Altede is a startup company led by Ed Champion, Dr. Anna Champion, and Briana Petruzzi. They are currently in the process of developing their product, which will be a kit to test for gluten and other allergens in food.
Tell me a little about your team.
Ed Champion: I am the president and I have an MBA and marketing background. I have experience writing many complex proposals, mostly to defense firms. I handle the checkbook, the business affairs and take the lead in writing proposals. Anna is my daughter and she has a Ph.D. in biomedical science. She’s the scientific brains behind the outfit and does the creative thinking and how to solve the technical problems. Briana Petruzzi is an associate of Anna’s. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the lab where Anna works at Virginia Tech. She is in the process of writing her dissertation. She is our product manager, so she is more concerned about the physical configuration of what the kit will actually look like, and she helps me with manufacturing. She also does a lot of the lab work with Anna.
What motivated and inspired you to start your company?
Ed Champion: In December of 2014 Anna and I were sitting in a Chinese restaurant waiting for our order to arrive when Anna looked at me and she said something like, “wow, I wish I knew for sure that the egg drop soup had no gluten in it.”. Then she smiled and told me she and Briana thought they knew how to create a product that could test for gluten in food. Being an MBA I’ve always dreamed of beginning a start up, and immediately saw potential to create a business. Due to the experience of trying to modify our kitchen to be gluten-free after Anna developed celiac disease at the age of twelve, I could see that developing a test for gluten in foods would be a big service. If we could figure out a way to do create a product that is easy, fast, and affordable then we could provide that service to people with serious gluten problems.
What does success look like to you?
Ed Champion: It turns out that because of federal budget cuts there is less biological research going on than there was when Anna started her Ph.D. She does not have a job that is worthy of all the work she put into getting her Ph.D. and Briana can see that being a factor in her future as well. Success for me would be that I am able to retire in a couple years, get enough money to buy my dream sailboat, and that Anna and Briana would have a job worthy of their education. Gluten is one of eight major food allergies recognized by the U.S. government, and if we are successful then they could use the same techniques that we used to develop tests for other food allergies. There is potential for this business to continue to grow and be really prosperous. Success for me would also include that we are able to demonstrate this product and produce a company that provides jobs here in this area. We are from Blacksburg, but we really like this area and we want to contribute to its success.
What are you working on now/next?
Ed Champion: Anna and Briana are finalizing the chemistry and configuration of the product and I’m assisting with the mechanical side. We are also performing customer discovery by going out and talking to other people with celiac disease to see how their experiences differ. We are trying to uncover different segments of the market and verify all of our assumptions. I have been meeting with dietitians, people who have celiac disease, people with gluten intolerance, and people who eliminate gluten because they believe it makes them feel better. We are trying to find out how they live and how gluten affects their lives, where our tests fit in, how much they are willing to pay for our product, and whether they will buy it via the Internet. Most people want to remain informed about the business after I talk with them. So, I have begun to accumulate a list of emails and plan to publish a monthly newsletter about our progress.
What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?
Ed Champion: I went to the Naval Academy and Robert Heinlein, a famous science fiction novelist, came to speak to the midshipmen. One of the two things I remember about his speech is that the most important thing about writing, is to get started and do it. I would say that starting a business is the same way. It is one thing to think about it, but you have to actually start to do it in order to make it happen. At the same time, I would say once you start analyzing and thinking about it you have to be willing to say, “no, this is not a good idea after all,” but if you don’t start and start seriously putting it together you won’t get there.
So you’re working with a mentor, tell me about that experience.
Ed Champion: We happened to know our mentor before being brought in to RAMP. She is the wife of a local entrepreneur and is taking over her retired husband’s business. We met previously at a poster board session and she invited us to tour her plant in Christiansburg. She brings a totally different perspective to the team and helps us all work together.