Ep. 118: The Amazing Nima Sensor Story

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

    Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Any purchases made through these links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you), but all opinions are my own. You can find our full affiliate disclaimer here

    jump to recipe print

    On today's episode, I'm talking with Shireen Yates, owner and founder of Nima! She and her team created the slick and highly useful portable Nima Gluten Sensor.

    Fed and Fit podcast graphic, episode 118 the amazing Nima sensor story with Cassy Joy

    We're back with our 118th episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

    Find us HERE on iTunes and be sure to “subscribe.”

    Episode 118 Sponsors

    • Aaptiv – be sure to enter the promo code “FEDANDFIT” (one word, all caps) at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house!

    Episode 118 Links

    • Order your Nima Sensor HERE! Be sure to enter the code “FEDANDFIT” at checkout for a discount!
    • Check out my full Nima Gluten Sensor review HERE.

    Episode 118 Transcription

    Today’s show is brought to you by Aaptiv! Aaptiv is a fabulous app and robust online community that allows you access to top notch, motivating personal trainers who guide you through an audio-based workout that is timed to your choosing with fun, perfectly synchronized music. Like Netflix for fitness; Aaptiv gives members unlimited access to their entire bank of high-end, trainer-led workout classes. So if you’re looking for fresh, high quality, on the go, motivating workouts that adapt to your lifestyle, I highly recommend Aaptiv.

    In fact; if you head over to the curator playlists, you’ll see a familiar face! I chose 7 of my favorite Aaptiv workouts so that you can get a well-rounded mix of workouts that will take you from intense cardio to restorative serenity; and these are some of my favorite workouts to do when I’m traveling, or if I just have a spare 20 minutes between activities. And because they're the best, Aaptiv is even offering Fed and Fit listeners a free 30-day trial. When you sign up for a monthly subscription at www.Aaptiv.com; be sure to enter the promo code FEDANDFIT, one word, at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house.

    Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. I’m really excited about today’s episode. My goodness. When I first heard about this piece of technology, I think my jaw actually dropped. I was like; no way, this actually exists! This is so neat. I am so excited today to welcome Shireen Yates, owner and founder of Nima! And this little gadget; she’s going to tell you much more about it. {laughs} She knows the story better than I do! About how everything came into play and how the really incredible Nima gluten sensor is now available to us today.

    But if you guys caught the review I did on my blog, I reviewed the Nima sensor because it’s this little pocket-sized piece of technology. It’s incredibly slick. It pairs with your phone, and allows you, if you are extremely sensitive to gluten, or even have an allergy like folks who have celiac, to be able to test food in real time and get an answer as far as is there actual gluten, the gluten protein, found in my food. Because so much of what’s out there, even though it’s labeled as gluten free, there could be cross contamination.

    And it’s really; it’s an answered prayer in a lot of ways for many folks. Because we don’t have to wonder. We don’t have to wait until we get home and we get that stomachache. So it’s just such a neat piece of technology, and I’m really excited. So thank you, first and foremost, Shireen, for putting this together and working with your amazing team. But welcome to the Fed and Fit podcast. We’re excited to hear about your story. We’re excited to hear more about Nima. And just welcome to the show!

    Shireen Yates: Thank you! I’m so excited to be here. It’s just an honor. We love the review you did of Nima, and very, very excited to just talk about the product, and really how it’s fitting into people’s lives since we launched.

    Cassy Joy: I can’t wait to hear all about it. Well, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where you got started. I know there was a lot of time, and effort, and energy that went into this technology. It didn’t just pop up overnight. So if you could walk folks through the genesis of the idea, and what really goes into developing a piece of technology like this. And maybe, I guess your overarching why. What was the main reason you wanted to get started on this?

    Shireen Yates: Yeah, it’s a great question. I actually found out in college that I couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, egg, or soy. And not unlike yourself, I was constantly feeling really subpar. Just not myself. Physically ill, and I had no idea what was causing all of these issues. And then finally I went to a bunch of different doctors, and finally one said, let’s do a screen for food sensitivities. And sure enough, gluten, dairy, egg, and soy had to be cut out of my diet.

    I found it very challenging to eat out, and eat socially, and stay healthy. I was constantly getting exposed to foods that I was actively trying to avoid. So it was a problem for myself. Even within my own network of friends and family, I noticed more and more people were looking at food as medicine, and understanding how it was impacting their bodies. What reactions they were having. So I saw a really interesting opportunity to empower people with better information about nourishment and what they were putting in their bodies.

