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People are thinking more and more about what they’re consuming, and which foods make them feel their best. But finding the right diet for your body can take a long time, between scheduling doctor’s appointments, taking tests and running elimination diets to identify your trigger foods. Hydrogen breath test technology is the best way to do it, but it’s never been very accessible – until now.
FoodMarble have taken the technology used by all the best hospitals around the world to assess digestive health, and fit it into a powerful yet pocket-sized device. Users can track their trigger foods, and monitor their gut health in real time, all from their phone.
We sat down with founder Aonghus Shortt to find out more about what’s to come for the up-and-coming healthtech.
What is FoodMarble’s vision?
We’re aiming to be the global leader in technology-enabled tools in digestive health. We want a world where people have access to the information that can inform them how to personalise what they eat, so that they can live their best lives, symptom-free.
What were you doing previously and why did you decide to start this business?
I studied mechanical engineering, followed by a Ph.D in electrical engineering in university.
Before starting FoodMarble, I was working for a company called ElectroRoute as a data scientist.
But an interest in engineering and tech aside, the decision to start FoodMarble was really personal. After many invasive medical tests my fiancée Grace, was diagnosed with IBS. She was prescribed medication after medication, but nothing seemed to be working. She had been placed on a series of medications but wasn’t getting better.
I did some research, and discovered how breath analysis could be used to identify food triggers for digestive symptoms. The engineer in me knew I could build one of these devices myself. I literally started prototyping on my kitchen table and used early iterations of the device with Grace, to find what foods she could digest.
I could see this was a problem that affected hundreds of millions of people who were falling through the cracks in our healthcare system. So I thought, let’s make this happen.
What was the first hurdle you had to overcome?
I needed a team! The first big step was pulling together a few highly qualified people. We applied and were then accepted into the prestigious HAX hardware accelerator in Shenzhen, China, the “Home of Hardware”.
From there, we were able to rapidly transform our prototype into a consumer-ready device. When we launched pre-orders, with backers pre-paying a combined total of over $1 millio, we had the funding to manufacture the device and the knowledge to bring the concept to market. We successfully delivered to pre-order backers over 2018 and launched for sale in December 2018.
How did you go about choosing your core team?
For me it was about identifying people I would enjoy working with, which is so important. But I also needed people I could trust to get the job done. I started with people that I had worked with previously who I knew had the skills and the ambition to carry this mission through.
What will be the greatest challenge going forward?
The challenge we set ourselves was quite formidable. Building any device, especially a device that interacts with the human body is tough. On top of that we needed to build the software systems and truly understand the dynamics of the physiology, which is not something that was available to us through just academic literature. We faced a lot of challenges along the way, but in overcoming these, we’ve landed in a great position for the future.
What do you believe is the biggest untapped opportunity in this industry right now?
The fundamental problem, whether for consumers or from the patient or clinician context, is how to identify the specific problem they have and provide the right process so that they can overcome it. Right now healthcare doesn’t nearly offer that for everyone and what’s on offer in the consumer realm is mostly noise. This is the core challenge we are working to meet every day.
What are you most looking forward to in the immediate future for the business?
The whole team gets a kick out of the success stories and the positive feedback you get. Food is such a fundamental part of life that if it’s leading to issues, it can really profoundly damage your social and work life and leave you rather miserable! It’s very fulfilling to help turn that around for people.
What’s the best digestive health tip you’d give to anyone?
Everyone is completely unique in terms of their digestion. This is mostly driven by the makeup of your gut microbiome (the mix of bacteria and other simple life forms in your gut). You need to find out what you can digest effectively or not. Give FoodMarble a try.
What’s the key to getting a new business venture off the ground?
A successful startup capitalises on an opportunity that others don’t see. People are always skeptical of something that’s never been done before, so you need the discipline and perseverance to hit enough milestones that you can prove to them how valuable the idea is.
When you’re not running FoodMarble, what are you doing?
That doesn’t happen very often!
To find out more about FoodMarble, check out the pitch.