Food allergies are a common problem for over 15 million people in the U.S. – so common, in fact, that one in three kids suffer from at least one allergy. These can range from uncomfortable symptoms to life threatening reactions. When Shireen Yates was in college, she suffered from a variety of symptoms and illnesses without understanding the cause. She wondered if it was something she was eating and started avoiding certain foods, including ones with gluten. But outside of her own kitchen, she couldn’t control what was in her food or even verify if things marked “gluten-free” were truly free of the allergen.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t I take a small sample of this food and test it for gluten to have the power of data in my own hands to make a more informed decision?’ The idea of Nima was born then.”
Nima’s flagship product is a portable, handheld gluten sensor that allows anyone to place a small piece of food they are about to eat into a chamber and test it for traces of gluten on the spot. The magic of Nima lies in the technology inside the Nima sensor – a chemical reaction that occurs on the spot that determines if gluten is present or not – and its application to other food allergens is what has investors so excited.
“There’s no reason it can’t be used for dairy or peanuts and there’s nothing stopping them from going to pathogens either,” Brian Frank, food tech VC commented. “In other words, if there’s something there that can be detected, it’s possible the Nima form factor could be used to detect it.” Frank isn’t a Nima investor, but he’s hit on the key excitement around the tech that Yates and her team are developing. Though not officially on the market, Nima’s been blogging about their progress with measuring peanut particles in food and their journey to tackle a common and sometimes fatal food allergy.
Nima also wants to create a community of users who can share their gluten detection data, allowing people to benefit from Yelp-style reviews of restaurants and food on the go and giving them the information to determine whether or not they feel good about eating a particular dish. Using the Nima device – or any tool to test food before mealtime – requires a behavior change for consumers. How to use the device and get accurate results and what to do with that info is all part of the ongoing education the Nima team is working on with their users.
“We are unveiling hidden ingredients and delivering this unprecedented data in the palm of your hands. Ultimately, we are bringing peace of mind to mealtime. Nima is like a little sidekick that can take the first bite before you do and give you one additional data point to make a more informed decision about eating,” says Yates.