Four years ago, biotech executive Avital Beck decided it was time to found a startup.
She invited former classmates from her molecular biology and genetics PhD program at the Weizmann Institute of Science for a brainstorming session.
One of those friends, Hadas Shatz-Azoulay, brought her nursing baby and came up with the best idea: A home kit to check the freshness and vitamin content of refrigerated pumped breastmilk.
“We were talking about tackling cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes – it was a very high-level discussion,” Shatz-Azoulay recalls.
But she shared a more immediate concern: Was her newborn receiving optimum nutrition from milk she expressed and stored?
“It had been 15 years between my first and fifth babies. And I was getting the same answers today as I was getting 15 years ago, even though there are so many more things you can know now,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
“Women have been breastfeeding for millennia, but we’re not doing it the same way. For the first baby I didn’t even buy a pump but by the fifth it was an obvious necessity.”
Everyone in the room liked her idea. And that’s how MilkStrip was conceived, with Beck as CEO and Shatz-Azoulay as COO.
“We surveyed 1,600 women in Israel and found out that about half of them throw out pumped milk even when it still could be good just because they are not sure, and 58% are interested in knowing their milk contains all the nutrients needed,” says Beck.
Shatz-Azoulay explains that vitamin C, which is essential for immune system development, degrades quickly in breastmilk once it’s left the mother’s body.
Therefore they decided to develop test strips to ascertain freshness and vitamin C potency within three minutes.
A startup is born
The two experienced moms and scientists had never birthed a startup before.
“He was openminded enough to accept us and that’s how we got connections,” Beck tells ISRAEL21c.
“We met our first investor, Gil Lemel, and he and his friends gave us half a million dollars to work on a prototype for six months. Within three months, we gave him two prototypes.”
Following three years of development, MilkStrip entered the US and UK market in late 2020. Manufactured in Israel, MilkStrip Expiration and MilkStrip Vitamin C test kits are available on Amazon and Shopify for $19.99 each or $35.99 for both. The kits work with a free app.
“We got an email a few months ago from a woman in the US. She said they’d had a hurricane and didn’t have power for four days. She had many frozen bags of breastmilk and didn’t want to throw them away, so she ordered a few boxes of MilkStrip Expiration from our Amazon store.”
The rapid test strips revealed that only one bag of milk had gone bad. MilkStrip helped her avoid throwing out all those bags of perfectly good breastmilk.
Shatz-Azoulay related that one of her neighbors used the vitamin C test kit and saw there was none in her breastmilk.
“It turns out she doesn’t eat fruits and vegetables and she’d known that could be a problem but seeing the vitamin C deficiency on the screen made it real to her. She realized that she needs to take vitamin C supplements for her baby’s health,” says Shatz-Azoulay.
“There are companies that offer a full lab analysis of breastmilk for about $350 and we’re disrupting this market, giving answers immediately and at home and inexpensively,” says Beck, who writes a blog on emerging topics in breastmilk science.
MilkStrip is the first in a line of planned products for parents from the company, which was renamed DiagnoseStick two years ago and is headquartered at the Rehovot Science Park.
“We quickly understood a biological test strip like ours could be used with other fluids such as saliva,” Beck explains. “This is a bioconvergence startup using basic chemistry, biology, computer vision, AI and color recognition.”
The next product in the pipeline will test a child’s saliva to check oral hygiene status. It could alert a parent to a budding problem that might be forestalled by better brushing or a visit to the dentist.
“We’re giving parents answers about things they are worried about throughout a child’s life, starting with breastmilk, and giving those answers in two or three minutes without going to a doctor or lab,” says Shatz-Azoulay.
“Sometimes parents feel their concern isn’t serious enough to go to a doctor and this way you can check. It’s just letting parents know more.”
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