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A Conversation with Yale Graduate and Allergy Amulet CEO, Abi Barnes

First, congratulations on recently closing a $1.1M Series Seed round. Where will this capital take Allergy Amulet?
Thank you! This round of funding will help us finalize our latest prototypes and take us through beta testing. We plan to test our product with five different focus groups and will begin signing up beta users in the spring of 2017.

What is the Allergy Amulet?
The Allergy Amulet is a rapid, portable, point-of-consumption food allergen detection device that connects to a patent-pending disposable test strip. The device enables simple, mobile measurements to help individuals avoid ingesting target allergens.  

How did you first become interested in developing a portable allergen tester?
The inspiration behind this company came from my personal experiences living with food allergies – I have had food allergies since childhood. When I dine out or eat foods prepared by others, I generally take a small bite to start and wait a minute or so to see how my body responds. I can often tell within that timeframe whether the dish will be safe or not. Waiters often create a false sense of security when they tell you that your food is safe to eat, because despite their best efforts and intentions, they don’t always get it right. I’ve learned this the hard way.

Who will purchase this device? What role will it play in their allergen avoidance practice?
The Allergy Amulet is geared towards anyone currently managing a food allergy or intolerance, or anyone with a dietary restriction. Our first products will detect for peanuts and dairy – future products will detect for other common food allergens and ingredients. The Allergy Amulet can be configured as a wearable (e.g., necklace) or integrated into everyday products (e.g., epinephrine auto-injector). This device will act as a supplement – not a substitute – to the standard precautionary measures allergy sufferers take when eating foods prepared by others. The Allergy Amulet is intended to create greater food transparency and provide users greater assurances that their food is absent of a certain target ingredient. Is it a silver bullet? No. Is it a considerable improvement on the status quo? Absolutely.

When did you realize that the underlying technology was well suited to allergen detection?
I learned of Dr. Joseph BelBruno’s technology while in law school. His advancements in the application of molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) technology appeared to hold promise for allergen detection. The technology is inexpensive, specific, selective, and sensitive – an optimal combination for allergen detection. I set up a meeting with him after learning of his technology and he agreed to help make this product a reality. He also has a severe tree nut allergy.

How have you handled regulatory challenges? How early do they come into your thinking and strategy?
My legal background has made me acutely aware of the regulatory aspects of our product. We sought out the opinions of regulatory experts and attorneys early on to ensure we had a clear understanding of any potential regulatory issues. Based on extensive discussions with our attorneys and several experts, it is our understanding that we are not a medical device and will not require FDA approval.

What early stage resources were important in helping you grow your business and/or get validation?
The connections and resources that accompanied being a MassChallenge Finalist and a Gener8tor company were invaluable. We also benefitted from the mentorship of groups like Top Gun in Maine and The Refinery in Connecticut. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes hundreds of mentors and advisors to launch a successful start-up. Start-ups also require capital, and we secured our first investors through a MassChallenge connection.

Advice for other founders? What skills have you found most important?
I’ve learned that one of the most important skills a founder can have is effective communication. At the end of the day, if you can’t explain your idea to others, you can’t expect others to invest in your product or vision. I’ve also found that the most resilient start-ups tend to have founders that are resourceful, adaptable, and open to wearing different hats.

We look forward to watching Allergy Amulet grow and release their product to the market in the near future. Abi is also a current Forbes 30 under 30 nominee. We wish her luck and hope to see her named to the 2017 class.