The Canadian Jewish News: Winnipeggers win award for developing new dietary supplement

The nutritional supplements Boost and Ensure are no doubt familiar to anyone who has had to look after ailing, elderly parents, or other family members who suffer from a loss of appetite related to their illnesses or treatments.

Erin Goldberg has had first-hand experience being gravely ill, and being nauseous and lacking any appetite due to the side effects of her treatment. Twenty-four years ago, the now 29-year-old Winnipegger was undergoing treatment for Stage 4 cancer.

“I was in hospital for 139 days over a two-year period,” she says. “I had chemo, radiation and surgery. I was very nauseous and didn’t want to eat anything. My mother pushed me to walk and eat what I could.”

It was her own hospital experience that inspired Goldberg’s lifelong interest in disease prevention, management and nutrition. Three years ago, she completed a PhD in human nutritional sciences at the University of Manitoba and is now a post-doctoral researcher at the St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre. Goldberg and her two business partners are on the verge of taking liquid nutritional supplements to the next level.

To that end, Goldberg and her partners (Sara Raposo-Blouw and Lisa Reed), who run a company called ViTal Functional Foods, have received a boost of their own – a $5,000 social entrepreneur award from a non-profit called Mitacs, which works to foster Canadian innovation. Goldberg was in Montreal on June 5 to receive the award.

“There were only five Mitacs entrepreneur awards given out this year,” Goldberg notes.

The partners – all three of whom work in health care and nutrition – formed their company two years ago, in response to frequent complaints from patients about existing liquid nutritional supplements.

“Our beverage is entirely plant-based,” Goldberg says. “We don’t use any wheat, dairy products or soy, so it’s useful for those with common allergies. Our product uses less sugar (and) no artificial sweeteners, colours or flavours. And our product comes in unique flavours – not just chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

“As people age, their sense of taste changes. Their perception of bitterness and sourness declines – but not their taste for sweetness. Because of this, many older adults find it difficult to consume the drinks currently available on a daily basis, because of the intense sweetness.”

“We have done our research and have a prototype. Now we are ready for the next phase. That is where the Mitacs award helps considerably. We have also received support from the provincial government. We plan to have our product on the market within the year.”

The partners are currently looking for a co-packer in Ontario or Quebec to complete trials and eventually produce the new dietary supplement.

“We are hoping to get our product into hospitals and nursing homes and also sell directly to the consumer,” Goldberg says.

Founded in 1999, Mitacs (which originally was an acronym for The Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems) is a national, not-for-profit organization that designs and delivers research and training programs across Canada. Mitacs works with numerous universities and companies, as well as both federal and provincial governments, to build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada. In 2003, it launched an internship program designed to get highly educated graduates into the private sector.

By: Myron Love