“Advancements in communication technology make the lines between nations a bit transparent. This opens job opportunities available to everyone via telecommuting. As a business owner, this allows me to easily engage in business without geographic restrictions. I’m optimistic this will open limitless opportunities for the workforce everywhere in America.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Priska Diaz, M.S. founder & CEO of Bittylab, makers of Bare® Air-free feeding system. Priska migrated from Peru at the age of 17 without knowing a word of English. She financed her own college education which led to high paying jobs in Corporate America. After becoming a mom, she designed and engineered groundbreaking technology in the infant feeding industry. With only 2 years in the market and over $1MM in sales, Bare® Air-free feeding system offers clinical benefits to babies. Her revolutionary invention is now in the process of becoming the first low-risk medical device for the treatment and prevention of infant GERD.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Lima, Peru. My house was a 100-year old brownstone that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. I still remember the smell of salt water, beach and sand in the mornings! When I was 8, my father’s new job relocated the whole family to a remote mining area, called La-Oroya, which is situated in the Andes at 12,200 ft. over the sea level with a winter-like weather all year around. As you can imagine, just to get acclimated was a long process. I remember when my parents and all four siblings were getting ready to embark on the 5 to 6-hour trip by car from Lima to La-Oroya, and my father carried a medium-size oxygen tank with him while all the bags were in the trunk. The trip conversations were limited to “how are you feeling?”, “are you ok?”, can you breathe?”, etc. Three hours into the trip, I literary wanted to die!! The little that I remember was that my head was spinning at intolerable speed and a weird feeling in my stomach 100x worse than nausea, I’d have done anything to make it stop!. That’s when my mom shared the “oxygen”, which was delivered out of a small hose that you needed to hold close to your nose and breathe out of it. I think I may have passed out at that point because I never remembered anything else after that. Instead of arriving at the hotel, we were all taken directly to the small hospital in the town where we were given individual oxygen masks for a few hours. As it turns out, the higher the altitude, the thinner the air and my lungs had to work extra hard to intake O2. Eventually, my lungs had to develop bigger in size as the natives of this region. I grew up as a very competitive sprint runner and represented my school in regional competitions, ending up with a collection of sports medals. With my lungs able to handle this level of stress, by the time I was 15, I was able to make the same killer trip back and forth in the same day without feeling sick for a minute. La-Oroya is where I spent most of my childhood until I was 15 when I graduated from High School.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
In my mind, my only option after High school was to go to college. However, following some marital issues between my parents, my goal was crushed right after my first year of college. I found myself in my house in Lima, day after day, without going to school, training in sports or doing much of anything at all. I gained about 50 lbs, I was very down and started to think I was never going to achieve any kind of higher education. I travel back to La-Oroya where my father was still residing and talked about my situation. That’s when I presented the idea of me moving out of the country so I could have better opportunities. He agreed, arranged for visas and made plans for my mother, my sister and myself to travel to the US. I was excited about the change, and my goals and aspirations started to form again, with a slight change.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
The plane landed in MIA international airport. All signs were written in English, which was 100% illegible to us. I took the lead and tried to ask for directions to catch our next flight. Eventually, we made the transfer to the plane to DC. We stayed at my grandmother’s place, which lived in the Maryland area for a long time. Although I had big plans for my future, I was frustrated I couldn’t even communicate. Learning English became my top priority. After a year, I thought I had broken the language barrier and moved to NYC with my mom in search of colleges I could attend. After finally getting my acceptance letter, I learned that I had to enroll in ESL classes. Because I was very eager to learn and get my degree, I was always one of the first ones to get to class and sit towards the front so I could hear clearly and understand the lessons. I worked in the morning and went to school in the afternoon and evenings. I lived in Queens, worked in the Bronx and studied in Brooklyn. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time in the subway system. That’s where I used to do my readings, homework, take lunch and sometimes take a nap. As I advanced my education, I took the opportunity to move around to different jobs for better salaries. I ended up graduating with honors from the City University of New York, with a Bachelor’s degree in Design. With better-paying jobs and better work schedule, I went back to school and graduated with a Master of Science Degree from Pratt Institute.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I am eternally grateful to my relatives in Maryland and NY that allowed us to stay at their places. My mother was very supportive of my goals and tried to help as she could, however bills needed to get paid so working was very important. Ironically, because I worked, I wasn’t eligible for any grants or financial aid. But along those lines, there were always people who wanted to help one way or another. At one point, I was able to negotiate with my employer to make my Christmas bonus equal to my tuition for a semester, regardless of the actual bonus amount of the year. This worked out pretty good, a few times my tuition was a bit higher than what I would’ve received as a bonus.
So how are things going today?