    But the idea for Nima didn’t come until I was getting my MBA. I was getting my MBA at MIT, and it was between my first and second year that I went to a wedding. I usually bring my own food at these weddings, just because there’s so much I can’t eat. You know, just my snack packs. And I had forgotten my bars at this particular wedding. I asked the waitress if these delicious looking appetizers she was bringing by were gluten free, and she said, “How sick do you get?” You know, how allergic are you?

    I was like, gosh. If I could just take a sample of this and have one additional data point to know and empower myself with that knowledge, that would be really powerful. And that’s just the idea. I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, and that set me on the almost four-year journey that I’ve been on since starting Nima. To just seeing; how could we empower people with a device that could take one sample, and you have one additional data point to make a more informed decision about what you're putting in your body.

    Cassy Joy: Incredible. I love it. We’re very much birds of a feather in a lot of ways. Because at Fed and Fit what I’m trying to do, and what I say over and over again, is knowledge is power. Right? At the end of the day; I don’t have any stock in the decisions folks make. I don’t. Whichever route they chose to go on. But I do feel responsibility to giving information, so that folks can be more informed about their decisions.

    Now, for me, it’s on a nutrition science basis. And the respect I have, though, for the data point of actually knowing what’s showing up in your food and not having to navigate, “What percentage of correctness is actually out there.” What’s the probability there’s cross-contamination, and having to wonder in those worlds and getting a definite answer is just so incredible. So I have a lot of respect for what you’ve done. That’s incredible.

    Shireen Yates: Thank you. Yeah, it’s actually knowledge is power. We totally see the world in the same way.

    Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. A four-year journey! Wow, that’s amazing! {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: I know. It seems like; just so much has happened since then. And I knew it would be a big daunting task to bring this to market. It’s a chemistry-based sensing technology that is a brand-new product category. Consumers have never even seen anything like this. So we needed time to not only build that awareness, but really vet the technology and launch it. So when I started thinking about it, I was like, this is going to be, I would say, at least 10 years of my life if things go well. As I was thinking about the journey.

    Cassy Joy: Incredible. That’s awesome. And when you look at the Nima sensor, for anybody listening. And you hold it in your hands; it’s definitely a very polished piece of technology. So you guys have done a wonderful job. It’s obvious that a lot of time, and effort, and energy has gone into the weight, the feel, the usability. Just with a user experience, speaking to it from that angle.

    Shireen Yates: Yeah.

    Cassy Joy: It’s a really wonderful experience. The fact that it pairs with the mobile app. If you could actually walk people through the technology and what actually happens, start to finish. I tried to take a stab at it on the blog.

    Shireen Yates: You did a great job. You did a great job!

    Cassy Joy: Oh good! Without getting too technical. But we have a lot of; I say this in the best way. A lot of very geeky listeners. So feel free to get down into the weeds.

    Shireen Yates: Oh, absolutely. So the technology behind it, it’s a chemistry-based technology. And what we do; our innovation was around, how do we extract a protein out of a complex food matrix relatively quickly? And we looked at what was on the market. There were lab tests that allowed you to take a sample of food and test it for certain ingredients, or proteins. But they took 15 to 20 minutes, and cost a good amount of money. And we just thought; if we can really bring the time down and make this in a device that’s just really portable and easy to use, there’s something really interesting there.

    So really, in the simplest and perhaps the crudest way, it’s like a pregnancy test for food. So you take a sample of food, you put it in this one-time use capsule, and the action of closing the capsule actually preps the food and runs it through the system. Then you put it in the sensor, and that’s the triangle. And it basically mixes, grinds, and meters a specific amount of fluid to the chemistry. And we pick up whether or not the protein was present based on the chemical reaction. The sensor picks up that reaction.

    And then the beauty of it is, on the device you can see the result. It’s binary, yes, no, for a very small amount of gluten. It’s tuned to 20 parts per million, which is what is gluten-free. And sometimes we even pick up less, depending on the food matrix. But we needed it to be really sensitive for people who have these strong reactions to the food.

    And then there’s also an app component. So you can actually tag what you tested, where you tested, and you can actually see what other people are testing. So it’s all these thousands of other test results that people are doing every week when they’re either at restaurants, or packaged foods, or going out to eat.

    Cassy Joy: That’s fabulous. It really, really is incredible. The whole time I was using it, I just kept running to my husband saying, “Wow, look at this!”

