From The Hospital to The Valley

My startup experience, by Dr James Brief, MD.

One month ago, I was working as a gastroenterologist at Stony Brook University Hospital, located about an hour east of New York City on Long Island. Day-to-day, I saw patients in my clinic, reviewed lab results and MRIs, performed endoscopies, colonoscopies, liver biopsies and implanted feeding tubes in babies too sick to eat.

Today, I’m a co-founder with FoodMarble Digestive Health and life is very different. I’m sitting in a design office in Los Gatos, a town on the south-west nub of Santa Clara County, just before Silicon Valley meets the Santa Cruz Mountains. We are hard at work on a device we’re calling AIRE, which will be the world’s first personal hydrogen breath tester.

Wait, what is a hydrogen breath tester?

When certain foods aren’t fully absorbed in the body, digestive gases are generated, which seep into the bloodstream and can be measured when exhaled out of the lungs. It’s actually pretty amazing technology. Hydrogen breath tests are used by gastroenterologists like myself to find out which food components are improperly digested and accordingly, which foods are most compatible with an individual.

So, startup, what’s that like?

Beside me, Peter Harte (our CTO) is busy wiring circuit boards together and next to him is Lisa Ruttledge (COO). Lisa is in a very active discussion with our industrial design team about how and where the breath that enters the device should exit — a conversation hopping between fluid dynamics and perceptions of personal space.

Standing in front of the team, next to a whiteboard filled with technical specifications and diagrams I could not begin to decipher is Aonghus Shortt, CEO of FoodMarble. Aonghus is the captain of the ship as well as the main software developer.

Two years ago, Aonghus was finishing his PhD in University College Dublin, Ireland. He was frustrated that he was unable to figure out why certain foods caused his girlfriend chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. Today, he is close to figuring out the origin of her symptoms through the hydrogen breath tester we are developing. Once complete, he hopes others with these problems can figure out the source of their own digestive issues.

About 1-in-8 people around the world are suffering with frequent and profoundly disruptive digestive symptoms.

The most painful part of this is that many of these patients aren’t being taken seriously by their doctor and are largely being left to figure it out for themselves. As part of FoodMarble, I want to help find ways to get practical, evidence-based solutions to these people.

In my upcoming posts, I hope to share with you my passion for gastroenterology, my desire to help those struggling with these digestive difficulties, and my opinions on the best ways of managing these problems.

I don’t want these posts to be a lecture — I want them to be a conversation. Feel free to share this post, comment below and if you’d like, tell me your story. Please feel free to ask me questions and suggest topics you would like me to discuss. I hope you will understand that I cannot answer personal medical questions or give specific medical advice but I will do my best to respond to every single comment personally and help you in any way that I can.

This is an exciting journey, one that I invite you to follow with me. A month ago, I was happy to be helping hundreds of patients at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York. Today, I’m excited by the possibility of helping tens of thousands of people worldwide with their digestive issues.

I can’t wait to share more about our progress with you.

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