“Chuck! I got it! Take LIVE tuna fish, and FEED ’em mayonnaise!” (name the movie)
My brother and I are always talking business ideas. Some are grand. Many are inane. None have come to fruition (yet). One of the grand ideas my brother had was an app on your phone where you could just scan the food and it would tell you if it had any gluten in it or not. Pretty cool, right?
Well, we may not be there yet, but there is a product being developed that could be the next best thing for our community.
A startup company called 6SensorLabs is building a device that will allow people to quickly and easily check their foods for allergens. And the first allergen they are starting with is gluten. Yay us!!
And this is not some fly by night company that is simply trying to profit on the gluten-free trend. These folks are the real deal.
Why are they doing this? I’ll let them explain. The following is taken directly from their website.
Every day, people are becoming more aware and more concerned about what hidden things are in the food they’re eating. Our Founders have long struggled with Celiac Disease and various food allergies, and we’re tired of repeatedly wondering if our food is safe to eat.
Born out of MIT, our founding team decided to build a company to bring clarity and trust back to the dinner table. With our breakthrough technology, we’re creating a brand new product category that will enable anyone to quickly and discreetly detect minute traces of toxins in their food.
Our first product is a portable gluten sensor, allowing you to test your food before you eat it. Anywhere. At any time.
Are you getting just a tad excited yet? Is your pulse quickening? Are you jumping out of your seat? Should I switch to decaf??
As I’m sure you do, I had a number of questions for the founders. I reached out to them and they were gracious enough to grant me an interview. Here’s how it went down.
GD: Tell me how you came up with the idea. When was the “AHA” moment and who had it?
6SL: Shireen was consistently getting sick from unintended gluten exposure when eating out. The idea popped into her mind when she was at a wedding and she asked the waitress if the appetizers were gluten-free. As a response, the waitress asked her how allergic she was to gluten and that’s when she really wanted the control to just sample a little portion of the delicious looking appetizer herself. The idea was born – why not just take a sample and test it yourself if it could be portable and fast enough?
GD: How did you get from Point A (“this is a really cool idea”) to Point B (“holy crap…this is really happening.”)
6SL: We had a tremendous amount of support at MIT (where the idea was flushed out and developed). Shireen was studying at MIT Sloan and took a number of classes focused on market research, surveying hundreds of gluten-free consumers who responded to questions such as, “would you want to test your food, how often do you want to test, how much would you be willing to pay?” The data was shocking: on average, gluten-free consumers said they got sick 1 out of 3 times eating outside of the home. The pain point was more staggering than both founders had anticipated. She was fortunate to meet co-founder Scott at MIT, and they both shared the same passion for helping people live healthier lives. Scott and Shireen were then accepted into the MIT Founder’s Skill Accelerator, a program that provided some capital, support and resources to launch your business over the summer of 2013. After that summer, both decided to forgo job offers to pursue the business and they moved to the West Coast to expand the team.
GD: This comes across as something out of science fiction. How exactly does it detect gluten and how accurate is it?
6SL: It shouldn’t be science fiction at all! It’s a chemistry-based test and accuracy and reliability are two of the top priorities that are guiding our development. There is a tremendous amount of development involved in providing a device that meet market needs. Early results prove levels that at least as accurate as what is available for food testing on the market, and we are optimizing the technology to further improve the accuracy across various foods.
GD: What is the step-by-step process for the person who wants to test their food?
6SL: You take a sample of something on your plate that you want to test and place it in a small, disposable capsule. You then put the capsule in a sensor and in a few minutes you will know if there is gluten in that sample you tested. You can then record your test result through a mobile app to share results of what you are testing with the rest of the community.
GD: You say eventually your device will be able to test for multiple food allergies. What made you start with gluten as the first allergy it will test for?
6SL: Gluten is a large and growing market. We appreciate that there is increased awareness at the restaurant level and food manufacturer level providing products that are “gluten-free” but this has also introduced a level of ambiguity and inconsistency in food preparation. For instance, let’s take the response that the waiter provided at the wedding I attended when I asked if something is gluten-free, and she said, “how allergic are you?.” This waitress has probably seen people ordering gluten-free menus eat bread before their meal. This ambiguity and inconsistency in consumer behavior I think has made it incredibly challenging for people who are adhering to gluten-free diets for health reasons to be confident when eating socially or eating in an unfamiliar eating environment. The growing market and changing market landscape made gluten the most obvious market.
GD: From what I’ve read, the device will cost about $150 and will be paired with a smart phone app that will allow you to store results and share them with others (very cool by the way). Is the $150 for the device the ONLY cost involved or are there additional parts that will need to be purchased in order to test a sample?
6SL: There will be a one-time fee for the sensor and then you will pay for a pack of disposable units that you can subscribe to monthly. You can select and change the monthly volume depending on your needs. We don’t feel comfortable sharing hard pricing data quite yet but know that we are driving to make this product as affordable and accessible as possible.
GD: Can it be tested on liquids or is it just solid food?
6SL: We are developing the product to be as robust as possible, planning to test both solid and liquid foods.
GD: Can I have one? ;)
6SL: When it’s available – yes!
This has huge potential. The question is…would I use it? Would I feel comfortable enough in a restaurant to whip this out and test my food? And if it comes back showing gluten, how would the restaurant react? Having worked many years in the restaurant business, I know many chefs can be quite fickle and I can see a percentage of them not giving two sh*ts what this device tells them. That being said, I am intrigued.
What do you say folks? 6SensorLabs would LOVE your feedback on this, as would I. Do you like it? Hate it? Is it missing something? Would you use it?
Step right up. Don’t be shy.