Better Products for People With Diabetes and Prediabetes
Learn about five entrepreneurs living with diabetes and prediabetes and the inspirations behind their products – some of which you may be interested in trying out!
A diabetes diagnosis can be shocking, and certainly life-changing, but these product founders were determined to make sure that it wouldn’t be all bad. They sought to create products that solved the challenges that diabetes brought to their lives, in turn extending solutions to other people with diabetes around the world. Here are their stories.
Krishna Kaliannan, 31, in Austin, Texas.
Founder of Catalina Crunch in 2017, a line of Keto-friendly snacks, cookies, and cereals
Cocoa Puffs. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Bagel Bites. Pretzels, chips, and popcorn. Krishna Kaliannan says that he grew up eating all the “American classics.” But in his senior year of high school, he was diagnosed with diabetes, and his focus was less about finding the tastiest snacks and more about counting carbs.
He quickly discovered that eating a low-carb, low-sugar diet helped him manage his blood sugar and had an “amazing” impact on his body, but there was just one problem: “None of the American classics are low carb, low sugar, right? So I just ate eggs every day for breakfast, and snacked on basically nothing but nuts.”
Years later, the lack of variety eventually got to him when watching his girlfriend (now wife) eating bagel sandwiches, and he was motivated to find a solution. He turned first to low-carb baking. He started creating his own cereals using almond flour, protein powders, and other substitutes for flour and sugar, and he’d bake enough on the weekends to last him the whole week. Then his friends found out, and even started offering to pay him to make this healthier cereal for them too.
“I looked at the opportunity and how many folks there are like me that would benefit from something like this and decided it would be a worthwhile endeavor to turn it into a business,” he said.
And just like that, he quit his job working to start a software company and followed the demand instead. The first low-carb cereal he created and sold was dark chocolate, in honor of his beloved Cocoa Puffs. Other flavors also mirror American classics, from Golden Grahams (his maple waffle cereal) to even Oreos and Chex Mix, which his brand also created alternatives for through their sandwich cookies and snack mixes.
He and his wife now enjoy his products, which are available in many supermarkets and online retailers, but it’s not just his own health that he’s impacted. One of the most moving moments for him was when a customer who was relocating to Singapore was concerned about how they’d access Catalina Crunch, their breakfast staple. The customer purchased around $1,000 of cereal to last him the year abroad, and sent a photo to Kaliannan.
“I thought that was pretty darn cool,” he said, adding he hopes to continue to “make it possible for more folks to eat our products.”
Jennifer Ross, 36, in New York City. Co-Founder of Swoon along with Cristina Ros Blankfein, 35, also of New York City. Swoon began in 2019 and is a low-glycemic take on classic drinks.
Jennifer Ross has “vivid memories” of being just 6-years-old, not being able to have fruit shark bites in her lunchbox like other kids at camp. She also remembers middle school, where she would sneak sips of pink lemonade from the cafeteria’s drink dispenser. “It was so good. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have it, but the only other option was water.”
In college, her cravings for drinks other than water led her to diet sodas, but also the ultimate realization that artificial sweeteners weren’t great for her either. That’s also when she realized that she couldn’t “drink one more vodka soda with so many limes” at cocktail hour with her friends. She wasn’t alone in her desire to enjoy cocktails without all the added sugar, and she says even her friends without diabetes were hoping for a better way.
“We started to think, ‘is there nothing because it can’t be made, or why?’” That’s when she discovered monk fruit, an alternative natural sweetener. “We don’t mix it with any other sugar alcohols or any other Stevias, so it’s really all monk fruit,” she said. “For us, it has to be zero sugar but it has to taste good.”
In addition to cocktail mixers, there’s a nostalgic vibe to her products that nod back to childhood memories, and the pink lemonade in the cafeteria. Her products imitate those favorites in a way that people with diabetes and others can enjoy.
Her mission is all in the name, Swoon – she hopes people will be “swooning over the fact that it’s not sugar but tastes sweet,” and improving their health at the same time.
Jon Jensen, Founder of Type Zero, North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, who produces low sugar pre-workout supplements and related products
Jon Jensen called himself the “chubby little kid” growing up – that is, until he started losing drastic amounts of weight in just a three-week period.
“At first I thought I was pretty cool, but then I got really, really sick. I went to the ER after I basically felt I couldn’t breathe anymore,” he said.
He was 13 and left the ER with a diabetes diagnosis. Years passed and in college, he started getting into the fitness world but found himself limited in what he could use for pre-workout supplements, which are powders typically meant to increase energy, focus, stamina, and build muscle during a workout.
“I’d get frustrated at the gym,” he said. “The pre-workouts [energy supplements] on the market were very high stimulants and did have sugar. So I’d go to the gym, workout really hard, and try to get lean, and then my blood sugar would crash, and right after a workout I’d have to eat something.”
He knew there had to be something better out there; his idea to build a brand just for people with diabetes was born. He surrounded himself with support, including that of a trainer with diabetes, Jason Poston, who taught him how to reach his fitness goals while managing his blood sugar.
