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Spokin’s Susie Hultquist: A Fearless Food Allergy Mama!

 Susie and her food-allergic daughter, Natalie.

Susie and her food-allergic daughter, Natalie.

If you’ve followed Allergy Amulet for a while, you know our team was founded by a female and that we love to support female entrepreneurs!

Unsurprisingly, we’re big fans of Susie Hultquist and the team she’s assembled at Spokin. This Chi-town team has built an app to help make managing food allergies easier! We recently sat down with Susie and asked her a few questions.

1. We understand you left your financial career on Wall Street to start Spokin. When did the “light bulb” moment happen?

It happened when my co-worker was selling girl scout cookies. I wanted to buy some, but in order to do that, I had to get ahold of a package to check the label and ensure they were safe for my family. I then went to their website to make sure the cookies were also available in our area. It took me 15 minutes to track down all the information I needed! That’s when I realized I was probably not the only person managing food allergies searching for this same information, and that there was a clear need to streamline and consolidate food safety information for the food allergy community.

At the time I was managing my company’s consumer internet portfolio and saw how different businesses were managing pain points. No one was solving this one, and I felt I was uniquely positioned to do so.

2. How long did it take to launch the app? 

It was two years in the making. I started by meeting with a lot of people who have food allergies. From there, we developed a content strategy and hired a graphic designer to work on app designs. We just celebrated the app’s first birthday!

3. What is your “why”?

My daughter Natalie. She’s allergic to peanuts and several tree nuts. I am determined to make her life easier and to help her live the fullest life possible. That’s what gets me up every day. 

A food allergy diagnosis often comes with a lot of no’s when it comes to food, and I want to be able to say yes as often as I can!

4. Spokin has a lot of new features and capabilities on the app. What are you most excited about?

Far and away is the map functionality! If you’re in the app and search within the “eateries” category you can choose any city in the US and see in seconds all the restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream shops others in the Spokin community have recommended. We now have 2.7 million reviews on the app and reviews span across 18 countries! 

To find in seconds all these yes’s after so many no’s is amazing. And it’s built by the food allergy community! This community is so generous. 

5. What does Spokin mean?

It’s a play on the word spoken. I had so many amazing interactions with people in the food allergy community that gave me advice verbally (where to eat in London, what chocolate chips to bake with, what to take with us on an airplane, etc.) but once spoken, that advice then vanished into thin air. All of this knowledge needed to be captured and shared with everyone. The idea was that if we built this platform, we could harness and share all of this great food wisdom with the food allergy community at large. 

6. When do you plan to release the Android version of the app?

We have started an Android waiting list and it’s on our product roadmap. We’re currently assessing demand, so please add your email to the Android list on our website, if interested! 

7. When you’re not focused on helping the food allergy community, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with my girls and my husband! We love to cook together, run together, and travel when we can. My girls all have very different interests so it’s fun to watch them pursue their passions. 

8. Since Spokin is based in Chicago, we have to know: do you cheer for the White Sox or the Cubs?

I love the Cubs, but I applaud the White Sox for offering peanut-free ballgames!

9. What’s your long-term vision for Spokin?

If everyone in the US with food allergies shared five recommendations we could build a database of 75 million data points that everyone can access! We’ve estimated that if it takes you 15 minutes a day to manage food allergies, then you can save a year of your life by having all of this information accessible to you. 

If you haven’t downloaded the Spokin app we recommend you check it out ASAP! Both Susie (Susie in the Spokin app) and Allergy Amulet’s founder, Abi Barnes, (allergy_amulet_abi in the Spokin app) have provided lots of recommendations!

-      Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team

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Peter Rabbit: A Tale of Teachable Moments

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On February 9th, Sony Pictures released its long-awaited movie that modernizes the classic tale of Peter Rabbit—the mischievous little bunny that chases about the garden of grumpy old Mr. McGregor.

While this contemporary rendition has generated lots of laughter and merriment nationwide, it’s also making headlines for the upheaval it’s unleashed in the food allergy community.

In case this is news to you, here’s what happens. The young bunny family discovers that grouchy Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries. In their attempt to keep him from monopolizing the affection of their beloved Miss Bea, they launch blackberries at him, one of which lands squarely in his mouth. Mr. McGregor starts to experience trouble breathing and promptly injects epinephrine into his thigh. He then swiftly recovers and starts chasing the bunnies, as if nothing happened. Peter Rabbit even goes so far as to say: “Allergic to blackberries! Is that even a thing? Everyone is allergic to everything! Stop using it as a crutch!”

When I heard the news of the blackberry scene, I was frustrated. The food allergy community has made considerable progress in education, awareness, and teaching kids to be sensitive to those with food allergies. For a major motion picture that targets children to portray food allergies so carelessly (and epinephrine inaccurately) felt like a major step backward.

HOWEVER…

I believe there are some huge positives that came out of the film.

First, this movie has catapulted food allergies into major national news. This New York Times article came out three days after the movie’s release. Press around this incident reached a wide audience, which hopefully helped move the needle forward on food allergy education within the general population.

Most importantly, I viewed this film as a great opportunity to create a teachable moment with my food-allergic daughter. Before seeing the movie, we chatted about the blackberry scene and what she would see. We talked about what really happens when you experience an allergic reaction, and most importantly, about the importance of having compassion for others that are different. We use food allergies in our house as a platform to show our children that everyone has attributes that make them unique—and that differences are not a bad thing! Some of their friends may have food allergies, others might wear glasses, and some may sit in a wheelchair, and it’s important to treat others with kindness and consideration, no matter their differences.

By managing expectations and framing the movie in this light we were able to enjoy the film, and even have a follow-up conversation about the scene afterward. So all in all, I’m thankful for the teachable moments Peter Rabbit brought to our house.

- Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team  

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