Why pharma veteran Rachel Yarcony launched her own foodtech startup

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Some years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) called stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” While WHO made this declaration in a pre-Covid-19 world, the pandemic and its subsequent impacts didn’t render stress any less a concern. If anything, today’s world, with its political and societal instabilities and near-constant stream of bad news, makes stress an even larger health concern to be monitored more meticulously. 

Enter myAir, a foodtech company using adaptogens, data analytics, and nutrition bars to help consumers combat stress in their lives.

Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that aid the body in responding to stress and anxiety. Some of the most commonly known include ginseng, ashwagandha and tulsi (aka “holy basil”). myAir uses combinations of these adaptogens in their snack bars to target individual users’ specific stress needs.

Individuals first take an online quiz, then receive recommendations on which bars to purchase based on their needs and preferences. The myAir smartwatch app measure’s that person’s vitals and offers feedback on how the bars are working to lower stress levels and increase overall wellness.

myAir co-founder and CEO Rachel Yarcony (RY) went into detail recently on how the process works to lower stress, why she started the company in the first place, and what’s on the horizon for myAir.


AFN: Describe your journey of starting myAir.

RY: I started my journey in Belgium and I worked for the European Union, I did consultancy for Nestlé and fell in love with the food industry.

Then I worked for Strauss Group, and then I moved back to Nestle and I was the CEO of the snack division, so all the junk food like chips and pretzels. I really enjoyed managing and leading innovation products. Then I was headhunted by Teva Pharmaceuticals, the leading generic pharma company. I was VP of global marketing and communication and it was an amazing opportunity for me, but then Teva suffered from huge financial crisis, and I suddenly started to feel stress.

Physically, I couldn’t sleep at night. [Throughout] my whole career — as a mother of three kids and a caregiver for my parents — I always had a hectic lifestyle. But this was the first time that stress really hurt my my body and my sleep. And I really wanted to find a solution from my stress that would not come from drugs because at Teva I learned about the placebo effect and all of the quality problems that you have in pharma.

I was lucky enough to meet a brain researcher who told me about research he conducted with adaptogens. Adaptogens are botanical extracts, and there are 20,000 different adaptogens that affect our mind. He shared with me some knowledge about different formulations of adaptogens that create different effects on the mood, and I suddenly had my “aha” moment. I felt that we could solve this problem of stress with food, and that was the big shift. I quit my job at Teva to form my own startup.

When I started my journey, it was only the idea to take the research about super-plants and infuse it into nutrition. But then I learned that stress is so personal, and I had these discussions with experts and with my co-founder [Dovev Goldstein], and then we understood the need to bring [in] personalization.

The next step was to find the right stress researcher to help us with the algorithms. We were fortunate enough to have Professor [Daniela] Kaufer. She’s the associate dean of biological sciences at UC Berkeley. She pushed us to understand that stress is a problem of mind and body, and that we needed to bring in a psychological part.

Stress is very personal. Harvard Medical School stated already that stress has many faces that relate to personality and of course our life and our DNA. So we created a mechanism that leverages physiological data from smartwatches. We combine that with cognitive data, and we know how to tailor a solution to your stress effects.

AFN: Tell us a bit more about the snack bars.

RY: We send a mix of bars that are tailored to you. Each one of our bars contain different super plants, a different formulation that creates different effects on the mood. So there are plants that will enable you to feel more relaxed and prepare your body to sleep. Another formulation will prepare give you more energy in the morning, because there are people that, due to stress, wake up without energy. It’s not because they didn’t sleep, it’s just because of stress. There is a formulation that will sharpen your focus, another formulation that helps you sleep better.

We conducted a very thorough research and learned that 84% of our users increase the quality and 80% of them decrease stress using our platform.

AFN: Your corporate program is a big part of the business nowadays.

RY: Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization declared that chronic stress is the pandemic of our era. When I worked for Teva, it was unheard of to talk about mental health and stress. Of course, we were all very stressed, but the organization didn’t give us tools.

Since COVID, organizations understand that they need to provide [those] tools for their employees.

We offer a holistic solution for organizations that want to help their employees to gain stress resilience. There is no company that has no KPIs or or where everything is chill, and that’s okay. But employers need to provide tools to their employees to manage that. And today we are doing that in organizations with success because organizations that start to manage stress not only calculate calories or steps, they start to calculate and measure their wellness.

AFN: Is myAir is helping consumers change their behaviors?

RY: Change comes with very small steps. What we provide is a hassle-free tool that you don’t need to work for. You first discover your stress effects, which is the first step to understanding yourself better. Then you have your bars and every day. If you want to take another step, go to your Meijer insight app up and look at [your data]. And when you wear the smartwatch, you don’t have to download anything. It’s already there.

The idea is that this mechanism is easy to use. There are moments when [a user is] very engaged in the first few months. Then there are some months that the engagement rate decreases, but they still want to eat the bars. Then they go back to discover themselves again. Data is power. When you learn about yourself, you manage yourself better and we see the shift and we see the impact. Stress is an ongoing process. We empower you with a solution tangible, healthy and tasty. And even if you will do this small step it will be a huge step toward management and stress resilience and we see the results.

AFN: What are your biggest highlights from the past year?

RY: We’ve had a very good year, and we launched more products. And we are launching and more technological parts. Today we’re connecting not only to the Garmin watch, we’re connected to Apple Watch. So the market share now is growing.

And we launched this cooperate wellness platform. We work with amazing organizations like Intel and banks and lots of corporates that want to empower their employees and provide them with real beneficial tools.

Corporates had already started to do mental health and wellness programs, but the problem was engagement. With our mechanism, the secret sauce is the food. So corporates just place the bars in their cafeterias or send to the home of the employees. Employees do the assessment, take the bars that they need, and then they use the myAir insight app, which is another technological achievement that we had this year.

Go to Publisher: AFN
Author: Jennifer Marston