When Western medicines don’t work, people turn to alternative practices that could potentially offer relief and results. They eliminate unnecessary chemicals by investing in plant-based food, sustainable products and homeopathic methods, from vegan nail polish to food. In 2020, the global homeopathic products market size was $785.3 million. It’s expected to reach over $1.3 billion by the end of 2027. One alternative that people consider is Ayurveda, a centuries-old Hindu system of nutrition and medicine developed to prevent illness and imbalance of nutrients.
Astrid Schanz-Garbassi, cofounder of Agni, along with her cofounder, Miriam Cruz, developed a line of Ayurvedic healing foods. The company works with a medical advisory board to create organic and gluten-free healing foods with a sustainable supply chain for women’s health, including fertility and postpartum recovery. The team sources top chefs to turn those ingredients into nutrient-dense cookies, teas and seasoning blends presented in sustainable packaging. They raised $2.5 million in an initial pre-seed round, led by Greycroft, Correlation Ventures and Founder Collective.
Astrid and her team focus on creating solutions for health moments, aggregations of anything from the common flu to polycystic ovarian syndrome to elevated PSA levels. They’ve estimated that there are 1.6 billion health moments a year.
“We focus on women’s health,” Schanz-Garbassi states. “Something like polycystic ovarian syndrome, or pregnancy and postpartum recovery, the symptoms can be dramatically improved with the addition of nutrients and without asking someone to stop eating certain things and without needing to be responsible for so many of their calories. And so that’s where we are now with products that can be really supportive, just by adding them into someone’s life every day, a couple of times a day, or even once a day, we can see great results just through the addition of those nutrients.”
Schanz-Garbassi began her career in healthcare. She worked for a direct primary care clinic that implemented a unique financial model. It worked with insurance carriers that gave the clinic a flat fee for helping reduce medication dependency, manage chronic conditions and prevent future trips to the emergency room. This practice resonated with her. She spent time outside of work self-educating on chronic illness and seeking mentorship from the doctors.
There was a correlation between diets and healing foods that Schanz-Garbassi wanted to examine further. So for a year and a half, she interviewed patients and doctors in the nonprofit world that focused on food as medicine. She began building out the business model of how she could add to the research and practices that already existed.
She launched and bootstrapped a business, Food RX, that delivered freshly prepared meals for cancer patients. She onboarded a top-rated oncologist, licensed recipes from an oncological nutritionist, and worked with experienced chefs who had nutrition training, specifically for cancer patients. As rewarding as the mission was for Schanz-Garbassi, she struggled to scale the operation to the level she wanted. She took a step back and analyzed what foods resonated with different people and provided the appropriate nutrients.
While Schanz-Garbassi continued her research, a friend connected her with Cruz, who was on a self-discovery journey of experimenting with different foods to try and help ease her medical conditions. Additionally, Cruz was in the process of finding another job. A mutual friend introduced the two cofounders. After two weeks of meeting, they discussed Cruz moving across the country to work on the project as a consultant. That led to a partnership, which ultimately launched Agni.
The founders explored the intersection of Western medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, herbalism and holistic nutrition. “Where do people have fewer alternatives?” Schanz-Garbassi explained about narrowing down the criteria. “Where’s the least prescription medication or fewer procedures that are known to be able to support a life moment? All of those criteria clearly pointed us towards women’s health. That’s an area where there is typically much less funding and research. There’s the fact that about 4% of all medical research has gone to women’s health, with female-specific conditions. This felt like a huge opportunity to be able to support people where there wasn’t a lot of support that already exists.”
Simultaneously, they filled the medical advisory board spots with top-rated health care professionals, including Dr. Manisha Kshirsagar, Dr. Eve Henry and Sarah Buscho. For now, the team is focused on offering a larger variety of cookies and seasonings before expanding into new health moments. The goal over the next couple of years is to move into retail.
As Schanz-Garbassi pivoted within her career and expands Agni, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Embrace the beginner’s mindset. Be a sponge while also providing a unique aspect to the situation.
- Seek mentorship from individuals who are veterans in the industry. Learn from their successes and failures.
- Be patient. Ideas take time to develop and blossom. Trust the process and keep moving forward.
“I learned to let go of this idea that I have to do everything myself or else it’s not going to get done or it’s not going to get done right,” Schanz-Garbassi concludes. “It’s ‘who’s the best person to do this?’ That’s my new question and orientation. That has totally changed my leadership style. It’s also given me a lot more patience, and I’m better able to focus on what I do best because I’m not trying to do everything else.”