    Shireen Yates: {laughs}

    Cassy Joy: Wow, look at this part! {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: That’s awesome. I love that. It’s fun. And I think that’s what we wanted to do, is create a device that can be a head turner for the right reasons, but also have the option of discretion if you need. And that’s why it’s designed as a triangle. So if you want to put it not on the table, or somewhere else, it can sit up on its own. And generally people have been really excited. It’s been a conversation starter for sure when people are testing at the table.

    Cassy Joy: Absolutely. I can definitely see that. And I really do see; I said this in the post, but I really do see it being more of a mainstay in the future. Seeing a couple of these triangles out. And informed consumers are going to know exactly what’s going on.

    Shireen Yates: Exactly; yeah.

    Cassy Joy: Log into our Nima app and see what the results were.

    Shireen Yates: That’s right. That’s exactly right.

    Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. So I’m glad you brought that up, because I did get a few questions about the efficacy of the sensor. So anything that tests below, you said, 20 parts per million?

    Shireen Yates: Yes. Well it’s tuned to 20 parts per million, but sometimes we can pick up less than that. But the majority of tests, we made sure that if gluten is present at 20 parts per million, we’re going to be able to let you know. And that was really important, because that’s sort of the standard of what’s been said. At least in the US. For what’s gluten free.

    Cassy Joy: Right. Perfect. That’s wonderful. And I think that was an important number for several of my readers. And when folks see that; and the fact that you’re very… Transparency is a word that’s thrown around a lot, but I really do appreciate how much you’ve put out there on the website in terms of the efficacy and the results. And I think it meant a lot to readers to be able to see that.

    So I’m curious. What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered in developing this piece of technology? There are also a lot of entrepreneurs, people who own their own businesses. Whether it’s technology or getting a food product out into the market. Either they’re at the beginning of the process or knee deep into it. What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered in this? I’d love for you to speak about how you overcame them and what it kind of looks like now looking back on some of those issues.

    Shireen Yates: I think one of the initial challenges when I was first starting was really when you’re curious or navigating a new space, there are a lot of thought leaders and people that are in a certain space that say, “Oh, no. This is impossible. It can’t be done.” And so just making sure that you realize that this is such a big problem. Why can’t it be done? Just keep asking why until you're satisfied. And don’t be easily satisfied.

    So, for initially it was just a lot of the people that I really respected, but I just didn’t really understand why couldn’t you create a device like this? And a lot of the answers I got were just not convincing enough. It was getting a ton of data points, but always believing in yourself, and then surrounding yourself and going to the data to make those informed decisions, and not just potentially what people say. So I think that was one challenge, as we were starting.

    And then as we were getting going, of course the other challenge is how do you develop, when you're developing hardware and chemistry and software, how do you make sure that your communicating the right timelines, keeping a parallel path, and project management. That’s just hiring amazing people that can absolutely keep this ship steering in the right direction. And then being really clear about holding our standards really high about wanting to put out the best product possible on the market. Not cutting corners. And if that meant a deadline slip, that meant a deadline slip. We’re really keeping the quality of the product as best as we could for the market. So that was challenge number two, I would say, once we were developing. And just trying to figure out; for something that’s never been done before, how do you anticipate how long it’s going to take? It’s really hard.

    And three, once we’re on the market. I think the challenge of growing that awareness. This is something that people don’t know exist. And if they’re eating out; are they thinking, “Man, I wish I had a portable gluten sensor!” Not everyone is thinking that way. So we’re working on building that awareness, and making sure that people know there’s a solution out there that can really empower them, help them to be their healthiest selves by knowing exactly what’s in their food.

    Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. Well I think that we’re definitely covering some of that today. {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Yes, we are!

    Cassy Joy: Good, I’m glad to help in that regard. But you're right; awareness is definitely out there. I would say portable gluten sensors is probably one of those things that comes up in conversation maybe after dinner is over and everyone is sitting around saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Yeah.

    Cassy Joy: You know, one day when we have flying cars, we’ll have portable gluten sensors. {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Exactly! That’s right. And that’s how people are; like, is this for real? Is this really for real? I love and hate hearing that, because you're like, “Yes! It’s for real!” It’s on the market! It’s available to go! There are thousands that are using it!

    Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. And it’s accessible. And that’s another thing that I really value in it. Accessible in a physical sense, because you really could; I appreciate the thought that went into wanting it to be a discrete piece of technology. Because you really could keep it in your purse. You could keep it on your person. And it’s very discrete on a table if you need it, if you didn’t want to draw a whole lot of attention. So it’s accessible in that sense.

