Defeating diabetes through low-GI food products

Sirithon (Siri) Siriamornpun from Thailand started her LIF (Leaders in Innovation Fellowships) journey as a scientist and ended it as an entrepreneur. Here she shares the development of her low-GI food products from research to commercialisation, the impact LIF training and support had on her work and her next steps:

 

What is your innovation and how does it work?

I am developing low-GI (glycaemic index) food products. The patented process involves modifying the starch complex molecules to slow the rate of digestion and lower the blood sugar level in the body.

Our products also contain anti-glycation agents, which have high potential to delay or prevent the onset of diabetes, as well as to manage the effects. With strong health-promoting properties, our products are suitable for diabetes sufferers, those at-risk (especially with a family history of diabetes) or anyone concerned with functional and health-promoting food.

We have three finished products: low-GI rice, a low-GI cereal bar and low-GI rice soup.

 

What inspired your research?

I was inspired to innovate by the growing incidence of diabetes around the world.

The International Diabetes Federation reported that in 2015, there were 382 million diabetics worldwide, and this number is predicted to almost double over the next 20 years. It was clear to me that this disease would have a huge economic and psychosocial impact, spanning age groups and geographical regions.

I decided to use my background in food technology and nutrition to solve this.

 

What do your customers say?

We have had positive feedback from consumers, particularly for the cereal bars and soup. People like our products, though they question the higher price of low-GI compared to normal food.

One of our main barriers is that we cannot write ‘low-GI’ on the labels, or claim the benefits of eating our products, even though we have proof from clinical trials. The process to get Thai FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulation is very complicated, and it is expensive to get approval elsewhere. 

 

What did you gain from the LIF training and follow-on support?

Honestly, everything from LIF was new to me! The main lessons for me were related to technology commercialisation, especially marketing, intellectual property, business negotiation and presentation skills.  

The follow-on support helped us continue to adapt our plans and business model to meet our changing needs. Most importantly, connections with other LIF alumni have been great for sharing experiences and moral support.

Finally, LIF changed my vision of myself, from just being a scientist, to being able to transfer my research to industry and real-world application. My work is contributing to a positive social impact, which I had never imagined before.

 

What impact did LIF have on your business?

After LIF, I came back to Thailand and tried to use the new knowledge I had gained. I was awarded a grant from the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) to scale up my products with industry, and I found business partners in both manufacturing and marketing.

My LIF coach, Dr. Steve Cleverly, gave me valuable advice. He helped me find a UK research partner to apply for RAEng’s Industry-Academia Partnership Programme, also part of the Newton fund, and the grant has allowed us to extend our research, in cooperation with our Thai industrial partners, Roi-Et Agricultural Group Ltd and Siam Natural Product Co Ltd.

Without the continued support of Newton Fund, RAEng and TRF, we could not have continued to develop our products towards commercialisation.

 

What are your next steps?

Three of my products, the low-GI rice soup, low-GI cereal bars and low-GI rice, will be launched to market by the end of this year, in health food shops and health care centers.

In the future, I plan to extend my research to other functional food products such as ready-meals, drinks and baked goods. This will help us meet our customers’ requirements, and add value to the local agricultural produce available.

 

What tip for success would you give to your peers?

Just believe in yourself and your innovation and keep working at it! I’m sure you will be successful.