OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | TeamWise: Barolac
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TeamWise: Barolac

Not all babies that come into this world are ready to eat. We’re trying identify which ones those are.

Barolac’s team is addressing an age-old issue that affects the newest members of our society. Barolac offers the ability to identify subtle behaviors associated with feeding difficulties in newborns and infants. Their vision is to create a product that can be used by pediatricians, lactation consultations, and new parents to help identify oral dysfunction that results is breastfeeding difficulty. Early identification of problems and targeted treatment is key to successful breastfeeding and proper nutrition.

The inspiration behind Barolac came from founder Matthew Peña, who experienced this issue firsthand. Seven months ago, Matthew and his wife welcomed a baby into their family. They wanted to breastfeed, but encountered some unexpected difficulties leading to poor weight gain, discomfort, and stress for the whole family. After over a month of difficult feeding despite visits to hospital lactation consultants and their physicians, they visited an outpatient lactation consult and pediatric dentist who identified that their son had a tongue tie. They proceeded to get an operation, but the difficulties didn’t end there. After multiple consultations, evaluations, and physical therapy their son was still unable to nurse properly. Matthew and his wife were frustrated with the lack of tools available to medical and lactation professionals to aid in identification of nursing problems early in a newborn’s life. Through his frustration, the seeds of a possible solution were born.

Matthew found the opportunity to pitch the idea of a medical device designed to identify problems early in breastfeeding at an OwlSpark Information Sessions with hopes of finding prototyping partners. He found three Rice undergraduates who were excited to work on the project, two of which are working remotely, and the other, Krithika, who is also participating in OwlSpark.

Krithika Kumar is a rising junior at Rice University, studying bioengineering. Although she’s already halfway through her undergraduate degree, Barolac inspired Krithika to make way for a new career path. She notes, “Before, I was hoping to go into the medical industry. As I was looking forward to OwlSpark, I actually changed my career path completely and now I think I want to do something more business-oriented. I’ve had a one-track mind for quite a while now, so shifting in just these past three weeks has been amazing.” Our hope is that OwlSpark continues to support and inspire that innovative spirit.

Matt has been working at Rice University as a researcher in the biosciences department since 2014. He works as a biochemist and medical engineer by day, as well as a budding entrepreneur. This isn’t Matt’s first time around with building a new startup, however. Matt’s been involved in a number of startups over the past few years as well as OwlSpark Class 3. “I’ve been waiting particularly for a problem that I thought was viable, that there was a specific need for, and that can help people. I wanted a product that you could build a very positive mission around.”

I think that helping women and making sure that their children are healthy is a very noble mission, especially since I’ve seen those difficulties firsthand.

As for the team’s current plans, Barolac aims to have validated the need for the product by the end of the summer. For them, OwlSpark provides a great structure for their journey by setting deadlines and constantly creating opportunities for networking. By the end of the calendar year, they hope to have a functioning prototype they can demo for lactation consultants. A year from now, they hope to have tested the product on consumers and implemented the Scrum approach to driving their product forward.

Barolac is just getting started, but they feel as though this problem could have been approached sooner. Breastfeeding is nothing new, but in the last 20 years there’s been a development of ‘baby-friendly’ hospitals that advocate for breastfeeding. Due to this, more mothers are breastfeeding and bringing awareness to the problems that may arise in the process. Barolac hopes to improve the standard of care for newborns by becoming the gold standard in early evaluation of feeding ability.


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