    But also from a price-point standpoint. Knowing; we’re working on a food product that we’re getting ready to launch. Ideally, our internal deadline, of course, is January 2018. But of course, to your point, the product quality overrides any of that. So we’ll see.

    Shireen Yates: it does. Just being really focused on the quality and the market that you're serving; getting that consumer feedback. But that’s so exciting!

    Cassy Joy: It is! We’re very excited. I’ve talked a little bit about it. Folks know it’s going to be something edible, but they’re not sure what it is yet. And it’s got a whole new name, and all kinds of fun stuff that’s coming with it. Oh gosh, where was I going with this? Oh man, I did have a point.

    Shireen Yates: Well make sure you're using your Nima sensor if you're labeling it gluten-free, ok?

    Cassy Joy: {laughs} I will. I did have that thought while we were talking. Oh goodness; accessibility. I think price point-wise. Oh, that’s what I was talking about. Yes. So, as far as getting the product tested for the presence. We want it, of course, to be gluten-free. Because the majority of Fed and Fit readers are gluten free, if not also paleo.

    Shireen Yates: Yes.

    Cassy Joy: And the test to just get that done from an industry standpoint is much more expensive than I ever would have though. And I have that perspective, and not everybody does. But I have that perspective of what it costs to get something like that tested for the presence of wheat gluten. And the fact that you were able to boil down that amount of technology into essentially a pregnancy test for gluten. It’s just incredible. So it’s accessible from a price standpoint, as well. Just knowing what it is currently.

    Shireen Yates: Yes. And it is, having that comparative price point in mind. We really were focused on; how do we make this as accessible as possible? And that’s always something we’re seeking to improve. The dream is for everyone who is avoiding gluten to be empowered with a Nima. And the way to get there is to continuously work on accessibility. And that’s a big focus for our team.

    Cassy Joy: I love it. I can’t wait to see how you guys; I know you're going to be around for a very, very long time. And I can’t wait to keep watching you.

    Shireen Yates: Oh, thank you.

    Cassy Joy: Cheering you on from the sidelines. And as a consumer, of course {laughs}. But I’ll be there with my pom-poms. So I’m curious. When did the Nima sensor hit the market?

    Shireen Yates: Earlier this year. Around February of this year, we were on the market. So it was about three and a half years of development, and then we launched. And we also are working on peanut. So the idea is not just gluten. But how do we empower people for anything they’re curious about what’s in their food. And we started with gluten because it’s a large market. Gluten is very sneaky. And we asked people, how often are you getting sick when you're eating outside of the home? And people said one out of three, one out of four times.

    And it’s so interesting; with the thousands of Nima tests that have been recorded in the app, we’re seeing that of the foods that have been labeled gluten free, the stats of Nima really line up with what the user feedback was. That around one out of four times, we’re seeing that foods that are indicated to be gluten free in whatever way. Whether it’s a menu item or discussion with the wait staff, they’re coming back positive for gluten.

    And then as we looked at the whole market, peanut was also really interesting. There are millions who are avoiding peanut. They need to stay healthy. That was another market we’re interested in. After that, dairy, tree nut, and then we eventually want to get to a point for whatever is in your food, we can give you that instant information. So you have that really in the palm of your hand.

    Cassy Joy: Mm-hmm. That’s wonderful. I was going to ask you about the future of Nima. So peanuts are definitely on your radar. That’s another, probably one of the most prevalent food allergies out there. I’m sure you guys have the data; you're a data girl. {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Yes.

    Cassy Joy: So are there any other tests that you think are under the umbrella in the future. I’m sure it’s not any simple task to come out with a new sensor.

    Shireen Yates: Yeah. So we’re also really interested in tree nut and dairy. And all major allergens. We’ve even kicked around the idea; what if we get into sugar? People have a really hard time trying to monitor those foods in their diet. What can we do to help empower people with just better information? So starting with really the dietary restrictions first, and then moving into other products beyond that.

    Cassy Joy: Wow. Very cool. Very, very neat. So now when people are sitting around the dinner table saying, wouldn’t it be nice if this exists.

    Shireen Yates: Yes!

    Cassy Joy: {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Exactly. We can expand that conversation.

    Cassy Joy: Exactly. One of the people there will maybe have heard this podcast. {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Yes! Yes.

    Cassy Joy: They’re going to say, pull up Fed and Fit. You have to hear about Nima. Very, very neat. So since February, since your launch. So that’s been several months from now. Have had any fun consumer stories that have come in. Or anybody, any testimonies that you guys have started to collect?

