This Portable Scanner Will Tell You Exactly What’s in Your Food

Some of us basically live to eat, but we don’t always know about all the harmful chemicals and allergens in our food or that are around us. This is especially the case when it comes to eating outside, where it’s rare for restaurants to be completely transparent on the recipes they use for their dishes. Even if you’re an avid cook at home, can you honestly trust everything that’s listed in the nutritional facts section of the ingredients you’re using? The truth is you can’t and it gives those with serious allergies and strict dietary restrictions a hard time choosing what’s safe to eat.

TellSpec, a portable device that connects to your smartphone aims to solve this problem. Here is how it works according to their Indiegogo page:

“TellSpec is a three-part system which includes: (1) a spectrometer scanner (2) an algorithm that exists in the cloud; and (3) an easy-to-understand interface on your smart phone. Just aim the scanner at the food and press the button until it beeps. You can scan directly or through plastic or glass. TellSpec analyzes the findings using the algorithm and sends a report to your phone telling you the allergens, chemicals, nutrients, calories, and ingredients in the food…”

The product was created by Isabel Hoffmann and Stephen Watson. Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur who has founded eight companies in the last 19 years across various industries including healthcare, preventive medicine, genetics, technology, entertainment, and education. Watson is a professor at York University in Toronto with a Ph.D in pure mathematics.

TellSpecs Indiegogo project was a huge success raising $386,392 on Indiegogo, more than triple their target goal of $100,000.

We recently had the chance to interview TellSpec Founder and CEO Isabel Hoffmann. Here, we discuss her experience with crowdfunding and the lessons she’s learned along the way.

The idea was initially conceived by Isabel after her daughter suffered from food allergens. Why did you choose to approach Stephen specifically with your idea?

Stephen and I have been friends for many years and he is a brilliant mathematician so I knew he would be perfect for such an ambitious project – but I did not actively recruit Stephen – our business collaboration was born from us sharing ideas about my daughter’s illness. We started exploring ideas to help others have a product to find out what is in their food so they could avoid health problems that can come from food allergies and intolerances.  When we realized there was a way we decided together to work as a team to make it happen.

Why did you choose to raise funds via crowdfunding? What have been the positives and negatives of going through this route?

The great thing about crowdfunding is you can quickly find out what kind of demand and interest your product has with a mass audience – the people who will become future customers. We’ve received great feedback and support and we’re thrilled with our decision to make TellSpec a reality. Crowdfunding also offers instant validation from thousands of future customers who give the concept their blessing by contributing to the campaign and pre-ordering the product.  Crowdfunding is not just about tapping into the public psyche and discovering how much they really want your product or service.  For some select startups like ours, it is about crowdsourcing a problem into the hands of many.  The links between food and health is beyond the individual; it is a crowdsourced relationship.  This was another reason for the crowdfunding.   The two go hand in hand.

You managed to raise more than triple your target goal on Indiegogo. Did you expect to see so much success?

We were extremely excited and grateful to all of our contributors who propelled our campaign well beyond its goal with contributions reaching nearly four times the original goal.  The response to TellSpec has been nothing short of phenomenal.

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Did you have a process of how you were going to launch your Indiegogo campaign? What are some things you did to make sure your campaign would be a success?

Being a Canadian company, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but Indiegogo was extremely helpful and guided us along the way.

You guys have received some scrutiny online because of the fact that the device shown in your video is not an actual working prototype. This had led to some saying that your campaign is a scam, how have you guys been dealing with the negative reviews?

Everyone is going to have an opinion. We stand by our product and know it works and will help many people live a healthier lifestyle.  Technology that is revealing and disruptive should always expect incredulous reviews.  If we didn’t, I think we might want to revisit our message.  Change is hard, choice is even harder, knowledge is dangerous and powerful.  These are all the things that TellSpec represents.  Of course, we will get negative reviews.

From what I’ve read, you guys have successful tested three different types of scanners. The challenge now is finding a spectrometer compact enough to fit on a keychain. Do you have any updates on your progress?

We’ve tested five different spectrometers and are currently speaking with three different companies that can produce a compact version. Your understanding of the size of a spectrometer is incorrect, two of the spectrometers we tested are small boxes that fits into your palm, they are very portable. We are not developing our own scanner, our core competence is actually the algorithm that does the food analyzes and not the manufacturing of spectrometers. This will be done by a third party partner.


How confident are you guys in getting a working model delivered to your backers by August 2014?

Everything is on schedule for August 2014.

Lastly, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far through building your startup?

Listen to your customers and modify your product so that it delivers what they want.  We really appreciate crowdsourcing also for this reason as it gives you the immediate feedback desired from your customers. We also learned that there are many investment groups out there supporting social impact and sustainable projects such as TellSpec. It is clear to us that TellSpec is demanded by a huge number of people in all corners of the world and they are willing to help us in all sorts of ways in this clean food revolution.

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