Entrepreneur Iris Sherman discusses her lastest venture – Kitchology – an online platform that gives consumers the tools to manage their food “lifestyle”
Iris Sherman, BS ’84, Health Science; MTASCP ’87, Hematology and Immunology; MBA ’12, Entrepreneurial Studies and Marketing. Photo by Rick Friedman.
A self-described “adventurous entrepreneur,” Iris Sherman is applying her Northeastern education to a new venture called Kitchology (www.kitchology.com). The self-funded startup is developing a software-driven platform that integrates information and responses surrounding consumer food activities, including nutritional behavior, buying habits, allergens, inventory management, and food waste.
“With Kitchology, we are digitizing the kitchen,” explains Sherman, who has 25 years of startup experience. “The platform we are creating learns from your food-purchasing behavior with one goal in mind—to allow people to make food decisions that fit their lifestyle, needs, and desires surrounding food choices.”
Kitchology is an online platform that is backed by patent-pending technology and fully integrates consumers’ food cycles to help them recognize their chosen food lifestyles. It adds value to the user through cost reductions and efficiencies realized in the kitchen and to businesses through incentivized food shopping; better linking of consumers, brands, and retailers around food planning; and making shopping more efficient, while focusing on the consumer’s nutritional goals.
The platform offers tremendous benefits for individuals with nutritional issues such as food allergies, who spend much of their time in the grocery store reading labels for ingredients to avoid. Kitchology helps them shop more efficiently by identifying safe foods based on their nutritional requirements. Through technology linkages, it then maps product locations in their store using location-based technology. This enables them to shop in the same amount of time as someone who doesn’t have special nutritional requirements.
Kitchology was born out of relationships formed from a prior nanotech venture startup along with other individuals who have strong ties to the founding team.
“The founders have a unique understanding of wireless technologies, combined with a passion for reducing food waste, along with similar likes and dislikes of food behavior.
“I know that I am who I am today—and that I chose my present career path—because of the program foundation and the strong network that Northeastern has provided.”
Kitchology is a group of more than 20 individuals, from software developers to engineers to marketers to food managers to physicians. Collectively, the team possesses all the talents, skills, and experience required for a successful startup.During early conversations, we realized that no one had been able to capture this space because it’s complicated to make that technology work in the real world,” says Sherman.
“We have a few people on the team who are very familiar with celiac disease and who have startup experience in the mobile technology space,” says Sherman. “Some of our team members have grown businesses from struggling startups to multimillion-dollar ventures.”
One of the areas where Sherman believes the startup has an edge is in the steps it has taken to protect its intellectual property. The team includes a patent attorney along with the founder, an accomplished inventor who has led the team’s effort to file a number of unique patents to protect the value of the Kitchology concept.
To VC or Not to VC
Another important decision made by the group early on was not to seek venture funding until the business case was established and the patents were filed along with early development of the concepts. They are, however, interested in aligning with the right angel partner who could bring one to two million dollars to the venture, which Sherman says will take them a long way toward realizing their objectives.
“I was a medical technologist early in my career, and then got into biotech by chance through an early venture,” she recalls. “I like the camaraderie of a startup group.”
“My CPS undergraduate experience still sets the attitude and focus for my current experiences, from student mentorship to business endeavors.”
Every member of the Kitchology team currently holds another full-time job, except Sherman, who was a full-time student for the past two years until completing her MBA degree at Northeastern in August 2012.Early on, I learned about bootstrapping and what you can do. When you borrow someone else’s money too early, then the direction can be dictated by the venture capital organization and possibly head in the wrong direction. In this venture, there is an understanding that an equity deal must be made—it is risky, as are many startups, and not too many people like to take chances on that.”
“The Northeastern MBA program has been my foundation for supporting and contributing to the early business case for this venture,” says Sherman.” From understanding the importance of marketing, finance, and project development—and even the influence of social media—to assessing a powerful pitch concept, I’ve been using the last two years of this venture in almost every assignment. In addition to some exceptional professors, I’ve met other students who have signed nondisclosure agreements and given me solid advice.”
With two Northeastern University degrees, Sherman is a second-generation “Double Husky.” Her father, Leonard E. Marget, is a retired chemical engineer and chemistry teacher. He is also a Northeastern alumnus, having earned his undergraduate degree, a Master of Science in Engineering, and a second master’s degree from the University.
“My undergraduate degree is one of my most valuable assets. I was always interested in health sciences and fell in love with the wide range of possibilities within the field of immunology, which, at the time, was just beginning to become understood,” says Sherman.
“I know that I am who I am today—and that I chose my present career path—because of the program foundation and the strong network that Northeastern has provided,” she adds.
“The opportunities that I took advantage of as an undergraduate allowed me to stand out from my peers and opened many doors in my early career.”
Who Empowered You?
Northeastern recently launched a comprehensive fundraising campaign, Empower, which aims to transform higher education for today’s students and professionals through three strategic priorities – student support and financial aid, faculty advancement and expansion, and innovation in education and research. On the Empower website, Sherman discusses the influence of Northeastern teacher/mentor, Professor James Ramos, on her entrepreneurial career.
Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies (CPS) is committed to providing career-focused educational programs that are designed to accommodate the complex lives of motivated learners. Offered in a variety of innovative formats, CPS courses are taught by accomplished scholars and practitioners who have real-world experience. The result is an educational experience founded on proven scholarship, strengthened with practical application, and sustained by academic excellence.
Founded in 1898, Northeastern is a comprehensive, global research university. The university offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and more than 165 graduate programs, ranging from professional master’s degrees to interdisciplinary PhD programs. Northeastern’s research enterprise is aligned with three national imperatives: health, security and sustainability. Northeastern students participate in co-op and other forms of experiential learning in 90 countries on all seven continents.