Michelle Addison MBA ’23, CEO and founder of Allergood, started the company to help food allergy families shop for groceries safely and quickly. Michelle was recently selected for the inaugural cohort of VHLX, a fellowship for Latinx founders offered by VC firm Visible Hands in partnership with Google For Startups. Below, she answers some questions about her journey as a student founder.
You founded Allergood based on your and your family’s struggles to find products safe for those with food allergies. How does this personal experience impact your work?
My oldest daughter was born in 2010 with food allergies, which forced me into the food allergy world. Today, I have three kids with food allergies, and my husband and I have developed adult-onset food allergies. The fact that not much has changed for food allergy consumers in the past 12 years is exactly why I am so motivated to bring Allergood to life. Technology has improved so many aspects of our lives, yet to find out whether an allergen has had cross-contact with a food product we’re purchasing at the grocery store, the only option is to call or email the manufacturer. This keeps food allergy consumers from being able to make real-time purchasing decisions at the grocery store and also adds an overwhelming component to determining what foods are safe. Allergood is going to truly change how food allergy consumers shop and eat, and it’s going to open up so many new product options for families, which is truly exciting for me as a founder.
What’s a significant hurdle or challenge you’ve faced along your founder’s journey, and how did you address it?
My most significant challenge is starting a tech company as a non-technical founder, but it’s a challenge that I’ve embraced wholeheartedly. I have made it a point to build relationships that have allowed me to surround myself with really strong technical advisors. I have also made a concerted effort to include technical talent from Duke and the Triangle, which has allowed me to bootstrap Allergood while continuing to scale the company.
What are a few ways being a founder has shaped your business school experience, and vice versa?
Being a founder has helped me target my learning and dig deeper with my professors. There are aspects of almost any class that are useful to the growth of Allergood, so having a practical example where I can apply my learning has been really valuable. Professors have always been willing to meet with me outside of class to help me think through Allergood-specific issues or to connect me with additional resources. Being at Fuqua, I am always able to brainstorm with classmates or find talented individuals that are willing to work through an issue with me or contribute to the company’s growth. You often hear that being a founder is lonely, but I don’t feel that way. I have classmates who will forward interesting opportunities to me and are always looking out for my success and I have a cohort that is truly interested in what I’m working on and cheering me on, so I feel very supported in my founder journey.
How has being at Duke/Fuqua impacted your work on Allergood?
Professor Jamie Jones and Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship have been instrumental in helping me iterate and grow Allergood. I have taken advantage of just about every Fuqua and I&E resource and through these have made connections that I would have never had as a first-generation founder doing this on my own. The Duke alumni network is always willing to help, and many alumni have become trusted mentors. The Triangle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has been a fantastic resource, offering me a supportive and safe space among some really talented founders and investors. This summer, I’m able to focus exclusively on Allergood thanks to the CEI Grant and the CASE Launch Pad Prize. Being at Duke/Fuqua has accelerated Allergood’s growth and given me the skills and connections necessary to continue to scale the company.
What’s next for Allergood—anything you’re particularly excited about?
I’m excited to continue to develop our software and to launch our pilot in 2023. I’ve had students reach out interested in interning with Allergood over this next academic year, so I’m looking forward to welcoming some new talent during this time of growth. We’re always open to interns, so if students are interested in learning from a company in the startup space, I encourage them to reach out to me via email or Slack.