Things could not be better!. After working for a decade in high paying jobs, I decided to create an innovated product and build a business around it. When I became a mom of a very gassy and fussy son, I learned that traditional baby bottles were the cause of his symptoms. So, I sat at my kitchen table every day for more than three years to design and engineer a concept that could ease my son’s pain. Bare® Air-free feeding system by Bittylab finally launched in 2016 in 185 Babies “R” Us stores. Today, with over a $1MM in sales, Bare® Air-free sells in Walmart, BuyBuy Baby, Amazon, and boutiques. With patented technology, Bare® feeds baby air-free milk, while in upright position & lets baby control the flow and pace of feeding. These 3 advancements have been clinically proven to significantly reduced GERD symptoms in 75% of babies, in the first 2 weeks. Bittylab is now seeking FDA approval on the first low-risk medical device for the treatment and prevention of infant GERD.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through my product, Bare® Air-free, I bring goodness to the world in many ways. First, Bare® solves a chronic problem that causes pain to the majority of babies. Statistics show that two out of three babies exhibit severe symptoms of infant GERD. Second, the expense for treating a child with GERD can cost the average parent with health insurance around $6,000/year. This translates into an $18B expense for the healthcare system in the United States. Bare® can help reduce this bill to a fraction. Lastly, Bare®, with Perfe-latch nipples help moms initiate, reinstate, and extend the breastfeeding relationship while supplementing. This means that finally, there’s a little help for moms who want to breastfeed. This is also major news as there isn’t any other feeding device that promotes breastfeeding while supplementing.
You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
I think immigrants have taken a huge step into leaving everything behind to seek better opportunities. With that said, it takes a certain kind of personality and grit to do this. The US immigration system should take advantage of the enormously enthusiastic group and provide them with the tools and education to become productive citizens of this country. Even with the oppression and hindered opportunities, most immigrants and their future generations manage to become productive citizens. Just imagine what can be achieved if they are given the right tools. With that said, the following incentives for immigrants should be disseminated:
1. There should be government programs where immigrants are given the opportunity to learn skills.
2. Obtain, retain or create jobs (in the case of small business owners) this will allow them to repay their loans, in addition to all the contributions such as taxes, social security, etc.
3. After showing good faith, proper training and productivity, they will be rewarded with legal residency and eventually citizenship.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Visualize your American dream. It is important to have an end goal so you can measure your progress. I wanted to go to college and didn’t stop until I did. Then I created new dreams/goals.
2. Stay focus on your goals. One can easily get distracted but realize he/she has choices and it’s entirely up to her to listen to the little devil or the little angel that whispers in either ear. While I was going to school and had so many chances to just give it all up and party or hang out with “friends”. Instead, I chose to be the “boring” one and always in a rush from work to school and vice versa.
3. Use your social skills to learn even more. For example, if you are trying to learn English or any other language, you will find an invaluable benefit to hang out with people who only speak such a language, this will force you to try and communicate at their level and speed.
4. Don’t listen to the naysayers. There will always be people who do not share your vision and will voice their opinion on what they know best, which may not align with your dream. Stay away from those people, surround yourself with positivity and people who want to help. I met several gals who thought I was out of my mind for wanting to “go to school”, they said I should get a job and start paying the bills. They just didn’t see my vision, they perhaps never had a dream.
5. Stay away from trouble!!. This one is probably an obvious one. We live in a society where drugs and crime can easily take over anyone’s life. I have walked out of many concerts, places, parties, and gatherings if I saw anyone doing drugs or carrying weapons so I could prevent casualties.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. Advancements in communication technology make the lines between nations a bit transparent. This opens job opportunities available to everyone via telecommuting. As a business owner, this allows me to easily engage in business without geographic restrictions. I’m optimistic this will open limitless opportunities for the workforce everywhere in America.
2. Bittylab’s advanced technology is turning the world of infant feeding upright. As adjacent industries begin to understand the unmeasurable benefits of our new technology and join our educational efforts, we are the catalysts for significant savings in the US healthcare system as well as improving the quality of life for nearly 70% of babies and parents. I’m optimistic that the baby bottle industry will raise to the new standard and change their outdated technology for the sake of our new generation. Today’s National statistics show that 2.7 million babies suffer from severe symptoms of infant GERD. This has been directly linked to traditional bottle feeding. Bare® Air-free feeding system has been clinically proven to significantly reduce GERD symptoms in 75% of babies in the first two weeks.
3. I’m optimistic that with the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurial activities, the US has a great future. I trust our future generation will step on our shoulders and be able to learn from our mistakes, elect better leaders and make better decisions.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Bare® works with suction, as opposed to gravity. I’d love to prototype water bottles for the astronauts to use at the international space station. I’d love to have breakfast or lunch with someone who can help test Bare® while in orbit, at zero gravity.