Food Allergy Technology Comes in New Waves: Interview with Joey Di Gangi
As we all know, technology is rapidly changing in order to make our lives more efficient. With this, there are new companies rising up out of the ground with ideas that could wildly alter people’s daily routine. We all know someone who has an allergy. Whether it is to something as mild as animal hair or to something very common and serious as nuts, people live with these allergies every day and have to be extra careful about what they do, where they go and especially, what they eat. Very quickly, if not careful, their health could be compromised. And what are they to do in a situation where the people around them don’t know what to do to help? That’s where Joey Di Gangi comes in. The following is an interview that we had with him about his company AssureTech, that is changing the way people with severe allergies are able to live every single day...
Interviewer: So, do you want to tell me about AssureTech and how you got started?
Di Gangi: So, it started...I was a junior attending Juniata College here and I was a marketing major as an undergraduate. I was taking entrepreneurial courses on creative thinking and one of the big, final projects was taking a problem we identified in our life and trying to help with it. And so, for me, one of the biggest problems throughout my entire life, I’ve had a very severe peanut and tree nut food allergy. It was a pretty central issue to my life and to find more and more ways to help that whole community just manage the condition more. And that community now makes up about 10% of the population. I wanted to come up with different software and technology ideas that could just work towards this big goal of making life easier, you know, just making it easier with that condition, whether it’s an emergency or a day to day basis, anywhere in between, just trying to help people.
Interviewer: Well, that’s great!
Di Gangi: Thank you. So, that was a class project, the class went well and they said they had a small business incubator on campus if I wanted to try and bring that idea to life. So, that’s what I started tapping into. I obtained different grants through the college and got on Ben Franklin (Ben Franklin Technology Partners) and Startup Alleghenies radar during that process.
Interviewer: Those are two very good companies to be a part of so that’s awesome! So, what has been the most satisfying part of creating AssureTech?
Di Gangi: Oh! I mean, it’s all been really enjoyable. One of the most satisfying things, I think was... the big problem I had trying to get started, going from idea to company, was where that step one was supposed to be. So, we didn’t have enough funding to hire a full development team and without the development team, we couldn’t get a product. Without a product, we couldn’t get sales, you can’t get funding. So, it was kinda like this loop because you need the funding to start the project and it was this cycle. So, I was caught in that when I was trying to get moving. Working with the organizations to try and figure out how to plan and strategize the company but needing that catalyst to start things off. So, at that time I graduated from Juniata College and was recruited by one of the professors who was also a co-founder of a software company in Taiwan and he recruited me because they were going to start headquarters here. They wanted me to be the first full time hire. So, while they were setting that up, I went to Taiwan for nine months to get familiar with the company so I could come back here and start the U.S. office. While I was there, at this point I had never been out of the country before, so I had no idea how to communicate anything, let alone the allergy. And I was doing an ineffective job at communicating my food allergy and I had a life threatening allergic reaction while I was there. I went to the hospital and it was scary. I lucked out because my co-workers were there to help guide me through the process, but if I was alone, I wouldn’t have had options. So, what I ended up doing after that, from a development standpoint, was something that could help translate better and help you find emergency medical attention a lot simpler than some of the other things I was hoping to bring to market at the time. And so, I started watching tutorial after tutorial online and tried to research and develop methods of trying to get a proof of concept for a food allergy translation app to market and after all that time, I built one. And that was really cool because it just kicked off everything from that point. We started to build a brand, started to build a user base, we were able to come back and apply for different grants and addition funding and then eventually, the Taiwanese company that I was working for, and I’m still employed by in this area, they saw the momentum that AssureTech was starting to pick up and they identified us as a valid investment opportunity. So, they invested in us and right now, they are developing the more advanced software and technology with their investment contribution. I call every night, the Taiwanese engineer team, and we are back and forth, trying to bring this next app to market.
Interviewer: That’s amazing and definitely a journey! So, do you have a role model? Who is your inspiration?
Di Gangi: I have a lot of mentors in my circle that are really helpful. The leadership team that I get to work with at KM Mobile have had a huge impact. They give me everything from the technical ins and outs to just how to manage a company, how to assume a leadership role on the team. So, I think they have been incredibly helpful. The business coaches I’ve gotten to work with at Ben Franklin, Startup Alleghenies, have all been a big part of my network as well. Every time I need advice, I’ll go to some combination of all those different people. My father is a good one too. He’s a financial planner and entrepreneur. He has his own firm from Allentown, Pennsylvania. And he’s somebody who’s also gone through a lot, a lot of the startup struggles and he always has good advice for that. So, between family and all these different people in my network, I think that’s the big help for that.
Interviewer: So, what has been the biggest challenge for you? What’s something that has challenged your skill set?
Di Gangi: I think the biggest challenge was kind of what I was talking about with getting started. You get caught in that loop of not having all of different pieces to build off of each other and something has to give. You have to find something to get the ball rolling and for me, that was really the catalyst and that was going to the hospital in Taiwan. I didn’t know what problems a person with food allergies would have and came out of that obviously terribly shaken, but I came out with a very clear idea of, ‘Here’s a project I can develop right now, right here that can help to start everything off.’ My background was business so I had no technical skills, no development skills, skills with user interface design. Everything you say up to right now on the website was self taught. Now, we are getting some teams to come in and give us a technical tune-up but, up until January, it was all me trying to learn as I went, trying to learn this technology. There’s also another group I’ll go to, a digital agency in Portland that I’ll go to and we’ll communicate and Zoom meet on a regular basis. I’ll ask them basic questions about development and they’ll take the time to strategize with me and talk about the process.
