Welcome back to our Founder Stories series, where we sit with inspiring and influential women to dive into their entrepreneurial journey and discuss all things business (and wellness). Today, we speak with Ara Katz, the co-founder of sciences company Seed.
Ara Katz is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Seed Health, a microbial sciences company pioneering applications of microbes to impact human and planetary health. A serial entrepreneur, she’s worked at the intersection of tech, media, and consumer brands. She co-founded mobile commerce company, Spring, and advises and angel invests in companies like RXDefine, C16, mindbodygreen, consumer brands like Tamara Mellon and Stadium Goods, and healthcare startup, Mahmee.
FLAURA: Your new company Seed has burst onto the market with rave reviews and celebrity-endorsement. What inspired you to found the company?
Ara: I have always been passionate about health and science, despite what my LinkedIn says. I always knew I would end up in health, but I certainly didn’t know it would be this way.
I met my co-founder, Raja, while I was pregnant. My pregnancy and breastfeeding experience, paired with our mutual fascination with the microbiome (especially its impact during critical windows of an infant’s development) prompted the question ‘how can we set a child up for a healthy life?’. One question led to many around the possibilities of the microbiome—how bacteria will improve the health of ourselves and our planet—and culminated in a shared vision to begin Seed.
F: What makes Seed’s Daily Synbiotic different to other probiotics/prebiotics?
Our DS-01™ Daily Synbiotic is our proprietary formulation which contains 24 clinically and scientifically studied strains to support digestive and systemic health. Our strains have been clinically studied in 16 strain-specific, double-blind, placebo-controlled, published human studies, as well as 13 in vitro mechanistic studies.
We developed a novel dry encapsulation capsule-in-capsule delivery system, ViaCap™, which nests an inner probiotic capsule inside an outer prebiotic capsule. This system provides exceptional stability and bacterial viability—results from our heat and humidity testing indicate remarkable heat and humidity tolerance, specifically in the presence of 10 days of continuous exposure to 100°F heat.
We’re also among the first to evaluate the survival of our capsule in a Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME®)—the closest system developed to model human digestion and the gut. It recreates the physiological conditions and biological processes (food uptake, peristalsis, stomach acid, pancreatic digestive enzymes, bile acids, and time spent in each step) representative of the human gastrointestinal tract. It also controls for temperature and pH. Our ViaCap™ delivered an average of 100% of our probiotic starting dose, indicating viability through a simulated stomach, and through the end of the small intestine for complete delivery to the colon.
Also, while most prebiotics today fall into the category of dietary fibers such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), or inulin, our Microbiota-Accessible Prebiotic [MAP] introduces a patented, plant-based, non-fermenting prebiotic compound (punicalagin) concentrated from Indian pomegranate. Punicalagin is further biotransformed by gut bacteria into beneficial metabolites for the body.
Lastly, we perform extensive testing on our Daily Synbiotic, including whole-genome sequencing, in order to fully characterize each of our probiotic bacteria down to the strain level.
F: Your products are packaged in sustainable materials including glass jars and vials and biodegradable paper foam. What has the journey been like building a sustainable brand, and how does that ethos impact other areas of the business?
Bacteria shows us that everything is connected—that the choices we make extend beyond our body, to our Earth. For us, human health and planetary health are one and the same, so sustainability isn’t ‘important’, it’s table stakes as a framework across the entire company.
We are most known for our sustainable packaging system and our SeedLabs work—microbial innovations that address various planetary issues. In August 2018, we announced our probiotic for honey bees to protect against Colony Collapse Disorder and American Foulbrood Disease (covered by Fast Company and featured in Time’s Best Inventions of 2018–Honorable Mentions).
This also includes our sustainable packaging and pursuit of new biomaterials. Collaborating with innovators from around the world, we continuously research, test, and design with biomaterials and unique applications of upcycled waste. Each component of our sustainable refill system is designed to protect your Daily Synbiotic and be gentler on our Earth. Each Welcome Kit comes with a glass jar for monthly refills—shipped in a custom corrugated shipping box constructed from ecological paper made from algae that would otherwise damage fragile marine ecosystems. Our monthly refills come in a bio-based tray made of renewable ingredients that are recyclable and home-compostable.
F: Seed is backed by a plethora of research and you have your own Scientific Advisory Board. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in the health/wellness space seeking to build a scientific foundation for their product?
If you want to build a scientific foundation, create a scientific foundation. Don’t reference science, do science. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) hiring someone to steward your research, development, clinical work, testing, validation, regulatory, IP and compliance with marketing and scientific communications.
F: COVID-19 has upended the way many of us work and we have had to adapt to new methods, including digitally/remotely. How do you keep your team motivated amidst all the changes?
We’ve oriented ourselves around one of the most meaningful missions of our work—the ongoing translation, communication, education, and empowerment of science. From driving early awareness, to our ongoing COVID-19 Highlight that translates the latest headlines, FAQs, and updates from the scientific and medical communities, to our Work From Home Guide, we’ve dedicated our channels in service of our greater mission and community.
F: Are there any challenges you faced while building Seed? And if so, how did you stay optimistic during the setbacks?
Because of our scientific integrity and commitment to sustainability and education, everything we do means more friction, time and costs, compared to industry norms. This is the price of innovation and raising the standards in an industry that benefits from many loopholes. And we are happy to play the long game—and believe this is what people deserve. When it comes to human health and the health of our planet, no corners should be cut.
F: What’s the most rewarding part of your day now?
There’s two: watching the work that we’ve developed over the past years at Seed finally get synthesized and ready for launch into the world, and when my son comes home from school and interrupts whatever Zoom call I’m on.
F: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
She didn’t always follow the recipe.
F: Are you working on any new/exciting projects you can tell us about?
Regarding human application, we are developing a pipeline of consumer probiotics to target specific ecosystems of the body and life stages, including a synbiotic for children.
For our continued environmental work, we are collaborating with leading researchers and scientists to explore the role of the microbiome on coral health, and we have some exciting new projects to share around sustainability very soon. Stay tuned …
Top Wellness Habits
- Conscious Breathing
- Hydrating + Green Tea
- Walking + Thinking (at the same time)