Written by Andrew Seale
Richard Syal is buzzing. The inventor, founder and CEO of Oleumm8 – an oil made from eight superfoods: Flaxseed, Camelina, Hemp Seed, Rice Bran, Avocado, Chia Seeds, Sacha Inchi Seeds and Extra Virgin Olive – just got the news his startup is one of 20 companies from thousands of applicants to exhibit at Startup Grind Europe in London, UK.
“This event has really given us that visibility… it’s really put us on the map,” he says. “But it’s big for Toronto too.”
Startup Grind Europe’s IT-focused event (Syal is a member of the Toronto chapter) is a coup given he identifies his company as more of a food startup employing “nature’s science” than a tech company.
But his life is worlds away from where it was four years ago when Syal was diagnosed with fatty acid deficiency syndrome, a rare condition where the body is unable to metabolize omega three.
“Nobody knew what the hell it was… no one could figure it out,” he says. “There were some really severe signs: my hair was falling out, my nails were falling off, I was lethargic all the time I had no energy – I thought I had cancer.”
After six months, the doctors identified what was going on, but the solution from a nutritionist: take a variety of organic oils ranging form flax seed to avocado oil, didn’t sit well with Syal.
“Half went rancid before I could use them enough, I thought the whole thing was ridiculous,” says Syal. There was a hole in the market, and the former Merrill Lynch investment banker turned IT strategist knew it was up to him to fill it.
“I (did) my own research, spent a year learning chemistry and lipid analysis and started researching oils,” he says. He then wrote a software program to compare oils and their nutritional properties.
But there was one thing the program couldn’t tell him: how the combinations taste.
He brought the concept to the Toronto Food Incubator and used the food hubs fully-certified facility for testing out the different prototypes until he struck the right blend. All in, research and development took him four years.
And it was worth it, he says.
“One tablespoon has six grams of omega three, 50 percent of daily vitamin E, 25 per cent of daily vitamin A and 30 percent of daily vitamin K… it has a higher antioxidant value than extra virgin olive oil,” he boasts.
As Syal looks to fund a production run of 30,000 to 40,000 bottles of the oil, he plans to grow his footprint in the accelerator to renting a unit there. He’s also building out an app to help consumers compare and understand different oils.
The more he’s delved into the world of organics, the more Syal has noticed the synergy between technology and food.
“It’s huge – I think people in IT could really help that area… soil analysis, GPS,” he says. Adding the opportunities abound. But for now, he’s happy with his health.
“I’ve completely reinvented my life in terms of health and nutrition,” he says. “It was an awakening for me – I feel great now, everything is in balance, I take a tablespoon every day.”