Researchers estimate that 32M Americans have some form of food allergy and within this segment, approximately 17.5% are under the age of 18. With the number of people with allergies on the rise, there has been a surge of interest to understand the science of food allergy prevention and early detection. One of the best ways to prevent food allergies from developing is to introduce allergens to your child as early as 4 months. Ready, Set, Food! is the early allergen introduction system that is non-GMO and organic and parents can easily mix the company’s product with a bottle of breastmilk or formula. This bottle introduction system is patent pending and supported by three clinical trials, multiple national guidelines, and already recommended by 300+ pediatricians and allergists. Its estimated that early introduction to allergens can prevent 80% of food allergies in children.
LA TechWatch spoke to CEO and cofounder Daniel Zakowski about how watching his nephew develop multiple allergies inspired him to create the only product that enables parents to introduce allergenic foods through a baby’s bottle, the company’s future plans, and recent round of funding.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Key investors from our $2.2M pre-seed round include Amplify.LA and PLG Ventures, as well as local angels like Adam Miller from Cornerstone OnDemand, David Rogier from MasterClass, Wavemaker360, Pasadena Angels, and John Burry, formerly from Tesco.
Tell us about the product or service Ready, Set, Food! offers.
Ready, Set, Food! makes it easy to prevent 80% of food allergies in children.
Ready, Set, Food! is the only early allergen introduction system that: is evidence-based, organic and non-GMO and doesn’t contain added sugar or any additives, and easily mixes with a bottle of breastmilk and/or formula. Our innovative and unique bottle introduction allows parents to effectively follow the new guidelines on food allergy prevention. By introducing allergens in a bottle, all parents can start as early as 4 months (whereas most 4 month-olds are not developmentally ready for solid food introduction) and more consistently achieve the dosage schedule outlined by the landmark studies (especially for those infants that happen to be picky eaters!)
Our product is not only supported by three clinical trials and multiple national guidelines, but it is also already by 300+ pediatricians and allergists. Although food allergies are on the rise, Ready, Set, Food!’s goal is to help reverse that trend and give families everywhere a head-start towards an allergy-free future.
We initially conceived of the idea in the aftermath of my nephew developing multiple different food allergies. His father is a doctor and had read about the multiple clinical trials that had shown food allergies could be prevented through early and sustained feeding of food allergens. The clinical trials started early allergen introduction as early as 4 months of age, but since my nephew was not a reliable eater, they delayed introduction and by the time they introduced peanut he’d already developed food allergies.
It seemed crazy to us that the science was so clear about how to prevent 80% of food allergies, but the process depended on infants eating a consistent amount of multiple different food allergens. From feeding our children, we knew that the only reliable way to get a baby to eat anything was to put it in a bottle, so we made a guided system to make it easy for parents to follow the process from the studies by dissolving those foods in a bottle of breastmilk or formula. At first, it was just my brother-in-law, Dr. Andy Leitner, and I working on Ready,Set,Food!, eventually we recruited our Chief Allergist Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan to help with product design and outreach to the allergy and pediatric communities. Our goal is to make it easy for all families to follow the process from the clinical trials and to give their babies the best chance at an allergy-free life.
How is Ready, Set, Food! different?
We’re the only early allergen introduction system that you can use starting at 4 months of age, in line with new medical guidelines from the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), NIH and FDA, and we’re also the only early allergen introduction system that follows the proper dosing from the clinical trials. By making early allergen introduction easy and effective, we are able to give all babies the best chance at a food allergy-free life.
What market are you targeting and how big is it?
New medical guidelines from the AAP and NIH in the US, and similar guidelines in the UK, Canada, and Australia, recommend feeding allergenic foods starting at 4-6 months of age for all babies in order to prevent 80% of childhood food allergies. The problem is that most parents aren’t able to follow the new guidelines because it’s too difficult, so most parents don’t properly protect their babies. If all babies in the US used our product, there would be ~200k fewer cases of food allergies every year.
Who do you consider your main competitors to be?
SpoonfulOne, Inspired Start, and Hello Peanut are the primary competitors. The most important difference is that we’re the only product that allows parents to introduce allergenic foods through a baby’s bottle, which is inherently the best, easiest, and most effective approach to early allergen introduction, and we’re also the only company that follows the dosing from the clinical trials.
That being said, given that they are both startups, it’s clear that our biggest competitor is parents not properly introducing allergens and their babies getting food allergies.
What’s your business model?
Direct to consumers at ReadySetFood.com, Retail (e.g. Amazon), Corporate Wellness Benefit (e.g. Snap, Cedars, etc)
What was the funding process like?
We initially funded our company with $50K of our own money, to allow us to develop the product and our team to the point where we could raise money from serious Angel investors, Family Funds, or pre-seed VCs. We then raised $2M over the next 18 months to complete the funding we need for this initial phase of our business.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
We initially struggled with a lack of awareness and/or education on the latest research supporting early allergen introduction and our product and we’ve overcome that with creating extensive educational resources on our site, building successful content partnerships with influencers and partnering with leading medical experts. We also experienced challenges with generating sales through our medical sampling channel targeting pediatrician offices (despite strong support from the medical community with 300+ pediatricians recommending our product). Based on those results, we renewed our focus on consumer marketing and significantly reduced additional investment in our medical sampling channel.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Our investors were excited by the combination of the potential to create a very profitable business and also make an enormous societal impact by helping to prevent hundreds of thousands of infants from developing food allergies every year. Since the science of food allergy prevention is so new, no company had yet created the right product to make it easy for parents to follow the new medical guidelines. Our patent-pending approach of introducing multiple allergens through a bottle offered to investors both an exciting business opportunity as well as an exciting way to save a lot of babies.
Since the science of food allergy prevention is so new, no company had yet created the right product to make it easy for parents to follow the new medical guidelines. Our patent-pending approach of introducing multiple allergens through a bottle offered to investors both an exciting business opportunity as well as an exciting way to save a lot of babies.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
In addition to continuing our mission of giving all babies the gift of food freedom, we’re expanding our new corporate wellness program, which allows family-minded companies like Snapchat to provide Ready, Set, Food! to its new parents as an employee benefit. In addition, we’re in talks with Blue Shield for an upcoming pilot program for insurance reimbursement.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh
injection of capital in the bank?
The best advice for companies of all sizes is to find ways to increase your runway, because there will be many opportunities that will arise if you’re able to last long enough to find them. All businesses fail for the same reason in the end, running out of money, so save money and give yourself as much time as possible to find success.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
In the next year we’d like to help 10,000 babies get the best chance at a life free of severe food allergies, and also launch a pilot for insurance reimbursement to prove that health insurance companies will save money by investing in food allergy prevention.
What is your favorite restaurant in LA?
I think the best combination of quality and money has got to be Kazunori, where I can get a world-class sushi dinner for $20…it’s amazing!