Nitze studied neuroscience as an undergraduate student at Harvard University. “That was where I developed an interest and passion for the brain,” he told us. “I later became interested in brain nutrition.”
The powerhouse ingredients in his line of bars are walnuts and flaxseed, chosen because of their high omega-3 ALA and flavonoid content. “I spent months researching what nutrients have the most scientific backing saying they’re good for the brain,” he said.
“And then I had to figure out ‘how do I put those into a 45 g bar?’ so really I need to use ingredients that are richest in those ingredients.”
To be clear, IQ Bars have Nutrition Facts panels, not Supplement Facts, and aside from a tag line ‘brain fuel’ on its packaging, Nitze is careful about making any cognitive health-related claims. “We don’t make any hard claims, we make factual, nutritional claims like ‘we have omega-3,’” he explained.
The main goal for IQ Bar, Nitze said, was to benchmark the nutrition profile of all bars available on the market and be different by being “a vastly more brain-healthy solution,” he said. That means Nitze designed IQ Bars to have higher levels of nutrients linked to cognitive benefits compared to other snack bars.
Nitze described his bars as halfway between chewy and crunchy, bound by soluble tapioca fiber. There are three flavors available: Cacao Almond Sea Salt, Matcha Chai Hazelnut, and Blueberry Lemon Sunflower.
Other ingredients used to support IQ Bar’s brain fuel positioning are botanicals green tea and lion’s mane extracts.
A start on ecommerce, and now support from PepsiCo
IQ Bar officially launched mid November 2017 on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. “It allowed us to generate a lot of demand before we had the money or products to sell,” he said.
On the platform, the company pre-sold $90,000 worth of products, helping grab the attention of angel investors who now have a grasp of how popular a product concept like IQ Bar can be.
The attention IQ Bar generated online helped Nitze get his company into MassChallenge, one of the largest accelerator programs with presence in seven countries and companies representing all industries. This is where Nitze first got into contact with PepsiCo people.
PepsiCo had presence in the MassChallenge program and offered an award to members of the accelerator. IQ Bar didn’t win this award, “but while I was in the program, I had noticed one of the Pepsi folks had posted about [Nutrition Greenhouse] on LinkedIn, put in an application, and forgot about it basically.”
A month later, Nitze heard back and learned he was accepted. “I don’t really know what to expect, because it’s the first year they’re doing it, but it’s been really awesome for us,” he said.
PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Nutrition, launched April this year, follows the steps of many other start-up incubation programs managed by large companies—think General Mills’ 301 Inc., or Chobani’s Incubator.
A look at some other members of the inaugural cohort, which includes herbal supplement company Torii Labs, Ayurvedic beverage start-up Remedy Organics, and sports nutrition start-up Too FIT, suggests PepsiCo’s ongoing effort to expand in the functional food, beverage, and dietary supplement space.
For Nitze and IQ Bar, he said one of the greatest benefits of joining accelerators like MassChallenge and Nutrition Greenhouse is office space. “It’s not what people often advertise, but having a space with conference room and internet and all of that, it just legitimizes you, you feel more like a company than working out of an apartment, and you can actually hold meetings.”
“It also adds a stamp of legitimacy because you’ve already been vetted,” he added. “It’s like a mental short-cut for investors and journalists, that says 'this company is interesting.'”