Babies aren’t born with allergies, and up until only a couple of years ago, did health professionals and others focus-in on setting the proper guidelines and allergen introductions to help reduce a baby’s risk of developing certain food allergies. Daniel Zakowski, the co-founder, and CEO of Ready, Set, Food! (alongside Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, a Board-Certified Allergist at Clear-Allergy.com), has made it his mission since day one to help not only children not form any allergies, but educate everyone and change the government-issued guidelines.
The concept is simple: Ready, Set, Food! is an organic, non-GMO, and all-natural daily dietary supplement that you add to breastmilk, formula, or mix in with food. It is a guided system made from just the right amount of real, whole foods. Each day, one packet of whole food powder is mixed into your baby’s milk/formula/food, and this approach has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of allergies by 67-80%.
Daniel has taken this concept with proven results. He has gained successful seed rounds to high profile Angel Investors such as Mark Cuban (who he landed a deal with on the popular television show Shark Tank), to now just recently landing a huge $3 Million Early Stage VC funding round led by Danone Manifesto Ventures, the corporate venture arm of multinational food company Danone and AF Ventures (formerly AccelFoods).
The company has made its mark so much that even COVID-19 headliner Dr. Anthony Fauci has lent his support in research, and the company has even partnered with healthcare systems like Advocate Aurora, who are using Daniel’s educational material throughout their system with tens of thousands of babies per year. Oh, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans just changed their actual guidelines to reflect on everything Daniel and his company have been preaching since day one!
1. Hey Daniel, how did you get the idea to start and create Ready, Set, Food!?
Dr. Andy Leitner, Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, and I got the idea for Ready, Set, Food! after Dr. Leitner’s son developed multiple different life-threatening food allergies. There had been three recent clinical trials that showed parents could help prevent up to 80% of those food allergies, and there were new medical guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that process. Still, most parents struggled with how to follow the guidelines for food allergy prevention. Based on our experiences with our own kids, we knew how hard it was to feed that much food regularly to babies, and in the clinical trials, more than half the parents dropped out because they found the process too difficult.
We knew that the only easy way to feed babies all of those allergenic foods would be through a bottle, so we worked with nationally recognized allergy experts like Dr. Jonathan Spergel, head of allergy at CHOP, to create a product that would deliver the same process used in the clinical trials, but through a baby’s bottle. By basing our product directly on the clinical trials, we know it’s effective, and because it’s able to be fed through a bottle, we know that Ready, Set, Food! gives parents the easiest possible way to help prevent food allergies
2. How have you seen your products disrupting the health/food industry since the start?
Since our company formed in 2017, we have made incredible progress on our mission to give children the gift of food freedom. In only our first few years, we’ve helped save over 1,000 babies from a potential life-threatening food allergy, secured the support of over 500 pediatricians who recommend Ready, Set, Food! And given 12,000 families the chance at an allergy-free future. In addition, our appearance on Shark Tank to secure an investment with Mark Cuban has been an incredible highlight of our success, and we’re thrilled to have Mark’s support to shine a spotlight on our vital mission to save thousands of babies a year from severe food allergies.
Recently, one of our lead medical advisors Dr. Jonathan Spergel (Chief of Allergy at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) has been instrumental in helping to shape the new USDA Guidelines for 2020-2025 and how infant food allergy prevention plays a critical role in helping to turn back the epidemic of food allergies. We’re proud to have been a part of this movement, especially since the new guidelines have the potential to transform the lives of thousands of children and make a significant impact on the future of public health in our country.
3. Why now more than ever should parents be using your products with their newborns?
1 in 12 children suffers from a food allergy today with rates of peanut allergy tripling in recent decades. In addition, food allergies are serious, as accidental exposure can have life-threatening consequences. Now more than ever, parents need the tools to avoid a food allergy because that can mean a significant improvement to their child’s quality of life and health. Ready, Set, Food! It is truly the safest and gentlest way parents can introduce the most common allergy-causing foods (peanut, egg, and milk). That’s one of the many reasons why we’ve received such incredible support from the medical community and parents too.
4. With the new guidelines being announced in regards to allergies, what suggestions do you have for parents based on them?
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a vital resource for millions of Americans, and it’s incredibly exciting that there are new guidelines designed for infants and children 0-24 months of age. We know this is a critical window for early development and long-term health, including food allergy prevention. There are two critical takeaways for parents from the recent report published:
- “Introducing peanut and egg…(after age 4 months) may reduce the risk of food allergy.”
- Early introduction for every baby at 4+ months: Based on the landmark clinical trials and similar guidelines from medical organizations, the guidelines recommend allergen introduction starting at 4 months of age to help prevent food allergies.
- “Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars during the first 2 years of life”.
- No added sugar under age 2: Based on these recommendations, parents should eliminate foods or products with added sugar because of the strong relationship to childhood obesity and other chronic health conditions.
Ready, Set, Food! Is the only early allergen introduction that aligns with the new USDA guidelines with our evidence-based, all-natural solution to preventing up to 80% of food allergies that is not only 100% organic but free from artificial additives and added sugar. We’re excited that Ready, Set, Food! Aligns with the AAP, NIAID, and now USDA guidelines on food allergy prevention, but it’s our commitment to our families and our mission that drives our high standards and transparency. We created Ready, Set, Food! for our children, and that’s why we always have and always will take the formulation and quality of our product so seriously.
5. What are the key factors entrepreneurs should evaluate when starting and running their own companies?
I believe every start-up needs to continually work to understand what their consumer wants and tailor their brand and product to those insights. We’ve been able to balance the research and science behind our product but also make sure that our system fits the needs of every family and every baby.
From an operational perspective, I also think it’s always important for start-ups to increase their runway because there will be many opportunities that will arise if you’re able to last long enough to find them. All businesses fail for the same reason, in the end, running out of money, so save money and give yourself as much time as possible to find success.
6. What is the best advice you have ever been given?
“Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.” -Bill Gates
Because there is currently no cure for food allergies, prevention is our best defense. This is why I’m so passionate about Ready, Set, Food!: we focus on prevention of food allergies to give families the best head-start for an allergy-free future.
7. How did your appearance and investment from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank help bring your company to that next level? Any suggestions for people trying to get on the show?
Being on Shark Tank and Mark Cuban’s decision to invest in Ready, Set, Food! was such a validating moment for our company and an incredible opportunity to advance our mission of saving 200,000 babies per year from developing food allergies. As a parent of a child with a severe peanut allergy, Mark understands firsthand the impact that food allergies have on families. Because of that, he has had an unwavering commitment to our mission, which, along with his indispensable expertise and connections, has been key to the incredible success our company has achieved this year.
Our journey to Shark Tank was a whirlwind experience, from auditioning for Shark Tank in September to airing on Season 11 and making a deal with Mark Cuban after months of preparation. My only suggestion for future Shark Tank entrepreneurs is: to have patience in the process and spend as much time as you can so that you feel 200% prepared going into the pitch. We were incredibly fortunate that 4 out of the 5 sharks loved our pitch, but I truly believe that was because we had thorough and thoughtful answers to all of their questions.
8. What does the rest of 2020 look like for Ready, Set, Food! And yourself?
In the coming months, we’d like to help 20,000 babies get the best chance at a life free from severe food allergies, and we’re excited to leverage our new partnership and investment from Danone Manifesto Ventures. Danone is one of the world’s top infant nutrition companies, and we look forward to a strong relationship with the Danone Manifesto Ventures team to further our work towards helping to prevent babies from developing the most severe food allergies.
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