    Shireen Yates: Yes, we have. On a daily basis we have Nima stories come in. And some of my favorites; actually just this weekend, we had this wonderful post of a woman who got her Nima, and she was having trouble syncing it to her app. Then the team walked her through how to do that over the weekend. And then we got a photo on Instagram where it was her wedding, actually! She was testing tacos at a food truck at her wedding! {laughs} And I was like, oh my gosh {laughs} troubleshooting. How critical Nima is. She wants to have a great wedding night, and part of that is making sure that you're staying healthy and being able to enjoy. So I understand why it was a priority, but it was so funny to see that photo. It was like, oh my gosh, it was her wedding! {laughs} So that was really special.

    We also have just amazing stories from parents that are equipping their kids with Nima. I think one of the stress points for parents is when your child is not with you at all times, how do you make sure that they’re safe and healthy. Especially when it’s around mealtime, and they’re actively avoiding certain foods. So parents equipping their kids with Nima, that are testing Nima at school or when eating out. Just enabling them to do more than they typically would.

    And we’re seeing this a lot with travel. We have a woman that wrote in and said that she just never was able to travel in this way before. And now she just feels empowered with a device that can at least; it’s not going to guarantee everything you eat is free of gluten. I want to be clear about that. But at least it gives you that additional data point. And even with that one pea-sized sample, people are finding gluten in 25% of the foods that they’re testing that are supposed to be gluten free. So it’s been super, super rewarding and interesting after working on this for so many years to actually see users using it and the feedback that they have is just very empowering.

    Cassy Joy: Wow. That’s so wonderful. You're making a real difference. That’s really incredible.

    Shireen Yates: Oh, well the team is. And it’s an amazing team that got us to where we are.

    Cassy Joy: Oh, good for you! That’s so exciting! Well I’m just so thrilled for you. I’m thrilled for this technology. I’m thrilled for the people that I know it’s going to help, and the people that obviously it has helped already. Do you mind telling folks where they could learn more about Nima? Maybe see some of the data points that you guys have published out there for everybody.

    Shireen Yates: Yeah, so if you actually download the Nima app, if you have an iOS phone or an Apple phone, you can download the Nima app. And you can also download it for Android. And you can see what other people are testing. But if you go to our website; www.NimaSensor.com. That’s where you can purchase a Nima, and also see reviews from community members what they’re testing. How they’re interacting with Nima. How it’s fitting into their lives. And that’s where you can find everything you need.

    Cassy Joy: Awesome. I love it. And for all the other listeners, if you want to read more of my ramblings on the subject I have a blog post up with a review. I walked you through my experience in using the Nima sensor. And you can find that I’ll link to that in the show notes. I’ll also link, of course, to the Nima website and to the app in Apple, as well.

    Shireen Yates: Yeah, Cassy’s post is amazing. I love what you wrote about Nima. It’s definitely a great overview of the product. So check that out.

    Cassy Joy: Oh good! I’m glad you liked it. The only problem I had was taking a picture.

    Shireen Yates: Oh yeah, the smiley face.

    Cassy Joy: {laughing} Yes.

    Shireen Yates: It’s shy.

    Cassy Joy: It is. It is. And it’s nothing wrong with the technology, it’s just my camera. And I had a moment where I thought; gosh. If I were better at Photoshop I could go color it in a little bit. {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: {laughs}

    Cassy Joy: That’s going to make sense to about 4 people listening. But there’s nothing wrong with the sensor, it just cracked me up in the post. So part of the blogging life. Well, thank you so much, Shireen, for taking the time to come on the show to tell us about Nima. Tell us about your journey. Really excited to; I think this is going to be. Not think. I have a really good feeling this is going to be huge during the holidays. It’s the perfect gift.

    Shireen Yates: Yes.

    Cassy Joy: So we’re a little ahead now, but if you're an early shopper. {laughs}

    Shireen Yates: Yes! Get on it!

    Cassy Joy: Get on it now. It would be a good one. While you're thinking of it. But I think it’s going to be wonderful. Thank you so much for creating the technology as a consumer, and of course, for sharing it with our listeners today.

    Shireen Yates: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity. Thanks for the great write up.

    Cassy Joy: Of course. Definitely my pleasure. Well I guess I’ll keep cheering you on. And all of the listeners here, you can expect updates for me as we keep watching what Shireen and her team are up to over at Nima. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. For all the listeners; as always, you can find a complete transcript of today’s show. Including links to everything we’ve talked about. Over at www.FedandFit.com. Thanks everybody for listening. We’ll be back again next week.


    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *