This Entrepreneur Developed Tech to Help People Battle IBS
Aonghus Shortt, CEO and co-founder of FoodMarble, explains his company's mission to help people overcome common yet challenging digestive problems.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what's your business?
I'm Aonghus Shortt, CEO and co-founder of FoodMarble. We're on a mission to use technology to help people overcome common yet challenging digestive problems, like IBS and SIBO.
What inspired you to create this business? What was your "aha moment"?
When I first met my wife, Grace, in 2012, she was having a really hard time with her digestion. She went to a number of specialists and eventually got diagnosed with IBS. However, there wasn't really much they were able to offer her since the medications they had suggested made her feel worse. I knew this was a really common condition so I couldn't understand how there was so little that could be done for her.
I took a deep dive into the academic literature and discovered that breath testing was being used to assess how food was being digested. Problem is, the technology was only available in hospitals and in the form of cumbersome and limited benchtop equipment. I had recently finished a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and knew with the latest sensors that were just becoming available, you could build a portable device that you could combine with an app to guide you through the process.
So, I built a prototype for Grace. She was able to use it to identify foods that were triggering her symptoms. She was also able to figure out whether or not the foods she thought were causing problems actually were or if, rather, she was digesting them quite well. It gave her the confidence to make changes in her diet and she has since improved a lot. This was my inspiration to develop FoodMarble, a device and connected app for people with digestive problems. An estimated 40% of the population will be affected by one or more functional GI disorders in their lifetime, according to the Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you pivot to overcome it?
After the initial month of COVID-mania, when we were all freaking out, we started to see a ton of interest from the consumer side since everyone was stuck at home. Additionally, since clinicians could no longer do breath testing (it was considered an "aerosol-generating" procedure) we were about to enable telemedicine-based breath testing from the home to connect clinicians with their patients.
This led us to launch a clinical offering in the US, which has been very well received. We've also just launched our 2nd generation device for preorder (AIRE 2) which brings at-home breath testing to a new level. It's especially exciting for clinicians since it enables testing for both hydrogen and methane from an at-home device for the first time ever.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Find the right investors for your stage and type of business and speak to them early. You need to build out that relationship from your business's infancy, well before you actually need funding.
I believe in writing out your ideal script and rehearsing over and over until you can perform your pitch with such comfort that true emotional connection and engagement are possible. Once that happens, you'll likely find that what you say is not necessarily that close to your original script.
What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?
Someone who is willing to step away from the humdrum of an easy life and build something unique and meaningful.
What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don't?
I believe too many businesses think that they need to raise a VC round to get started, but there really is a lot that can be done before you have to try and climb that particular mountain. The more you can focus on your prospective customers and what excites them, the better.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
"Today I will do what others WON'T, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others CAN'T." — Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers
Building something truly unique and impactful is incredibly hard; there's a lot of personal slog and graft that nobody will ever notice. Most people are not willing to do that, but that actually motivates me more.
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