Got a food allergy? Maybe an intolerance to things like gluten. Maybe you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
If any of these apply to you, going to the grocery store may be a frustrating experience of having to read every ingredient in everything you plan to buy.
Kaylin Underwood has a solution—the app AllerX, which will do all of that automatically.
“It’ll have a database of ingredients and nutritional information on a list of all scannable items in a grocery store,” she explains. “What you do is create a profile for you and your family, entering any foods you’re allergic to or any dietary restrictions that have.
“You take the app to the store with you and scan the products as you put them in your cart and it alerts you if one of those ingredients or restrictions are in them without having to read every single ingredient,” says Ms. Underwood, who has dealt with her own gluten intolerance in the past.
Her business idea was so good, a three-judge panel selected it as the winner of the recent HatchIt competition in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business.
“It’ll have a positive effect on society; it’s not just a capital gain. It’ll save lives if it is developed,” says Ms. Underwood, a senior with a major is communication and minor in entrepreneurship.
"Her idea made sense right away,” says HatchIt judge Marco Perez, vice president in charge of operations at Launch Cha, which helps develop entrepreneurship opportunities in the city. “I understood the problem and the value of her proposed solution. Her idea would be life-saving if executed properly.”
For HatchIt judge Kristina Montague, Ms. Underwood’s app stood out for an intensely personal reason.
“I am a mother of a child, now 17, that has suffered from a serious peanut allergy from the age of three and have landed in the emergency room many times due to unknown ingestion of peanuts present in a variety of foods, so this one hit particularly close to home,” says Ms. Montague, founder of the JumpFund, which invests in female entrepreneurs in the Southeast to help them start or build their companies. “I would have loved an app that quickly identifies if I should be concerned about a particular product at the grocery store, as many are not wholly transparent about their ingredients or processing exposure.”
In HatchIt, Ms. Underwood competed against seven other students and one two-member team, each pitching their business idea to a three-judge panel. Students were required to make a two-minute presentation then take questions for three minutes.
“I didn’t think I was going to win. My presentation—I’m not going to lie—was not that great,” she says. “I’m bad at talking in front of people. There were about 100 people in the audience and I was onstage and I honestly think I had something of a panic attack.”
But she knew her product well enough and had enough confidence in the idea that she “loosened up” during the Q&A session.
With her piercing blue eyes and silver-dyed hair, Ms. Underwood very much looks the part of a young, hip entrepreneur. Her prizes as the winner of HatchIt give her a leg up in the business world. She receives $2,000, free mentoring from local legal and accounting firms and registration for a Co.Starters workshop, a local nine-week program that advises entrepreneurial newcomers.
Ms. Underwood is in touch with the College of Engineering and Computer Science to find a computer science student who may be able to write the code for AllerX. She also plans to get in touch with local healthcare and insurance companies, which she realizes are critical to getting the app off the ground and successful.
On the inside of her left forearm near the elbow, she has a tattoo that says “Luke 1:37.” “For no word from God will ever fail.”
Whether it’s divine intervention or simple hard work, Ms. Underwood has a mapped-out plan for AllerX that she has faith will succeed.
“I am pretty confident. I think this can be a good thing, but it’s going to be a lot of work. It’s going to be a lot of time, a lot of dedication. I’m scared, but I’m excited.”