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Houston startup with breast milk freeze-drying tech heads to Shark Tank

Houston-based Milkify will pitch their freeze-drying breast milk concept on Shark Tank this Friday. Photo courtesy of Milkify

A Houston startup is competing in the "Super Bowl of Business," as founder Pedro Silva calls it, and you can watch the action later this week.

Milkify will appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank” this Friday, April 7. Silva, co-founder and CEO, created Milkify along with his wife, Berkley Luck, PhD, in 2019. Today, Luck is a mom, COO, and a molecular biologist, but she had the idea for the company back in grad school. A coworker was struggling with pumping breast milk “lugging the pump back to work,” as Luck puts it.

Luck was studying probiotics at the time and was using a freeze-dryer in her work. The problem inspired her to create a process of freeze-drying breast milk that is now patent pending. The trademarked process is centered around SafeDry, special freeze-drying pouches.

“The breast milk never makes contact with our equipment,” Luck explains. The powdered milk is transferred directly from the bag in which it’s freeze-dried to the final packaging under sterile conditions. The result is not only shelf-stable, but keeps for at least three years, exponentially longer than frozen milk.

Silva admits that when Luck first pitched Milkify to him, he thought it was a crazy idea. “But Berkley is way smarter than I am. There must be something to it,” he realized. At the time, he was working in energy private equity. But he vowed that if they could find a viable path to making Milkify a business, he would join Luck full-time.

Early in the company’s life, the couple purchased a blue van that said “We will freeze-dry your breast milk,” recalls Silva. This grassroots marketing introduced them to a neighbor whose baby refused to drink her frozen milk. “He spat it out, he hated the taste,” Silva says. The pair freeze-dried her milk for the baby and their neighbor soon sent a video of the little one chugging six ounces of her rehydrated milk.

“That was the lightbulb moment,” says Silva. “How often do you get to work on something really meaningful?”

Since its founding, Milkify has freeze-dried and powdered more than half a million ounces of breast milk, all carefully preserved and packaged individually. Last October, Milkify opened what Luck claims is, “The only GMP-certified processing facility in the world right now specifically designed for freeze-drying breast milk.”

The 6,400-square-foot Houston space is a vast improvement from the previous 200-square-foot facility. That was thanks to raising $1.2 million in funds, which has also allowed them to build a larger staff.

“Our entire workforce at this point other than Pedro is moms,” says Luck. Including the couple, they are a team of 10, and just hired two additional members. They are currently looking to hire, says Silva, with roles including both operations and logistics associates. Experience, he says, is less important than conscientiousness and a good attitude, as they will train their new hires in-house.

And Milkify is about to receive more attention than ever with its appearance on “Shark Tank.” “Getting on a national stage to share our story was the main motivation for it,” says Luck. That translates to both education about the potential for freeze-drying breast milk, and about Milkify’s unique model.

“We started this business as a labor of love. It wasn’t just a financial reason,” says Silva. “This can actually help a lot of people. This is a way to spread the word.” And in the process, help countless moms and babies.

Berkley Luck and Pedro Silva — the wife and husband team behind Milkify — appear on Shark Tank this Friday. Photo courtesy of Milkify

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Building Houston


Elizabeth Holmes, pictured on November 18, is now incarcerated. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A longtime Houstonian is coming home — by way of prison.

Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of blood-testing startup Theranos, reported to F.P.C. Bryan, on Tuesday, May 30, per multiple news outlets. She is set to serve 11 years and three months in the women's minimum-security prison located some 90 minutes from Houston hometown.

According to the the New York Times, the onetime Tanglewood resident arrived at the prison in a Ford Expedition that appeared to be driven by her mother, Noel Holmes. Her father, Christian Holmes, appeared to be inside.

The Times adds that after some shuffling around, out of the view of the cameras gathered nearby, Holmes entered the facility wearing jeans, glasses and a sweater, and carrying some papers.

Prior to her arrival in Bryan, Holmes, 39, spent Memorial Day weekend with her family on the beach near her oceanfront San Diego home with her partner Billy Evans and their two children, according to the Daily Mail.

As CultureMap previously reported, Holmes was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison on November 18, 2002 in San Jose, California following her conviction in January that year for defrauding Theranos investors.

Actress Amanda Seyfried, who played Holmes in the Hulu series The Dropout, shared her thoughts on the woman she portrayed to great acclaim. “Life’s not fair,” Seyfried noted on Good Morning America on Tuesday, “but in a lot of ways, it’s fair. For her, in particular.”

Thrust into the spotlight as the new face of white-collar, Silicon Valley fraud, Holmes now serves as a warning to those who might consider a similar path, her sentencing judge made clear.

“I suppose we step back and ask what is the pathology of fraud? Is it the refusal to accept responsibility or express contrition in any way?" Judge Edward Davila said during the ruling, according to Yahoo! Finance. "Perhaps that is the cautionary tale that will go forward from this case."

Davila ordered Holmes to turn herself into custody on April 27, 2023.

Specifically, Holmes' sentence is 11 years and three months in prison, with another three years of supervision after release. Additionally, Holmes and her ex-boyfriend and former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani have been ordered to pay $452 million to their fraud victims.

Once compared to disruptors and innovators Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Holmes rose to fame by enticing investors with the promise that her Theranos could run hundreds of blood tests via a simple pin prick. Buzz for Theranos grew to the point that Theranos was valued at $9 billion, which made Holmes the world’s first self-made female billionaire.

Yet, after securing more than $900 million in funding, Theranos was proven to be essentially bogus by the Wall Street Journal in 2015.

Facing up to 20 years in prison, a tearful Holmes, who is pregnant, addressed the court. "I stand before you taking responsibility for Theranos," she said, per Yahoo. "I loved Theranos. It was my life’s work. My team meant the world to me. They wanted to make a difference in the world. I am devastated by my failings," she said. "Every day for the past years, I have felt deep pain for the people…those people who believe in us and those patients. I worked so hard to serve. I gave everything I had to try to to build...Theranos. Looking back, there are so many things I would do differently. I tried to realize my dream too quickly."

Holmes is the subject of the aforementioned series, The Dropout, which centers on her early life in Houston, where she grew up in Tanglewood and attended St. John's School. Her father's layoff from Enron is presented as clearly an inciting incident in her life. As The Dropout depicts, Holmes would meet boyfriend/partner Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, drop out of Stanford, and launch Theranos.

One of the most memorable lines in the miniseries comes when a young Holmes plainly states her goals at a family gathering. "I wanna be a billionaire," she said plainly — a memorable and clearly prophetic statement.


This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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