What do you do if you've already had one too many conversations with waitstaff about food allergies? If you're like Shireen Yates, an MIT graduate, you invent a food-allergy detector device that can be used at the dining table, then co-found a company to sell it.
Growing food allergies have prompted many allergen-testing products, but most have been geared to the food manufacturers and testing on their production lines rather than putting the power of allergen detection directly in the hands of allergy sufferers. But Nima— developed by Yates, who is allergic to gluten, soy, dairy and egg; and her former MIT classmate, Scott Sundvor, who avoids gluten due to his ulcerative colitis — is a transportable food-allergy detector, which in its first iteration can expose gluten content in food.
"I was tired of answering the same questions (and really hangry at the time). I just wanted a quick, easy way to test a piece of the dish and see for myself if it was gluten-free," said Yates, speaking about the realization she had in the summer of 2012 after receiving lackluster food options from the waitstaff at a friend's wedding.
In 2013, Yates and Sundvor came up with the idea for Nima (No. 17 on the inaugural CNBC Upstart 25 list of promising young start-ups). The duo won an MIT $100K Accelerate competition, helping to start the financing of the device.