Manheim Township couple’s startup focuses on walnut-based beverage for cognitive health
Both Dr. Jordan Balencic and his wife, Tessa, have a bent for entrepreneurship.
So when the Manheim Township couple saw possibilities in the area of cognitive health, they went for it.
“A lot of people bring in their dietary supplements and ask their doctors what they think about them,” said Jordan Balencic, a primary care physician.
In some cases, he said, supplements contained caffeine or other stimulant ingredients that are problematic for patients who are taking multiple medications or have underlying medical issues like heart disease.
Others, he said, made unsubstantiated claims or had ingredient listings like “proprietary blend” that make it hard to know exactly what the patient is taking or how it might interact with medications.
So after researching scientific studies and vetting ideas with their advisers, last year the Balencics co-founded a small company named ERApeutics.
The startup is “dedicated to bringing a new era of honesty and transparency to the supplement industry.”
Their first product is a brain health supplement called Prolimbic29. It features and details a “combination of six natural ingredients to help support healthy cognitive function and brain processes associated with memory and mental energy.” It and a curated selection of other supplements they’re comfortable recommending are available on their website.
“If the science doesn’t make sense, you won’t find it here,” the website says. “We understand that you don’t have the time to sift through medical journals to keep up with the latest research. We’re here to do it for you — and to translate it into healthy benefits for you.”
Now the Balencics are working on BrainMilk, a walnutbased dairy-alternative beverage with several flavors featuring “other clinicallystudied superfoods,” such as blueberries and turmeric.
They say it’s going to be lowcalorie and suitable for those with restricted sugar intake, offering a cognitive boost that tastes good.
They’re working to raise $900,000 to develop and launch BrainMilk, a campaign that got off to a strong start thanks to a $51,025 investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
The Ben Franklin loan will let them start the first phase of a research collaboration with Penn State University “to study walnut beverage product formulations for efficacy and to secure intellectual property.”
A lot of research supports walnuts for cognitive health, Jordan Balencic said, but because of factors like fat content and what some describe as an astringent taste, they aren’t especially easy for people to routinely incorporate into their diet.
The Balencics want to change that.
“Each of us has had a grandparent who suffered with a form of cognitive impairment. And the number one complaint my patients have is fatigue and brain fog, so I am very close to the problem,” Jordan Balencic said.
Tessa Balencic noted that the BrainMilk concept is at the intersection of three trends “that are all growing significantly right now” — supplements, ready-to-drink beverages and dairy alternatives.
They’re hoping BrainMilk will be in the refrigerated section of grocery stores across the nation within a few years, they said.
The Balencics acknowledge the supplement industry has a lot of big competitors that repeatedly bombard people with ads.
By contrast, they said, ERApeutics includes just a couple of other people apart from its slate of advisers, and — as it hasn’t yet turned a profit — doesn’t have a big budget to let people know it exists.
So, they said, they started small, with their website, Facebook and some independent pharmacies, and have offered some free trials of Prolimbic29.
“As the subscriber base grows slowly and as we continue to raise capital, we’ll invest more in marketing so this is a significant revenue driver for the company,” said Jordan Balencic.
And, he said, “We know that as regulation increases, as more companies bring products to market, that dedication to science, transparency and honesty will allow us to survive as we grow.”
The couple say their backgrounds gave them a good foundation for the company, and their different perspectives give them a strong, balancedpartnership. Tessa Balencic, 31, is ERApeutic’s chief operating officer. She spent a few years with the Social Enterprise Service Group at Elizabethtown College.
Jordan Balencic, 32, is the company’s CEO. His previous experience includes starting Balencic Creative Group, a web development and marketing firm for companies in scientific fields, during his first year of medical school.
The Balencics said that business is profitable and still exists, but is not their primary focus at this time.
“I’m kind of goofy and creative on the inside,” he said. “She’s very structured. I’m throwing all these ideas out there and she helps me fit them into models that actually work from a business standpoint.”
Tessa Balencic in turn said her time at Elizabethtown “definitely helped me to understand the process of innovation, how you drive something from start to finish,” and she’s been enjoying getting to put that knowledge to use.
“This is like art for me, product development, to have an idea in your head and make it manifest into reality,” Jordan Balencic said.