Welcome to one of the last posts of Celiac Disease Awareness Month. If you didn’t know, we’re extending this month into June to continue the celebration (because you know that you don’t have celiac just one month out of the year!).
Today is brought to you by Nima Sensor. Nima Sensor might be the answer for anxious gluten-free diners just like me.
CATB: Can you give me a quick background on why you wanted the Nima sensor? What drove you to the drawing board to start?
Shireen: After feeling miserable for a long time, I found out in college that I was allergic to gluten (wheat), dairy, egg and soy, and I had to completely rethink the way I ate. Even after I removed these foods from my diet, I still felt perpetually subpar. I was getting sick from social situations where I wasn’t in control of the food being served. I usually brought my own snack pack when traveling or in social settings because of this. At a friend’s wedding, I happened to forget my snack pack this time and asked the waitress if the risotto balls being pass around were gluten-free. She replied, “How allergic are you?” I was really sick of that question (also really hangry) and thought, what if I could just test a piece of the appetizer to know on the spot if it was gluten-free, not needing to rely solely on the waitstaff? That’s where the idea for Nima first began. After that, I met my co-founder, Scott Sundvor, through mutual friends, and we bonded over our shared intestinal distress. We decided to build upon the idea at MIT and eventually moved to San Francisco to found the company in 2013.
CATB: If you weren’t gluten-free yourself, do you think this would even come on your radar in the tech world?
Shireen: What personally motivated me to start the company was my personal pain point in constantly getting exposed to foods I was actively trying to avoid, including gluten. Had I personally not has food issues, I don’t think it would have been obvious to start with a gluten sensor, but I definitely would have done something with food. Food is religion in my family, and I’ve always been interested in how it’s made.
CATB: I pre-ordered the Nima sensor with my own hard-earned gluten-free dollars. Do you know when I can expect my sensor to arrive?
Shireen: First of all, thank you for pre-ordering and for your early support! We are so appreciative of all the people who wanted to support us early – we can’t do it without you. Right now, we are anticipating a ship date of fall 2016. If you’ve pre-ordered, you should be getting on-going email updates on the progress of beta testing, manufacturing and eventually, our exact ship date.
CATB: There’s been some negative reaction to the price of the sensor. Can you set the record straight that you’re not price gouging the consumer – that the sensor and test equipment is really that pricey?
Shireen: Nima is personal for us. Both Scott and myself have food allergies/intolerances – as do many of our other team members and their loved ones – and we understand how hard it is to live a healthy yet social life. We want to solve this visceral need for food transparency. That said, we understand that Nima might not be in everyone’s price range just yet. As with any new technology, we are making something that’s never been done before – a unique blend of chemistry and engineering made for portability that doesn’t sacrifice sensitivity – which has higher costs. As we grow and scale the company, our goal is to get the price of both the sensor and the disposable capsule down to make it more accessible for everyone who needs it.
CATB: What about the other products on the market – like the test strips for gluten – how are you different and what makes Nima a better purchase?
Shireen: With Nima, you get portability, speed and ease of use. Other test kits on the market are clunky and difficult to use on the go – pipettes, mortar and pestle, chemistry solutions. They aren’t something you want to bust out at the dinner table. Our test is also faster – about two or three minutes for a result – versus as much as 15 or 20 minutes for traditional test kits. On a per test basis, Nima is cheaper as well.
CATB: I know you’ve been out in the field doing a lot of testing with the Nima sensor. What things surprised you the most in the field that contained gluten?
Shireen: We’ll start with the good news first – about 95 percent of packaged foods that are labeled gluten-free truly are. That’s very encouraging to see! The bad news is, we’re still finding that about 20 percent of restaurant items that are labeled as gluten-free actually contain gluten. The most frequently tested food items by our beta testers are French fries, chicken caesar salad (grill marks on chicken) and sauces/soups/dressings.
I was also surprised by how receptive restaurants have been to Nima. I just had no idea what to expect and in almost every case where the dish came up positive for gluten when it was communicated that it was gluten-free, the staff has been responsive and respectful, and very accommodating to see if there was anything else I would feel comfortable eating.
CATB: In 7 words or less, can you tell someone why they should purchase the Nima sensor?
Shireen: Peace of mind at meal time
CATB: Side note, I had no idea that Shireen could answer that question so well! I love it!
CATB: Speaking of being in the field, I know you’ve been doing a lot of press events with gluten-free bloggers – have the reviews been mostly positive so far?
Shireen: We’ve been very encouraged by blogger feedback at our in-person events! Most of the time, people don’t believe it until they see it. We’re creating a whole new product category, and the most popular question we still get is, “is it real?” Being able to show Nima in action and answer any questions has not only been valuable to bloggers to help educate their own community, but also to our own team to understand how and why folks want to use the device. Ultimately, we’re creating this product for you, so we want it to be as helpful as possible.
CATB: I’ve heard rumblings of other possible allergens being able to be tested in the future with Nima, is this true? What allergies? Will it be a totally different device?
Shireen: You heard correctly! We recently announced our Series A round of funding, which will help fuel the development and release for Nima for peanut and milk. That iteration will be able to test for gluten, milk and peanut in the same sensor, but using a different capsule for each protein.
CATB: Besides different allergies, what’s next for Nima?
Shireen: We envision a world where everyone knows what’s in their food. Beyond tackling the top eight allergens, we want to expand into other substances that people are concerned about, like preservatives, additives or even food-borne illnesses. People write in and tell us the items they want to test for in food – the list is up to 115 different things to date. We would love to have a test for each of those.
Incredible, right? PRE-ORDER THE NIMA SENSOR NOW HERE AT https://nimasensor.com/ – and use code “CDAM” to save $10 off your purchase – but hurry this code is only good for the next month!