John Williamson, president-elect of Venture Connectors, presented a check for $5,000 to Amanda Cannady, founder of Prodigy Biosciences. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

This year’s winner of Venture Sharks is hoping to make life a lot more simple — and safe — for those with peanut and other food allergies.

Amanda Cannady, founder of Prodigy Biosciences, has struggled with a peanut allergy her whole life, and her son Brock now has the same issue. Eating at a restaurant can become deadly, as it nearly did for her 13 years ago.

“I looked at my husband, gasping for breath as my airways swelled shut and my body was covered in hives,” Cannady said in her presentation. “I was helpless and so were those around me, as I was experiencing an anaphylactic reaction after unknowingly ingesting a bite of food that contained traces of peanuts. Was a cheeseburger really going to end my life? And to be quite honest, the cheeseburger was not that good.”

Brandon Young, CEO of Pascal Tags, won the audience favorite award. Audience members voted via text during the event. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

She founded the company to help those with food allergies test their food before they eat it. “Your food looks great today, but would you bet your life on it? That is exactly what those with food allergies do each and every day,” she said. The company’s tester is 88 times more sensitive than other testers on the market. 

Prodigy received $5,000, $10,000 in in-kind services from Mightily, and a year of startup coaching. The coaching comes from the Venture Connectors board of directors, said John Williamson, president-elect and founder of RCM Brain.

“Our board will link up with Amanda individually,” Williamson said. “Different folks are in different areas, and we’ll provide coaching and accountability. Someone’s going to ask how you did this month on the thing you talked about last month, and that’s often missing in entrepreneurial life. We’ve all been there as operators, and so we’ll provide that, in a supportive way.”

Judges were, from left, Maggie Galloway, CEO of Inscope Medical Solutions; Jennifer Williams, CEO of Cuddle Clones; and Lou Kelmanson, of Kelmanson Holdings. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Prodigy competed against three other finalists:

  • Pascal Tags, an inventory control device, presented by Brandon Young. He won Crowd Favorite, giving him a year of Venture Connectors membership for two.
  • Gluconfidence, a source of fast-acting, concentrated glucose for people with diabetes, presented by its founder, Brian Olivier.
  • The Read Read, a device that allows adults and children with visual impairments to independently learn and practice phonics and braille, presented by its founder, Alex Tavares.

Judges were Maggie Galloway, CEO of Inscope Medical Solutions; Lou Kelmanson, of Kelmanson Holdings; and Jennifer Williams, CEO of Cuddle Clones.

Galloway said the competition this year was fierce. “All four presenters were phenomenal and really impressive in their ability to communicate what they’re doing in a four-minute pitch and four-minute question-and-answer session,” she said. “All of those companies were viable, so it really came down to a tough battle between the judges for our favorite candidates.” 

Amanda Cannady, founder of Prodigy Biosciences, holds up a picture of her son Brock. Brock, like Cannady, suffers from food allergies. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Williamson, who ran this year’s competition, said the candidates get more qualified each year. He said there were 35 qualified applicants, and all were viable companies.

“That is a marked improvement of five to seven years ago,” he said. “Which I think speaks to the support that the ecosystem between Vogt (Awards) and XLerate (Health) and some of the other groups that are here to support entrepreneurs, they’ve done a good job. And you can see it in the outcome. They’re well prepared, good businesses, real assets. That’s what we’re excited about.”

This was the competition’s 10th year, a big milestone. The success of the event is shown in the successes of its participants, Williams said. “That kind of a continuity, which I think is sometimes missing in the entrepreneurial world — companies come and go, organizations, come and go, initiatives come and go, but consistency and longevity is a real thing, and it’s valuable.”

Galloway agreed. “This is a really cool award,” she said. “If you trace back Venture Sharks over 10 years, my guess is a lot of them are still around. It’s really neat to see how a $5,000 check plus the support of the community really can make a difference in entrepreneurs launching their business at this stage.”

Lisa Hornung

Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.