization?

Element 9 is a think and action tank for social innovation. Element 9 transforms lives, places, and makes critically needed things. Element 9 provides subject matter experts/practitioners, operates programs (e.g., food relief program, business accelerators/incubators, aging improvement districts), and builds digital products (e.g., apps and websites to deliver services). Element 9’s practice areas include human services (e.g., food relief, public health), education, and workforce, and economic development.

How have you been able to meet the demands of COVID-19?

Element 9 operates a pick and pack operation at Industry City preparing shelf-stable food care packages for the GetFood NYC program, a COVID-19 food relief program. The GetFood NYC program mirrored the private sector meal delivery services (e.g., Blue Apron, Hungry Root), especially in the first 120 days of the program due to shelter-in-place orders and curfews. The GetFood NYC program operationalized the relief program by working with non-profits, food vendors, and the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC). Food vendors like Element 9 were enlisted to prepare large volumes of meals/boxes, which are then delivered/distributed to households by taxi drivers.

How did your experience at Harvard prepare you to grow Element 9?

Prior to Harvard, Element 9 primarily focused on bringing digital products to market; I needed to re-boot, re-tool, and humanize the work. As a mid-career graduate student, the Kennedy School afforded me an opportunity to think more expansively, explore Agribusiness/Food business model concepts, and to cross-register at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan. I gained intimate access and feedback on business ideas from industry leaders, elected officials, and scholars like Doug Rauch (former CEO of Trader Joe’s), Rick Braddock (former CEO FreshDirect), Mayor Anthony Williams, Professor Vicki Sato, and Professor Ray Goldberg. Moreover, my peers were dynamic, inspiring, supportive, and constructive.

How can other people help and donate to the NYC food crisis?

Contact 311 or search GetFood NYC to access free food resources across the five boroughs. To volunteer sign-up online at NYCService.org or newyorkcares.org.