Harmony Baby Nutrition makes baby formula that more closely represents human breast milk than any other formula on the market. Their secret? Precise fermentation of human breast milk protein to replace commonly used cow’s milk. One in five infants has an allergy to cow’s milk protein, which means one in five infants cannot use standard baby formulas. Harmony’s formula creates a better option for parents of allergic babies, to offer a nutrition source similar to breast milk.
We spoke with Harmony Baby Nutrition Founder & CEO Wendel de Oliveira Afonso to gain insight into his technology and motivation in building his startup.
What motivated you to start Harmony Baby Nutrition?
I’ve been in the baby nutrition space for a very long time, over 15 years. I used to produce formulas for babies using cow’s milk, the usual main ingredient. But here’s the problem: cow’s milk is different from human breast milk. Cow’s milk protein is fundamentally different from human breast milk protein—It’s for calves. The technology we have to produce baby formulas has changed, so why haven’t baby formulas? That’s the question I asked myself.
On a personal level, I also have a baby, who is two years old now. She was a cow’s milk allergic baby. So, I do have both experiences that motivated me to say to myself, ‘listen, you need to do something.’ And that’s why I started Harmony.
What do you expect your first product to look like and how are you going to expand from there?
We are working on a baby formula that uses human breast milk proteins. And we want to go straight to the customers, because they want a better formula right now.
What do we need? We need credible experts. Picture yourself: You are a mother struggling to feed your baby. The baby cries and has a rash. You can’t sleep and you have to do something. Then you meet a top scientist like Dr. Victoria Martin from Harvard, one of Harmony’s advisors. And Dr. Martin tells you that Harmony’s formula will solve your problem. You will listen to her.
In the future, we will expand to formulas for babies of different ages. We can do it way better through Harmony technology compared to the current technology. Breast milk composition, such as cholesterol, changes a lot throughout the years. At Harmony, we can mimic the changes that happen in breast milk. We make formulas that are way more closer to the baby’s needs than what we have right now.
How is Harmony different from others that parents might use as an option?
What’s really different is the product itself.
Currently, parents of cow’s milk allergic babies have few options. One option is formulas made from plant proteins, such as soybean proteins, but that’s not really optimal.
Other options include formulas made out of hydrolyzed cow’s milk. This type of hypoallergenic formula eliminates the allergenic parts of the protein, but that is the only good thing about it. It smells bad and tastes bad. It also causes many side effects, such as diarrhea.
Plus, these formula alternatives are really expensive, over $40 per can. Imagine paying for up to 10 cans per month, for 2 years or longer! It’s a heavy burden to the family. But that’s what we have.
This is where Harmony is different, as we can replace all these generic products with a human breast milk formula. We can also price our product much more affordably, around $15 per can. That’s why Harmony is a game-changer in the baby nutrition space.
What do you find most rewarding in your entrepreneurial journey?
I love technology, but for me, entrepreneurship is about people—people you work with, babies that you helped, struggling parents. At this very early company stage, it’s hard with so many ups and downs. I’m lucky to have amazing people working with me on a daily basis. They helped me a lot. And when I make a product that people like, it is the most rewarding feeling.That’s why I’m still an entrepreneur after all these years.