From Physics to Nutrition: An alumni’s journey to health entrepreneur
An expert in Einstein’s theory of relativity, Technion alumnus Yaron Hadad has managed to strike a “healthy” balance between the esoteric and the every day. Integrating advanced mathematics and physics with an interest in nutrition, he launched the digital health and data analytics start-up, Nutrino Health.
Nutrino is a data platform that gets to know your personal biochemistry in an effort to help you eat healthier. Using state-of-the-art data science, natural language processing and mathematical models, Nutrino engines analyzes millions of recipes, restaurant menus and packaged foods to learn about food composition and nutrients, while also aggregating anonymous information about individuals’ food preferences, dietary needs and health goals. Combining that information with metrics collected from a user’s wearable and medical devices can suggest an optimal diet in real-time. “Everybody knows what foods they love, we help people find out which foods love them back,” Yaron said.
“Just as individuals have unique footprints, they have unique FoodPrintsTM,” Yaron said, explaining the digital signature that he and his team invented to determine how specific foods affect your body. “We’re building models that help ‘digest’ data (pun intended) and understand what foods are better for each individual.” Nutrino won the 2017 Israel Innovation Authority’s Biomed Startup in the digital health category.
Yaron has been a techie for as long as he can remember. Raised in Herzliya, Israel, he got his first personal computer when he was 7 years old. “One of my best friend’s older brother wrote code, and I wanted to do the same,” he recalls. He taught himself, and landed his first job at age 15, building the internal software for Mescon Technologies.
In 2000, he was recruited by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into intelligence but was mistakenly deployed as a truck driver. In time he was transferred to human resources, where he wanted to improve the assignment of other soldiers, following his bad experience. Together with Jonathan Lipnik, his partner in Nutrino, they developed a personnel assignment system that matched soldiers to their ideal position, increasing job satisfaction and retention by more than 50%, for which they received the IDF Chief of Staff Excellence Award. It was also during his military service that he first investigated the power of food. Suffering from migraine headaches, he had a hunch that certain foods might be affecting his health. He tried out different diets for months at a time and discovered that while following a vegan regime, he had more energy, fewer migraines and slept better.
Following the army, Yaron entered the Technion—a natural fit due to his love for science and math. “It was insanely rigorous and competitive. The first year was a complete shock,” he recalled. Yet he graduated cum laude in both mathematics and physics in 2006. “Innovation is part of the Technion DNA,” he said. Tapping into that entrepreneurial spirit while he was earning his doctorate at the University of Arizona in the mathematical foundations of Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, Yaron started Nutrino “in garage mode” in 2011.
Nutrino licenses its technology to medical device companies such as Medtronic and pharmaceutical giants such as Sanofi, which provide consumers with access to the technology. A diabetic, for instance, will be fitted with a continuous glucose monitor; download a Nutrino app into his smartphone and take photos of everything he eats for three days. The app automatically differentiates food from friends, and by factoring in thousands of different aspects about the food and the individual, including his exercise and sleep patterns, analyzes each food’s effect on the patient with a score from A-F. The result is that some people discover that they don’t have to restrict their diet to whole wheat avocado sandwiches. “It can be very liberating, empowering,” said Yaron.
Alongside his business, which now employs close to 30 people between its Tel Aviv and San Francisco offices, Yaron still keeps a foothold in the field of research. “People think that they need to choose one or the other, then they get bummed. I’m pursuing physics separately and doing some cool projects with the Technion.”