As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Marks-Cogan, M.D., Chief Allergist at Ready, Set, Food!. Dr. Marks-Cogan is board certified in Allergy/Immunology and Internal Medicine, and treats both pediatric and adult patients. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she received her M.D. with honors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She then completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Northwestern and fellowship in Allergy/Immunology at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and CHOP. After finishing training, she moved to Southern California and currently works in private practice. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, 4-year-old son, and 1-year-old daughter where she enjoys hiking, building LEGO castles with her kids, and cooking with her family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I knew that I wanted to become a physician during high school. I was in a program at my school which allowed me to shadow a physician one day per week. That exposure to the medical field stimulated and motivated me to pursue becoming a physician. After finishing medical school at the University of Maryland, I went on to an internal medicine residency at Northwestern. I ultimately chose the allergy field for several reasons. First, it’s a dynamic field within medicine where the science is evolving at a faster pace than many other specialties. Second, I liked that I’d be able to see both children and adult patients. Third, as an allergist, I act like a detective on a daily basis as I try to determine what is causing my patient’s symptoms. Finally, I’m interested in public health and innovations that can help to improve it; allergy provides both of these. After residency, I moved to Philly for my Allergy/Immunology fellowship at U Penn/CHOP, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of such as prestigious allergy program.
In addition, becoming a physician was a personal goal for me as I’m the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college and the only physician in my extended family. I worked hard and made many sacrifices to achieve this goal, including balancing many jobs throughout college while maintaining high grades. I believed this was an occupation where I could affect people’s lives in a very personal way. I also believed that my specialized knowledge in medicine would open up multiple opportunities, such as being the chief allergist and co-founder for Ready, Set, Food!, which I’m extremely passionate about.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was honored to present at this year’s Food Allergy Fund Summit in addition to meeting some of the most influential chefs, innovators, and researchers in the world of food allergy. It was really inspiring to be a part of such an important event for the food allergy community and to promote more awareness and funding for research.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I flew to New York for an important partnership meeting but my babysitter cancelled at the last minute. I ended up having to bring my 9-month-old infant to a meeting with VPs and Directors at a Fortune 500 company. Thankfully, my daughter Ava was perfectly behaved throughout the meeting and I was really pleased to see that everyone was really understanding of the circumstances. As a working mother, it’s easy to get overwhelmed but I’m hopeful that my experience with bringing my 9-month-old daughter to an important business meeting (albeit through accidental circumstances) is a sign that there is more support and accommodation for working parents.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a board-certified allergist, I’ve seen firsthand how families struggle with food allergies. Thankfully, findings from recent landmark studies have opened our eyes to new ways of thinking about allergy prevention in children. These studies have shown that introducing infants to common allergenic foods (peanut, egg, and milk) early and frequently can reduce their risk of developing a food allergy by up to 80%.
But as a mom, I also know firsthand how difficult it can be to introduce your baby to allergenic foods. When my son David was 5 months old, I prepared egg, peanut, and yogurt snacks for him to eat multiple times per week, but this process was very time-consuming and frustrating. Most of what I offered him to eat ended up either on my kitchen floor or on his face — -not in his mouth.
Motivated by my clinical and personal experiences, along with a team of passionate physicians, leading experts and parents, we set out to create a product that made early and sustained introduction safe, simple, and effective. After over a year of research and development, we’re proud to offer Ready, Set, Food! to families. Ready, Set, Food!’s premeasured system gradually introduces babies to allergenic foods in the exact amounts used in recent landmark studies, making it as easy and safe as possible to help reduce babies’ risk of developing a food allergy.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re working on our innovation pipeline at Ready, Set, Food! to introduce a new product we’ll launch later this year with more allergens. This will help us advance our goal of helping to give more children food freedom.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
First and foremost, do what you’re passionate about and that has the potential to transform lives. Starting a business takes so much time and effort but doing it for the purpose of helping others is so rewarding! Secondly, and especially as a working mom, I think it’s always important to promote work-life balance for your team. Whether you’re a parent or not, everyone has competing priorities and it’s important for your employees to have time to recharge.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Surround yourself with smart, talented and driven people and inspire them with an important mission that’s central to your brand and organization. At Ready, Set, Food!, we’re trying to grow a profitable business but I’m inspired and motivated everyday to be a part of our movement to help transform the lives of countless children by giving them an allergy-free future.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My life is nuts right now between starting a new private practice and helping create and run Ready, Set, Food!, and I couldn’t have done it without my husband. I can rely on my husband to proofread important emails, allow me to practice my presentations in front of him even if its at midnight, and prepare delicious dinners when I’m too busy to help. Oh, and be my biggest cheerleader.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We started Ready, Set, Food! to make early and sustained allergen introduction easy for busy families and picky eaters. Since our launch in 2018, we feel proud and privileged to have reached thousands of children through our product. I’m passionate about transforming this many lives, however I’m even more excited to look into the future knowing that we have just scratched the surface!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
● Transparent: I’m excited about making it easy for parents to understand the recent research on food allergy prevention and what that means for their family.
● Passionate: I — along with a team of parents, physicians and experts — am passionate about ending the food allergy epidemic and our mission to give children the gift of food freedom.
● Informed: I poured over countless studies, trials and research throughout the course of a year and a half to help develop our evidence-based approach and help reduce the risk of developing food allergies by up to 80%.
● Caring: As an allergist, mother and co-founder, I truly care about educating families about childhood food allergies and food allergy prevention because we want them to make the best, informed decision for their children’s early nutrition.
● Relatable: I’m always inspired by my own experience as a busy mom trying to do early allergen introduction. My personal experiences drives me to make it easy, accessible and safe for families.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A movement to end the food allergy epidemic so that children everywhere can live a life free from food allergies.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.” -Bill Gates
Because there is currently no cure for food allergies, prevention is our best defense. This is why I’m so passionate about Ready, Set, Food!: we focus on prevention of food allergies to give families the best head-start for an allergy-free future.
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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I’ve always been inspired by the work that Bill and Melinda Gates do through their foundation. Their commitment to improve children’s health is a constant reminder that ensuring that children everywhere survive and thrive is an important mission that unites us all.