06 Feb 2018 | 09.05 am
Aire’s Gas Solution Pinpoints Troublesome Foods
FoodMarble device identifies food intolerance by analysing breath
06 Feb 2018 | 09.05 am
FoodMarble’s medtech device Aire is literally breath-taking. It’s a small, square gadget that can analyse a person’s breath and assess how well they are digesting different types of food. The user blows into the sensor and the breath analysis is sent via Bluetooth to an app that can make suggestions on the person’s tolerance level for whatever the food they’re eating.
The portable device will be launched in early 2018 and FoodMarble has already taken more than 5,000 pre-orders, priced at €130 on the startup’s website. The venture was initially funded by Sean O’Sullivan, who chipped in €22,500 in July 2016. He has followed on twice for a total of €116,000. Another €42,000 was sourced from Hive Design in California and €568,000 from London investor Breed Reply Investments.
It’s not bad for a kitchen table enterprise that kicked off in Dublin in 2014. FoodMarble was founded by Templeogue engineer Aonghus Shortt, a data scientist; mathematician Lisa Ruttledge; electronics engineer Peter Harte; and James Brief, an American gastroenterologist who provided consultancy to FoodMarble before joining full-time.
The idea for FoodMarble’s sensor originated with Shortt (32). “My girlfriend Grace was having difficulty with her digestion and was often in a lot of pain,” Shortt explains. “I wanted to help and I set about researching evidence-based solutions. I came across a specific dietary modification called the low-Fodmap diet, which was performing very well in controlled trials. I also found out that breath analysis could be used to make implementing a diet like this easier and more successful in the long term.”
When a person eats something that is not absorbed by the body, certain biomarkers are generated in the gut, which later transfer to your breath via the lungs. Aire can detect these gaseous biomarkers in exhalations, indicating what a person can eat and properly digest.
Devices such as Aire need intellectual property protection to be profitable and Shortt says the company is working through the patenting process. “It’s time-consuming and expensive,” he adds. Aire is assembled in a facility in China, with the components sourced from several other countries.
Aire’s portability is a big selling point, since users would otherwise have to visit a hospital for breath analysis. Shortt says that it will be sold exclusively through FoodMarble’s website for now. “We are focused on consumers at the moment but we are also exploring how Aire could be used make it easier for doctors and dieticians to help their patients,” he adds.
FoodMarble’s four founders and two other staff constitute the headcount, although the plan is to double this in the coming months. Raising venture capital was a challenge, says Shortt, notwithstanding FoodMarble’s success in doing just that.
“We were well received from an early stage so we didn’t have to spend much time travelling around pitching people,” he explains. “But even after finding your lead investor, the process takes a long time to close. If you strike a bad deal, or partner with the wrong people, the business consequences could be fatal.”
Shortt adds that venture capital only tends to be relevant for ‘grow fast/fail fast’ startups. “Even if your business could potentially grow quickly, you may be better off devoting your time to iterating your product until you solve a problem for a hopefully large group of users. Once you achieve that, raising money should be a lot easier and may not even be necessary. Of course, for some products bootstrapping like this is not practical.”
Photo: Aonghus Shortt invented Aire to assist Grace Whittle