Durham's INRFOOD, Fresh From TechCrunch Disrupt Finals, Wins BCBS Health Innovation Challenge - 1

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Durham's INRFOOD, Fresh From TechCrunch Disrupt Finals, Wins BCBS Health Innovation Challenge - 1
Sometimes you get news in the oddest places at strange times. I was in a daze late one night a couple weeks back after another in a string of late nights on the AI/Yahoo product launch push, stopping off at the grocery store to pick up necessities, when I bumped into Jivan Achreja, also in a daze, who was looking for a travel toothbrush. We took a couple minutes to catch up.

Turns out, dude was on his way to the airport, heading to San Francisco for TechCrunch's Disrupt to present and launch INRFOOD, the Durham startup that does advanced analytics on nutritional data.

As he updated me on Disrupt while we made our way to the checkout, we made plans to catch up again on what turned out to be yesterday. And then yesterday, he had to put off our meeting for another, and it turns out that was the one where INRFOOD got told that they, along with (ExitEvent member) Sqord and The Walking Classroom, had won $20K each in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Innovation Challenge.

So, you know. Boom.

I first saw INRFOOD about a year ago when they presented at Launch Day back in January. At that point, it was an app that was able to give you the nutritional information of several tens of thousands of food products, and also highlight things to watch out for.

I liked the technology and the idea, but what really intrigued me is that it was the second spinout from Keval Mehta, who also started GoToAid and Jaargon. He's the CEO of INRFOOD, Jivan is the CIO, and INRFOOD is its own company.

I've known Keval since he presented GoToAid at RTP New Tech a couple years ago. And the pairing of Keval and Jivan, from what I know personally about both of them (and Jivan confirms), works very well.

Durham's INRFOOD, Fresh From TechCrunch Disrupt Finals, Wins BCBS Health Innovation Challenge - 2
At Disrupt, INRFOOD, one of 30 finalist companies selected from over 1000 applicants to present, represented not only Durham, but was one of only a couple of startups that weren't based on the West Coast.

"One of the companies had an office two blocks away," Jivan said.

And though they didn't win (that went to YourMechanic), he has no regrets.

"We didn't realize how big a deal getting into Disrupt was," he said. "Dropbox and Mint actually launched at Disrupt. There's no disappointment in not winning. We're in the shoes of some really big companies and we're still really early. Our signup broke the night we launched. The inbound email, just coming in randomly, has exploded."

And that inbound, whether it be calls from investors, interview requests, or just random praise from customers, is exactly the kind of windfall you want from an event of that magnitude. It can propel a company from early stage to late.

"We're getting requests for things like the API we haven't built yet," he laughed.

Durham's INRFOOD, Fresh From TechCrunch Disrupt Finals, Wins BCBS Health Innovation Challenge - 3
Money helps too, which is why the spotlight and the $20K from the BCBS Health Innovation Challenge, coming right on the heels of Disrupt, is another big deal. They celebrated their victory at the official awards gala last night (which, hopefully, I made), and then they'll use the money to pursue other areas -- everything from tracking obesity, which is their next big thing, to getting research and development done by dietitians and nutritionists that applies directly to their product and program.

That's another area where the big increase in inbound traffic can help. Users are not only emailing in to praise the product, most of whom are just now discovering it, but also making suggestions. This type of feedback on such a large scale is usually expensive and time-consuming. Having it all triggered for you is gravy.

Which is bad for you, by the way. Ironic.

Jivan says he and Keval had a great time on INRFOOD's "first official business trip," but noted something else he found intriguing. Sure, Disrupt is a massive conference with Zucks and Mayers and Morins and Arringtons everywhere you turn, but, he noted, per capita, the talent and the passion there was nearly exactly the same as you'd find in Durham, just on a much larger scale.

"The Triangle really stacks up in terms of talented companies," he noted.

That's good to know. And as long as companies like INRFOOD keep taking home local and not-so-local wins (and, of course, turning that into more customers and revenue), it won't be long before the volume of talented companies here catches up.