An Ottawa founder believes your DNA is the extra personal touch that will separate his new startup from legacy competitors in the skincare and supplements industries.
Cyril Moukarzel, an Ottawa entrepreneur and personal trainer by trade, is one of the co-founders behind LifeDNA, a new company that tailors wellness products to consumers’ unique genetic codes.
You may be familiar with Ancestry.com or 23andMe, services that analyze samples of your DNA to trace your ancestors’ origins. Moukarzel – who previously led Ottawa startup eCelery – and his co-founders believe there’s a bigger market in DNA analysis than unearthing the family tree.
“Based on specific markers in your genes, we can tell certain things,” Moukarzel says. For example, your DNA can reveal whether you’re predisposed to dry skin or vitamin C deficiency.
With the help of geneticists on staff, LifeDNA has developed an algorithm to determine the blend of skincare lotions or personal supplements that are most needed in your body based on your combination of markers. If you sign up for one of LifeDNA’s subscription boxes, you’ll get a mix of products specific to your genetic make up.
“You and I are going to get completely different products in our boxes because you and I are completely different. You’re not going to have the same markers as I do,” Moukarzel says.
Personalized products are time-consuming and expensive to prepare, but the former personal trainer believes consumers will pay more for supplements that are tailored to them – to the point where customers’ names are printed on the bottles they order.
Moukarzel founded LifeDNA with Jared Kushi, an active member in Hawaii’s startup and angel investment scene. The two became fast friends after meeting on an exchange program trip to Australia, but never met again in person until this idea formed between them and Moukarzel made the trip to the Hawaiian islands.
There, Kushi introduced him to Steve Markowitz, the firm’s chairman and third co-founder, who put down the seed money to launch LifeDNA. The eight-person operation is run out of Hawaii’s tropical setting, though Moukarzel remains largely Ottawa-based.
Though the scale of delivering personalized subscription boxes worldwide is ambitious, there are a few ways LifeDNA has made its own life easier.
The DNA tests it sends to collect your genetic code are the same ones used by Ancestry and 23andMe, removing the cost of developing expensive technology. Once you take one of these tests, the firm has an online portal to upload the genetic data you receive. LifeDNA combines these results with a questionnaire about your family history and lifestyle to develop your products.
There are certain Health Canada and U.S. Federal and Drug Administration regulations that LifeDNA must meet in its labelling about the kinds of claims it can and cannot make. Since the firm’s products aren’t classified as medicine, however, clinical testing is not a prerequisite for going to market.
The FDA says it’s not authorized to review the effectiveness of dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals. It adds that it’s up to manufacturers and distributors to determine whether their products are safe before being sent to consumers.
The FDA does warn that biological supplements can be harmful if taken in large amounts or in dangerous combinations.
However, Moukarzel argues that with the added insight of customers’ DNA and the accompanying genetic risks, his firm’s products are more likely to be safe for consumption and application than those manufactured by generic pharmaceutical companies.
LifeDNA is not Moukarzel’s first startup. In 2014 he launched eCelery, a food delivery service that brought home-cooked meals straight from the kitchen to the consumer. That company, a graduate of the University of Ottawa’s Startup Garage program, folded in early 2016, but Moukarzel says the experience taught him a great deal about entrepreneurship.
There’s nothing unfeasible about the eCelery idea, he says, but it required a significant amount of startup capital to scale quickly enough. The firm also ran into issues with Health Canada, which insisted that each of the home cooks be certified via health inspections, leading to significant entry barriers.
Moukarzel says he isn’t discouraged by eCelery’s flop. With LifeDNA, he believes he can address a big market by fulfilling a (very) unique need.
“My mission is to make a positive impact in the world, and I’m going to do it, regardless.”
LifeDNA is set to launch within the next week.