Business startup creates fulfilling snacks for malnourished kids

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(Madeline Pado/DD)

Glenn Simmons created Invictus Nourishment to help children who suffer from malnourishment. Appealing to the children, the cookies are meant to be both nutritious and tasty. (Madeline Pado/DD)

Three black, thick picture frames sit on the corner of Glenn Simmons’ office in Seed Spot, a Phoenix-based incubator for startups. The black and white photos show a mother wearing a dirty bandana, holding a baby and pointing to the camera. Another shows a large group of kids smiling at the camera and raising their hands, excited someone is taking a photograph. The last one and closest to Simmons is a couple of kids standing on a dusty street, wearing little clothing with their swollen bellies exposed.

Simmons took these pictures 20 years ago when he spent six years in Africa with the International Mission Board, serving at 26 refugee camps. Simmons said he served something resembling cornmeal to the children. While the food filled the children up, it did not have much nutritional value.

“I saw the extreme ill effects of malnutrition on children, and I knew something had to be done,” Simmons said. “You walk into those refugee camps with those children starving, and for years, that doesn’t leave you.”

These children are the ones that inspired Simmons to invent Invictus Nourishment, a 50-gram packet of ready-to-use therapeutic food. Inside is several bite-sized, graham cracker-like cookies that are nutrient-dense for children to share or eat throughout the day.

Packets are now produced in Johannesburg, Africa. Simmons said about 500 kilograms — about 1,100 pounds — of the cookies are made and donated to different churches and organizations to distribute. He said it costs 39 cents a packet to ship the snack per truckload, and a truckload of 20 metric tons can hold 400,000 packets. He hopes to sell it for 75 cents a packet.

Simmons said he’s talked with World Vision, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders and more as potential customers. He’s hoping someone who attends Seed Spot’s Demo Day on May 17 will be interested in investing.

Simmons said $40,000 of the startup cost came out of his and his business supporters’ pockets to do the research, produce the cookies and distribute. Most of the money came from Simmons as he worked extra jobs to raise the funds.

“See what the kids are wearing as shoes?” Simmons said, pointing at one of the pictures. “Those are plastic garbage bags. There’s no sanitation, the kids have no shoes; I do not know how many toenails I took off kids because they get infected. They have no immune system, no medicine.”

He had the idea for the snack once he came back to the United States, but it wasn’t until five years ago that he began creating it. Simmons developed his own formula using oats, orange peel, raisins and cinnamon for flavors. He said some of the ingredients in the finished product include flax seed, folic acid and iron.

Simmons said he went through trial and error with different types of recipes and sizes that he tested in Johannesburg, Africa for four years before deciding on the cookie. Simmons said he found out what nutrients the children need, and he partnered with a company that provided the pre-mix of the vitamins.

One hundred grams of the experimental snacks were given to children in a head start program to see how the snack would affect their cognition, bodily growth and immune system in 30 days. He said attention span, attendance and growth all increased, said Klaas Beukes, CEO and owner of a small nutraceutical and pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Africa that helps Simmons

In an email, he said he’s seen improvements in attendance, attention span and growth in students who eat the cookies.

Simmons said he also is looking at producing Invictus Nourishment in Arizona. He’s talked to a baker so far and is hoping to have two partners who will sell the product in stores.

Rick Hall, a senior lecturer for the nutrition program at Arizona State University, said he helps Simmons by giving him ideas on who to talk to about producing or distributing Invictus Nourishment in Arizona. The two met each other through connections between Seed Spot and the ASU Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, where Hall is an adviser.

Hall also discusses with Simmons what modifications could be made to the product if certain allergies are taking into consideration and how those changes would affect the currently two-year shelf life.

After talking with Simmons about the product and research, Hall realized the potential the cookies had from its flavoring. Hall worked in school districts’ nutrition programs and said children won’t eat something they don’t like.

“Kids will go hungry rather than eat something that doesn’t taste good,” Hall said.

Eventually Simmons would like to organize a donation program, where part of the profit goes to a designated charity organization.

“Our vision is to change the face of malnourishment,” Simmons said. “Because the face of malnourishment is not a pretty face.”

Contact the reporter at alicia.m.canales@asu.edu