As an Entrepreneur, Don’t Accept Current Solutions as the Best Solution: With Priska Diaz of Bittylab
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“Hopefully your foundation will have several back up plans that can sustain growth. Either way, be flexible and welcome new ideas.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Priska Diaz, M.S. She is the Founder and CEO of Bittylab, makers of Bare® Air-free feeding system. This mom-inventor sat at her kitchen table day after day to design and engineer her idea for three and a half years. Her single-handed, self-funded efforts resulted in a hand-made working prototype. Crowdfunding manufacturing was an attractive option, as it had to be sub-contracted. She hosted a pre-sale that raised $75,000, and a cult following of thousands of fans in just a few weeks. This helped pay for a small production run, used for proof of concept and market test. Two years later, with loans from local and community banks, Bittylab officially launched Bare® Air-free feeding system in 185 Babies “R” Us stores. Priska has received over $20,000 in Grants from First Niagara and the 1010 Wins Small Business Challenge. With patented technology, Bare® feeds baby air-free milk, in upright position and lets baby control the flow and pace of feeding. These 3 advancements led to breakthrough clinical findings: Bare® Air-free significantly reduced GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms in 75 percent of babies, in the first 2 weeks. Bittylab is now seeking FDA approval on a medical device submission for preemies and full-term babies to treat and prevent infant GERD.
Thank you for doing this with us. What is your backstory?
I left my native Peru at the age of 17. Full of dreams and goals, I worked double shifts to learn English, put myself through college, and received a Bachelor’s degree, with honors, and a Master’s Degree, later on. By the time I was 30 I had held director and creative director positions for several worldwide known brands, had received numerous national and international design awards, had over 12 years of experience in several areas of design, and was ready to become a wife and a mother. As a big supporter of breastfeeding, I was set to exclusively breastfeed my first son, but a low milk supply condition forced me to introduce formula bottles. My son immediately developed gas, colic, reflux, overfeeding, and stopped breastfeeding. My research showed that traditional baby bottles infiltrate air which babies swallow, creating gas build-up; they need to be turned upside down to feed, forcing the babies in horizontal position which induces acid regurgitation; and a constant flow leads to overfeeding behaviors. My observations led me to disrupt the infant feeding category by designing a device that feeds babies air-free milk, while in an upright position and lets the babies control the flow and pace of feeding.
After the national launch in 2016, thousands of moms came together with a single voice saying, “my baby’s acid reflux is gone, in addition to gas and colic issues!” This discovery led to a pilot clinical study which resulted in a breakthrough: after using Bare Air-free for two weeks, 75 percent of babies no longer met clinical criteria for GERD. National statistics show that 66 percent of all 4-months suffer with severe symptoms of GERD, which includes irritation to the internal organs (NIH). I’m thrilled to announce that we are working towards making Bare Air-free a medical device for the treatment and prevention of infant GERD.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Bare Air-free offers an unprecedented technology in the infant feeding category. As such, the Pediatric industry is mesmerized and eager to learn about it. We have found that the combination of the three benefits: air-free milk, upright feeding position, and flow and pace control significantly minimizes infant GERD symptom. GERD is defined as serious condition that include vomiting, poor weight gain, esophagitis, cough, laryngitis, wheezing, dental erosions, sinusitis, and recurrent otitis media leading to inconsolable crying in infants. This condition is currently treated with prescription drugs, proven by the FDA to not be effective, and may be causing a long list of side effects. The combination of a new and effective device to treat GERD combined with the lack of treatment and prevention options, opens a rare and colossal opportunity. We are getting ready to start a clinical study as well as the regulatory submission process for medical device. We are also working on the design of a smaller version for premature babies in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). We are extremely excited to learn that our device can put an end to a common, yet painful condition affecting millions of infants.
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?
My children are my rock. If it wasn’t for Carlton and Adriana, I don’t think Bittylab would exist. The idea and necessity came to me because of my son’s symptoms. I created Bare Air-free for him, to alleviate his pain. It so happens, that near 70 percent of infants experience the same painful symptoms. A few years ago, I had to be at a trade show exactly the week when Carlton had his eighth birthday. As painful as it was for me to leave, he was very understanding and even comforted me that he would be fine. Although Adriana doesn’t like it when I have to travel, she is very understanding as well and we double mommy time upon my return. They both help me push Bittylab forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Bare® Air-free brings 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 suffer 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.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?
- Believe in your dreams. With me, almost every step of the way has been a challenge, but I’ve pressed on. Whether it was thinking of the idea, the patent, the design, the manufacturing, or the go-to market process. If I had listened to the people I went to for advice, none of this would have happened. As a designer and a mother with a child in pain, I knew my invention was going to help, yet the male-dominated manufacturing business discarded that possibility early on and throughout the process.
- Jack of all trades, master of none. Don’t try to do everything yourself, it is simply impossible. Consider involving talent with specialties that compliment yours.
- The show must go on. Every business goes through cycles, and there are always going to be vultures waiting for you to show vulnerability. Remind yourself that “the show must go on,” and keep your head up without stumbling.
- Adapt to change. Whether you have a plan or not, a plan is a series of hypotheses built one on top of the other. Hopefully your foundation will have several back up plans that can sustain growth. Either way, be flexible and welcome new ideas.
- Find mentors. The right mentor can make all the difference in the world. Take your time and select one.
- If I can add one more piece of advice, it’s that karma is real. When you take the extra step to help a customer, a fellow entrepreneur, or a random person on the street, it always comes back to you.
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?
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.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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