Interviewer: When I checked out your stuff, I was very impressed. Going from having a specialty and moving right to another one because of having passion for something that you deal with on a daily basis, I mean that’s big. So, what do you feel is your strong attribute?
Di Gangi: I think I do a great job surrounding myself with great people. I know who to go to help for and I guess I’m not afraid to ask the occasional dumb question. You have to go in with an open mind and be coachable.
Interviewer: That’s very important. How does this product solve some of the problems people with allergies face? Can you give a background about the product and simplify it for people who may not understand.
Di Gangi: This product aims to make life easier to manage with a food allergy. Through big pain points there are certainly during the emergency, while traveling and on the day to day basis. So, on the emergency side, if you were to have an allergic reaction, the first thing you need to do is administer the EpiPen. EpiPens are only used as high as 30%, as low as 10% at the time and one of the big reasons for that is because people struggle to remember to bring that medication with them. So, one of the things we’ve been doing is developing a physical device, hardware, that connects with either the EpiPen or the AUVI-Q, auto injectors. It attaches with one of those and then syncs with the app, so if you leave it behind somewhere, you’ll get a notification that says, “Hey, go back and get your medication.” So, it starts to make sure they have their medication on them at all times. Then during the emergency, after you administer the epinephrine, then the app is set up so it will send emergency notification to your parents with your GPS location. It would locate the nearest hospital to your location and it would be able to connect you with emergency services. One of the things is that, if you’re having an allergic reaction, there’s a chance your throat might close up to the point where it makes speaking very difficult, so what we are setting you up to do, on your behalf, it would be able to verbalize you name, your condition and your location to the 9-1-1 transponder. So even if you aren’t able to speak, you can communicate your situation effectively.
Interviewer: That’s really cool!
Di Gangi: Thank you! That comes from living with the what-if scenarios and just trying to come up with the best solution to that. We were doing our own translations that we procured from a professional company and now we’re in the process of partnering with a company that is dedicated towards food allergy and dietary restriction translation. So they are going to introduce their translation software with our mobile app, also displaying options where if you need help during an emergency, it will spell out, “Hey, I need help and I need emergency assistance right away!” It’ll give instructions to the person and that’s available, so far, in 47 languages.
Interviewer: You’re changing the game! I think about my cousin who has a peanut allergy. He keeps his EpiPen with him and I believe he has another either at his parents or his grandparents house. As a family member, I know to be aware and make sure there aren’t things with nuts that are going to be around him, we’re always asking, “Can Evan eat that? Does it have nuts or was it made in a plant that also makes things with nuts?” But I wouldn’t know where to begin if I had to help someone who was suffering from an allergic reaction. So, that’s really incredible. Tell me about a situation where things weren’t going the way you wanted them to with AssureTech and it’s development and tell me how you overcame the obstacle.
Di Gangi: The biggest example is probably still trying to learn the development myself. That’s still one of the biggest struggles. To tell you the truth, that’s probably the best example. In the early history of the company, that was probably the one defining struggle that we faced. Now, we are fortunate enough and we are kind of going into that next phase where we are going to get funding from Ben Franklin, we were able to get a full software development team behind us and now, just because I don’t know what that next big hurdle is going to be. But we’re gearing up for whatever that’s going to look like and we’re entering the next stage. But in the early part, it really was getting started without an in-house tech person.
Interviewer: Understanding the extensive technology that you’re dealing with everyday, that’s a lot without someone to help. So, what is something that makes you optimistic for your company’s future? You said that you’re looking to work into the next step.
Di Gangi: Optimistic really comes down to people in our network. Those are the people in our team, the KM Mobile team, our investor and technical partner. They have been around for over 10 years. Their apps have been downloaded over 2,000,000 times. They are some of the best engineers around and that you can hope to have on your team. With the hardware development, we have been working with Justin Merrell at Catalyst Space and in his own discipline, he’s been so helpful in working with an international team. The team out in Portland, Perimark, have been helping with some of the digital strategy and with some of the other development questions I’ve had. They are just good mentors and are very engaging. They do a great job. Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Startup Alleghenies are great in network. The whole food allergy community, and I haven’t touched on this much, but obviously the initial ideas came from my personal struggles and personal concerns but every time I had an idea, I would turn to these food allergy support groups and pitch the idea to them. I would say, ‘Hey, can you fill out this survey? Can you let me know what you think? Am I the only one who has this problem or what does this problem look like to you?’ And the engagement and interaction was just unbelievably positive. Some of the contacts I’ve made are lifelong connections now. This is a community who is there to help and connect me with other people who have the same condition. So, the people are really the part I’m most fortunate to have. I never have to face any of the problems that come up alone.
Interviewer: If someone wants to learn more about AssureTech and your products, where should they go?
Di Gangi: www.epicenter-app.com
We want to thank Joey Di Gangi for talking with us and giving us such great information. For those who suffer from allergies and worry about day to day life, AssureTech’s newest app is going to change how you deal with allergies and is going to help educate the public as well. Check out their website www.epicenter-app.com and you can download the beta version of their app right now! Available on the App Store and and in the Google Play Store!