Peanut, egg, and milk allergies are one of the most common food allergies in the U.S and often develop during childhood. They are rarely outgrown. In the past five years, a randomized study conducted by Leap discovered that early exposure (within the first 11 months) to peanuts resulted in an 81% reduction of peanut allergy in infants, thus early exposure to common food allergens greatly reduces the risk of developing a severe food allergy. Ready, Set, Food! is the organic, powdered supplement that gradually introduces babies (4-11 months) to the most prevalent food allergens – peanut, egg, and milk. Ready, Set, Food! easily dissolves into breast milk, formula, or baby food, and its guided system makes it easy for parents to feed these foods to their babies constantly (2-7 times a week for several months).
LA TechWatch caught up with CEO and Founder Daniel Zakowski to learn more about how the company makes a profound impact through the early exposure to allergens, how the company is working with underserved communities, and the latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $5.6M.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $3M in a second funding round led by Danone Manifesto Ventures, the corporate venture arm of multinational food company Danone, investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, AF Ventures (formerly AccelFoods), and other investors.
Ready, Set, Food! is a daily supplement that gently introduces your baby to peanut, egg, and milk, the three most common childhood food allergens. Studies have shown that this approach helps prevent up to 80%, and our system makes it very easy for all parents. Simply add a packet of Ready, Set, Food! to your baby’s breast milk, formula, or food starting between 4-11 months of age, and continue for 6 months or until your baby is eating these foods regularly in their diet.
What inspired the start of Ready, Set, Food!?
My brother-in-law, Dr. Andy Leitner, and I came up with this idea after his son Abe developed multiple life-threatening food allergies, like peanut, egg, and dairy. We were on a family vacation in Lake Arrowhead, and he was telling me about how there were recently clinical trials showing that up to 80% of food allergies can be prevented, but that the process was hard. As both a serial entrepreneur and an uncle of a toddler with food allergies, I saw an amazing opportunity to build a great company and help save a lot of babies from the food allergies that affect my nephew.
How is Ready, Set, Food! different?
You can introduce allergenic foods to your baby on your own using any method, though it’s important to note that in order for early allergen introduction to be effective, these foods must be fed frequently (2-7 times a week for several months).
Parents often have trouble constantly feeding these foods to their babies – in fact, over 50% of parents in the clinical trials quit early and did not see any benefit. Ready, Set, Food! takes the guesswork out of preventing food allergies.
What market are you targeting and how big is it?
Our product is designed and safe for any infant 4-11 month of age, no matter their risk factors and/or family history so we are primarily targeting those families, with 4M new babies born last year. In addition, we are launching oral food challenge kits in Q3 of this year. Food allergy testing is an area that many families struggle with because of a variety of challenges, so with this new product, we are looking to work directly with our existing community of allergists in addition to expanding those partnerships.
What’s your business model?
Direct to consumers at ReadySetFood.com, Retail (e.g. Amazon), Corporate Wellness Benefit (e.g. Snap, Cedars, etc)
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
Fortunately, we have seen our business continue to grow steadily despite the economic downturn associated with COVID-19. Especially when our health matters most, introducing allergens early and often is an important way of supporting your child’s immune system. In addition, our all-natural system is conveniently delivered right to your door, giving parents peace of mind when they need it most.
We’ve also recently launched our giving program in partnership with Mark Cuban: for every subscription sold, one is donated to a family in need. Qualifying families include families who have lost their income due to COVID-19.
Ready, Set, Food! was founded to provide the peace of mind all parents need during the introduction of solid food to their babies, so we are committed to launching this donation program in partnership with Mark Cuban in order to make our product accessible to those in need – especially in these uncertain times.
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. In 2019, we raised a $2M pre-seed round. In this recent funding round, our company’s valuation went up 2x. We are thrilled to be partnering with Danone Manifesto Ventures and Mark Cuban to bring critically needed attention to food allergies. Danone is one of the world’s top infant nutrition companies, and we look forward to leveraging our strong relationship with the Danone Manifesto Ventures team and Mark Cuban to further our work towards helping to prevent babies from developing most severe food allergies.
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, but we’ve been able to overcome that by creating extensive educational resources on our site, building successful content partnerships with influencers, and partnering with leading medical experts. Our latest breakthrough in raising awareness for food allergy prevention is the newly released 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans Report, which outlines that “Introducing peanut and egg in an age-appropriate form, in the first year of life (after age 4 months) may reduce the risk of food allergy to these foods.” Dr. Jonathan Spergel, our Lead Medical Advisor and Chief of Allergy at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote a letter with 14 other allergy experts to the Dietary Guidelines Committee to spearhead these new recommendations, and we’re excited to say that effort led to these new, significant guidelines for food allergy prevention that have the ability to transform the lives and health of millions of Americans.
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.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Our goals for Ready, Set, Food! are to make sure that every baby has the best chance at avoiding severe food allergies. That means we need to expand our giving program so that underserved communities can also get access to food allergy prevention, and also expand internal distribution so we can also help parents around the world prevent food allergies for their baby.
We need to expand our giving program so that underserved communities can also get access to food allergy prevention, and also expand internal distribution so we can also help parents around the world prevent food allergies for their baby.
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 near term, we’re excited to leverage our new partnership and investment from Danone Manifesto Ventures. Danone is one of the world’s top infant nutrition companies, and we look forward to a strong relationship with the Danone Manifesto Ventures team to further our work towards helping to prevent babies from developing most severe food allergies.
What is your favorite restaurant in LA?
Poquito Mas is my family’s favorite restaurant, we live down the block from and their fresh tortillas are amazing!
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