The endeavor led to more than just a company. “During one of the meetings they introduced me to the girl at the front desk, and she’s now my wife,” Jensen said. “So I kind of stopped caring about the product because I was in love and young, and we moved to Hawaii.”
But he says every night the idea came back to him again, and finally, he thought, “Yeah, I’ve got to do this.”
Jenen’s company now has over 10 products promoting fitness and wellness for people with diabetes and others with chronic conditions, and he says he’s proud to be fighting against a stigma near to his heart.
“I don’t like the stigma that diabetics are just big or overweight, because that’s truly not the case with so many of them,” he said. He hopes that he can encourage people to just get out and move their body in ways that can promote healthier habits. Also, he’s found that the diabetes community has a “place to reach out” via social media and website resources that he didn’t have growing up, which has impacted his journey as well.
“I love it when people just reach out or write an email that they took time out of their day to just say the our product helped them,” Jenen said. “It just kind of helps mentally, as a small business owner, to keep going. If I didn’t get those then I’d be pretty unmotivated.”
Zack Shreier, 24, Co-Founder of Quevos, founded in 2017 with Co-founder Nick Hamburger, also 24, and also in Chicago. Quevos produces five bold-flavored egg-white based chips.
Eggs are a go-to snack for people with diabetes, thanks to their high protein content. They definitely always were for Zack Shreier, who intentionally scraped off the remaining crunchy pieces of egg whites from the edges of the pan to eat.
Learning he had diabetes in 6th grade, after a scary trip to the hospital where he found out his blood sugar was 666 (“the devil’s number” he said), he leaned on eggs, and their crunchy pan scraps, as his “go-to snack.”
“They are obviously really convenient, good, and healthy,” Shreier said. “I would just scrape the pan, and make sure I got all that.”
He and his co-founder Nick Hamburger started adding various spices to those crunchy egg white pan scraps to experiment.
“I remember the first time we added flavors at his house we coated the chip with a little bit of olive oil and we mixed this home blend with spices in his cabinet like Cajun jerk, a mix from a local spice shop,” Shreier said.
Before long they’d secured a $400,000 investment from Daniel Lubetzky on Shark Tank, and their dream was in motion.
They then worked with flavor scientists to make sure the chips were nutritional while also flavorful. Now customers can purchase flavors like dill pickle, sour cream and onion, cheddar, honey mustang, and mesquite BBQ, imitating everyone’s favorite chip.
“I heard from a few diabetics in my town and some people online, and they were really grateful,” Shreier said, noting that he’s also had interest from athletes looking for a healthier snacking alternative. He hopes to provide products that help people with diabetes, but also a message to those supporting them or learning about what they are going through.
“People have a sense that it must be simple – ‘Oh, it’s just sugar and you’ve only got one medication,’” he said. “What diabetics know is that it’s not nearly as simple as people would assume.”
James Mayo, 47, in Scottsdale, Arix.
Co-Founder and Chief Hydration Officer of SOS Hydration, founded in 2011, a fast-acting electrolyte replacement drink that balances the amount of sodium and glucose.
If you ask former elite British runner, and now triathlon athlete and father of two girls, James Mayo, he’ll tell you that many of us are living our lives dehydrated, especially athletes. But the issue is that we have been conditioned to turn to sugary sports drinks to gain electrolytes, which is rarely a good option for those with diabetes. As the British National Mile Champion, he needed all the hydration he could get, except he couldn’t.
Mayo, along with his brother Tom (a sub-four-minute miler) and Dr. Blanca Lizaola-Mayo, James’ wife, created a sports-drink alternative meant to fuel athletes and others through better hydration processes, without the sugar. They were inspired by James’ health diagnosis of having prediabetes.
“I started fainting. I started feeling off,” he said, ultimately learning that in spite of his athletic endeavors and fitness level, his glucose was higher than normal. Meanwhile, his brother Tom was going through his own dehydration challenges, after missing a huge opportunity for Olympic selection due to what he says was a “lack of decent retail sports hydration products on the market.”
The three went on a mission to confirm that their product would actually increase hydration levels better than the average sports drink, with much less sugar.
“I was just guzzling calories,” Mayo said. His wife also observed that many physicians were prescribing full-sugar sports drinks to people who needed medical procedures, such as colonoscopies, or those with other stomach issues, potentially exacerbating the problem. He also found that other brands, such as Liquid IV, marketed as a better rehydration option than full-sugar sports drinks, still had too much sugar for people with diabetes and prediabetes. So, he created a product with just three grams of sugar.
He now encourages athletes, and also parents looking for hydration options for young children, to turn to SOS for electrolytes without the sugar, but also to consider all of the ingredients on any nutrition label, not just the first one. After all, he says, the first ingredient in Coca-Cola is water.
“I got my glucose under control and managed to pull myself back,” Mayo said. He’s confident that he’s found a path for himself, and others, to rehydrate for whatever physically challenging tasks sports, or life, brings.