NIMA Sensor with Shireen Yates
Shireen Yates, a sales and marketing guru had her start at Google and Youtube. With an MBA from MIT Sloan she is the cofounder and inventor of the device that is changing how people with food sensitivities and specialized diets enjoy food. Nima Sensor is the first portable device that allows you to know whether there is gluten in the food that you’re eating.
How was the idea for NIMA born?
I have food sensitivities to gluten, dairy, egg and soy and it wasn’t until college that I received a diagnosis. The tests came back that all of the intense pain I had been experiencing was being triggered by food. There are a lot of people in my situation, our test results don’t show an IgE response but we suffer with varying physical symptoms.
What was the impetus for NIMA?
After college I started in a sales and marketing role with Google and YouTube. I was constantly on the road and it was really challenging to avoid foods at work dinners and events and exposure to these foods made me feel sub par all the time.
I became interested in personalization of health and wellness around 2010-2011. At a particular wedding I was asking the waitstaff about one of the appetizers and whether it had gluten in it. The waitress replied with, “well how allergic are you?” and I thought, what if I just had that one extra data point to help me make a decision?
What did the development process look like?
We started on the market side, questioning people with food allergies, sensitivities and celiac as well as specialized diets. We looked at market opportunity, then met people at school who could focus on the technology side and help with developing product.
I had an opportunity for a role in the consumerization of health industry after graduating MIT. But instead moved to California to start NIMA Sensor—moved back in with my parents along with my brand new husband AND my new work partner!
What do you say to people who ask the question can I trust this meal to be safe for me even if I get a “no gluten found” reading?
You won’t know for sure. But we think just having that one extra data point is helpful in making a decision. This is for testing something you were going to eat anyway and now you have an opportunity to know what is in your food. Ultimately we exist to equip you with better information to make smarter decisions to nourish yourself. No one else in the world can allow you the freedom, peace of mind and confidence to enjoy your food.
With our app there is a shared data component that allows for a community feel and camaraderie. To know we are all sitting at the same table supporting each other providing shared experiences with each other is unique.
How often is gluten found in gluten free food?
NPR just published an article about how challenging it is to maintain a gluten free diet. Even those following a strict gluten free diet find that gluten has infiltrated their food in different ways when tested with new urine and stool sample tests. This is why there is so much stress and fear, because you don’t always have a bodily reaction yet you are still doing intestinal damage. The reality of navigating this is difficult so we want to try and alleviate some of that stress and angst that comes along with deciding which “gluten free” foods can be deemed safe.
Do you have any new products on the horizon?
This year we will be launching a peanut device. After that we will focus on dairy and tree nut.
For someone with multiple food sensitivities, is it possible to have one device that could alert you to all potential allergens?
One device is possible and eventually it would be ideal. The sensing and tracking mechanism would need to be changed and time and investment would be the driver of how quickly that can be made available.
Tell us more about the NIMA app?
The app is designed to show you what is local to you, who has tested food from different restaurants in your area as well as food products. There is a premium data subscription to access a broader range of data for $9.99 a month.
The top tested restaurant in the app is P.F. Changs. Packaged foods that are most commonly tested include Kirkland and Trader Joe’s.
You have traveled extensively throughout your career, do you have any advice for the perpetual traveler?
Advocate for yourself. That could mean communicating restrictions and feeling free to ask for things off menu, people are generally really receptive. Sides are my best friend they are safer, less prone to cross-contamination and often on their own plate and always come prepared with bars.
We want to know more about your wedding. Was it all gluten free?
Our wedding was at my cousin’s home in Sonoma. We had it catered by a company we knew well who owns a restaurant we frequent and have NIMA tested on a regular basis. We hired a dedicated gluten free bakery to make the cake. Everything else was gluten free as well.
aykadeh (Persian restaurant in San Francisco)
Favorite restaurant in your travels?
Any taqueria in Mexico, especially if it's oceanside!
Salty or sweet?
Definitely salty. I didn’t even eat my own wedding cake!
entry dried sweet potatoes. You can find them at Costco but they do process on shared equipment with tree nuts FYI!