From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.
Today we have a chance to speak with half of a food maker duo who made a device (and then a business) in acknowledgment to a personal problem. Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor have long struggled with various food allergies and sensitivities and were tired of always wondering if food was safe to eat. After meeting at MIT in 2013, the two decided to build a device to bring some clarity while eating. They collected 3,000 data points using online surveys from gluten-sensitive consumers to evaluate the sustainability of a business model of providing food testing devices directly to consumers. The results were positive, and the two now ship Nima Sensor all over the globe.
Shireen, can you tell us more about your story?
Before Nima, I was in sales at Google for 5 year – it was my first job after college. After that, I went to business school at MIT and that’s where I met Scott, my cofounder. That is why I love going to school: you can meet a lot of new people!
One day, I was at a wedding and suddenly I got the idea for making a portable gluten sensor. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked at the current technology and I realized it was pretty simple. Somehow, every time I talked about it I just got more and more into it. I started doing research at the market. I did a survey and spoke with people that have gluten sensibility to see what their needs were. I did research for around 6 months. After that, I started to design a prototype, taking looks, comfort, and ease of use into consideration. Next, I started building the team to make it happen. After that came training. We became a great family.
So, what is Nima?
Nima is a connected food sensor that tests food on certain ingredients on the go. It helps make you more aware when making decisions in regards to food. It’s like the pregnancy test for food! We want users needs and wants to be met. It is sometimes hard to do, but it is crucial!
What are the important steps you are going though while scaling up?
There are three crucial steps I believe. First, design the device for large scale production, because the prototype does not always match with the big boy requirements. Second, make a competent team. Lastly, the acquire customers. Easy? No! Exciting? Yes!
Shireen, how could other makers use part of your creation?
Everyone can download the app and, not only that, it also allows us to see whatever people are testing. Every time anyone tests something, it will also goes to the Nima community. In a way, it’s also sharing knowledge to other people within the community. We are aiming to involve the community more and more, because we believe it is fundamental when making something useful!
Wrapping up, can you share your 3 main learnings out of this journey?
One is importance of repeating yourself – articulate what you are doing and why. It is fundamental to make sure that your vision is heard.
Secondly, volatility of experiencing – have a great team to lean on when going through volatile moments.
Lastly, there is no better feeling than when you’re building something that is working well. You’ll feel pretty useful because of it.