According to Ashley Dombrowski, PhD, “before” is better than “after.”
The former chief business officer of 23andMe is now addressing an idea that reflects her passion -- and uses her skills -- as both a scientist and a mother.
Because of the deepening U.S. food allergy epidemic, Ashley’s team has developed SpoonfulOne Daily Food Mix-In. It’s a patented daily dietary supplement powder designed to help a child’s body get accustomed to the foods responsible for 90% of food allergies (the product is designed specifically for children without a diagnosed food allergy).
SpoonfulOne can be consumed any time after solid foods have been introduced. The objective is to include it as a consistent, daily part of a child’s diet.
This is the first innovation from the BEFORE Brands platform (Ashley is CEO and co-founder). The company focuses on health and wellness for parents and families.
Here, Ashley discusses the importance of acknowledging food allergies in children, the investor interest in the product, and what it was like to grow up as girl who liked math.
RON: To what do you attribute the investor enthusiasm in SpoonfulOne and the work you are doing at BEFORE Brands?
ASHLEY: I think there are really two reasons. One, I think that [food allergies are] a real problem, and people see the importance of getting ahead of it.
I think the second thing is that so many of the people who have invested in the company really do care about this problem. And it’s because the food allergy epidemic is so pervasive now. So many of us know people or have someone in our family who have a food allergy. So when you combine the strength of the biology that forms the basis of that product, that really sets the foundation. And then when you bring together these wonderful and diverse group of experts that invest in this company, you really want to put their oar in the water and be a model of what we believe: true health care -- the true model for prevention -- could be in an entrepreneurial company.
RON: How did you come upon the SpoonfulOne formula?
ASHLEY: I cofounded the BEFORE brand based on the work that I found from one of the leading pediatric allergists in the world. Dr. Kari Nadeau is a Stanford pediatrician, mother of five, and one of the nation’s foremost experts in allergies. She developed a patented formula based on insights about the importance of dietary exposures; in particular, to the range of allergenic foods and potentially allergenic foods -- how important that could be to bring those [foods] into the diet, starting with infancy, and then keeping them in the diet over time.
RON: What makes the product so urgent for young people?
ASHLEY: There is a wonderful study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016 that really looks at the safety and utility of getting potentially allergenic foods in infants’ diets, starting early and then sticking with them in the years to come.
What they found was, for those who were able to stick with the protocol, they were able to reduce their risk of food allergies by two thirds. Importantly, it was only in the people who were able to adhere to that protocol.
It can be really hard to get all those things in the diet on a daily basis consistently. And that’s why our product was developed: to really solve that problem, to get all these things in, and make it a daily part of your life. And you can eat the other whole foods that you love, whether it’s mashed-up avocado, spaghetti and meatballs, whatever ends up making sense for your family. We can just provide that background foundation. You’re getting all the right stuff, every day, to give your child the best shot at having that long-term, healthy immune system.
RON: What did the innovation show you in the big picture?
ASHLEY: I saw the power of something proactive versus reactive. I realize that we can combine science with a mission. We named the company BEFORE Brands specifically because of that, and that’s really brought us to where we are today.
I come to this as a scientist and as someone who has spent almost twenty years in the healthcare field, developing drugs for serious diseases like cancer.
What I found is that our healthcare system is really set up as a reactive system as opposed to a proactive system. That’s part of the problem: we really want people to get ahead of problems, not just react to them.
I have elementary-age kids. The [food allergy] statistics are really alarming. It’s two kids per classroom right now, and that rings true when I look at the composition of my own children’s classrooms.
RON: The culture is now acknowledging and encouraging girls to embrace math, but you were there from the very beginning. Why is math so valuable?
ASHLEY: I do love math -- whatever we can do to encourage young girls and young boys as well. With science, you can understand any problem that you want to address. Say you want to be an architect -- understanding something about geometry can lead to that. If you want to be in the stock market, understanding certain aspects of math can be a part of that. Finding ways to show how relevant math and science is to doing the things I want to do was really key. For me, the gift has been using science and data to inform everything that I have done in my life and in my career.
RON: Any advice for entrepreneurs like you who are looking to solve big problems?
ASHLEY: Make sure you choose the parts of the problem that you want to solve, and resource them up front. So it’s sort of a “go/no-go” experiment early on. Get those out of the way, in the event that a particular venture is not going to work. You want to have spent as little in terms of time and capital resources in making the right decisions and prioritizing.
I have found that resourcing these really worthwhile problems is such an important thing. Bringing capital to the table is really important, but also, bringing a set of people with a lot of expertise in all the different areas that you need to address. Those resources are so important when we build our little “babies” -- our entrepreneurial companies -- into something really important and useful for society.Click here to find out more about SpoonfulOne.