When Michelle Addison MBA ’23 came to the Fuqua School of Business to work on her startup, Allergood, she’d been a food allergy blogger and Facebook group leader for almost a decade. The mother of three kids with food allergies, and having developed adult-onset allergies herself, Addison was passionate about solving problems that her own family faced daily related to grocery shopping and dining out. “We want food allergy consumers to be able to make easy, safe, and quick decisions about food,” Addison said.
The company gained momentum fast, winning the Fuqua Fast Pitch Audience Choice Award, the CASE Launch Pad Prize, the CEI Grant, and the Audience Choice Award for GrepBeat’s Shark Tank. Allergood was recently accepted to the VHLX Fellowship, the first cohort of Google for Startups Latinx in partnership with Visible Hands.
This month Allergood launched its first pilot with Eastcut Sandwich Bar in Durham. Customers at Eastcut can now scan a QR code at the restaurant or click on an Allergood-powered menu on the Eastcut site to access interactive menus, filtering for top allergens and dietary preferences. When a customer creates a profile, their preferences will be saved and remembered any time they eat at a partner restaurant.
Addison is a Melissa & Doug Entrepreneur and was selected for the Duke Innovation Studio, Duke’s student-run accelerator, a program supported by digital coaching platform Navi. Co-founded by Nic Meliones ’11, Navi serves to scale innovation skill building and startup coaching and supports various Duke bootcamps and accelerators.
“Michelle is making the magic happen!” Meliones said. “She has a relentless commitment to improve the world, and she has a creative knack for building community and galvanizing folks to support her vision.”
Below, Addison answered questions about her founder’s journey so far.
Tell us about the problem Allergood is solving.
While almost 50% of Americans are either avoiding a top-12 allergen or following a special diet like vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, Keto, or Paleo, it’s really difficult to make food choices when dining out. Allergood has created an interactive menu experience that surpasses any existing restaurant menu and, as a byproduct, provides its corporate customers with valuable consumer data to guide their menu design, menu optimization, and product development. Allergood makes eating outside of the home more accessible and equitable for anyone with food allergies or specific dietary preferences.
What has your Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs experience been like so far, and what are you most taking away from it?
My Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs experience has been amazing so far! It is special to be able to come together weekly as a community of student entrepreneurs, with Amy as our leader. Our speakers have been really informative and willing to connect outside of the program for one-on-one meetings to help us tackle specific issues. My favorite experience so far, however, has been connecting with and learning from Melissa Bernstein. She inspires me so much, and I am so motivated by her story.
What’s a significant hurdle you’ve faced with Allergood, how did you address it, and what was the outcome?
Initially, we had planned on tackling grocery first and menus second with Allergood. However, as we got further along, it became clear that grocery didn’t have the necessary systems and processes in place for us to ensure that the information we were receiving was both updated and accurate. As a new startup, we didn’t have the reputational pull to create industry-wide changes, and we didn’t want to risk losing the momentum that our startup had built. It was easy to pivot to menus because we had already done the customer discovery to know it was an idea worth pursuing. We’re also serving the same consumer base with both ideas, so we’re not losing the grassroots support that we have generated. The pivot has been hugely successful. Brands understand the problem we are solving and are eager for a solution, consumers want technology to make dining out more accessible and equitable, and we have a much more powerful go-to-market strategy.
Where do you see Allergood a year from now?
A year from now, we see Allergood having a strong national presence. By leveraging Allergood’s key insights, partner restaurants and resorts will be empowered to create products and design menus that truly reflect the needs of their consumers, gaining a true competitive advantage.
What programs and resources have been most helpful to you on your journey?
Duke and Fuqua have allowed me to take courses that fill in knowledge gaps for me and interact with students and professors who are knowledgeable and interested in contributing to my personal growth and the growth of my startup. [Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Director] Jamie Jones has been invested in helping me as an entrepreneur since the moment I accepted my offer to attend Fuqua. Even during my core classes, she met with me regularly to ensure that I was kept accountable and to give me feedback/suggestions/coaching. Jamie’s New Ventures Development class allowed me to assemble a student team, tackle assumptions, and practice my pitch. Jamie has gone out of her way repeatedly to bring opportunities my way that will fuel my growth and the growth of Allergood.
Duke Innovation Studio is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a student. The program was so well run and structured so flawlessly! I was able to make some real progress during that time, especially with my pitch deck and my confidence in telling my story as a founder. The speakers were top notch, and being able to engage with them as such a small group, it was easy to extract tangible value from each of those interactions.
[Navi co-founder and CEO] Nic Meliones is by far one of the best connections I have made since coming to Duke. I have never met someone so skilled at out-of-the-box thinking as Nic. He gave so much time to ensuring that my deck was where it needed to be for my pitch competitions. Whenever I feel like I’m really stuck on something, I know if I reach out to Nic, he will have a suggestion on how I can creatively tackle the problem.
Honestly, had I not come to Duke, I would have accomplished 10% of what I have this past year. I have taken it upon myself to sign up for every possible I&E opportunity and to learn from everyone along the way—students, professors, mentors, and people in the community. I have always felt that everyone is invested in my success, and this includes my classmates, who are always on the lookout for opportunities that would benefit me and are always encouraging me, helping me when I need it, and praising my successes.