One of my favorite topics for the entrepreneurs we bring on at Emerj is “opportunity.”
The nature of a startup is to think big, and the nature of a startup founder is to be thinking about those “10x” possibilities and avenues to get their business to the next level. That’s why it’s fun to get startup founders – immersed in their specific industry, researcher, and business – to fire off ideas about where they see the loopholes for other excited startups to come in and make waves.
Ben Teeling founded Allogen in 2011 with co-founder Derek Greydon, with the purpose of creating a more effective way for manufacturers and processors of food products to test for allergens and get products to the public. “Typically, it might take a food manufacturer about 10 days to get results back from a lab… and we’re looking to give the manufacturer the ability to do it within minutes, rather than days. We’re using next generation sensors in order to really check the quality of products in-house.” The opportunity here is vast, and with thousands and thousands of food manufacturers having to ship products off and wait over a week for important allergen information, Ben stands to be a conduit to quickness.
The problem is, the process of developing the product is not simple, and requires lots and lots of testing. You can’t exactly put an MVP out there and put people’s health at risk… that usually doesn’t bode so well. Someone on a new social platform can put up with bugs. Someone allergic to peanuts can NOT put up with peanuts, so Ben’s process of getting to market will have it’s hurdles, but he’s excited to be on trajectory to do some serious good, and fill a serious market need.
Ben’s small startup has received a good amount of recognition in Ireland. “In November 2012 Allogen Biotech was given a Highly Commended Award from Intertrade Ireland. In June 2013 Allogen Biotech was awarded the Food & Drink Entrepreneurial Startup of the Year, Product Startup of the Year, Startup Business Plan of the Year and the Grand Prix winner of the Startup Awards 2013 (refer to Allogen’s “about” page for other info). Being immersed in this world and getting to speak with plenty of other smart founders in this space, I asked Ben where he sees much of the opportunity in the domain of food for startup companies.
“In terms of petri-dish burgers and 3-d printing food… it seems difficult for a startup to be the innovators in spaces where the cutting-edge involves lots of expensive equipment,” Ben says. “Where I see a lot of potential for startups is in home-grown foods, and less in the processed food area.”
Ben sees the trend of home-grown crops and organic produce as something that won’t be slowing down anytime soon. We talked about the “local” movement, and the popularity of farmer’s markets, and Ben sees this as part of a bigger trend of bypassing the middle-men (grocery stores) and bringing product strait to consumers. “People like the idea of talking to the person who actually made it… they want to see the person who made their food.”
In terms of allergens, Ben sees a significant percentage of the population who doesn’t have any kind of gluten intolerance, but has made the lifestyle choice to consume less – or no – gluten. “We’re seeing and increase of restaurants offering gluten-free meals that are being eaten by people that don’t necessarily have any intolerance.” People avoid some allergens because they believe they will be healthier, because they seem to feel better when they do – or for a variety of other reasons that weren’t nearly as popular even just 5 years ago.
Ben believes that restaurants are likely to get more and more precise with measuring what is in all of their food – and they’ll need equipment to help them do that effectively. With genomics being taken more seriously, with the potential for handheld devices guiding food decisions, and with more and more people being selectively “picky” (for health reasons or simply for personal preference), Ben believes that the first restaurants to offer super-depth to the information that they can provide their customers (IE: “The soup of the day contains X milligrams of gluten / lactose… will that be acceptable for you today or should we look at some other options”?).
Image credits: Foodmoney.org