BBy device turns breastmilk into powder, helps NICU nurses avoid long ‘milk lap’
Nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit can spend an entire shift waiting for breast milk to thaw so they can prepare bottles for their starving patients. This can cost hospitals millions of dollars in labor each year and prevent nurses from providing patient care.
BBy is set to disrupt what CEO Dr. Vansh Langer has called a 70-year-old freezing and thawing process with its technology that turns donor breast milk into stabilized powdered breast milk.
“There’s a huge opportunity here to change ‘milk switching,'” Langer told TechCrunch. “If nothing else, it’s a $12 billion annual workforce game in the United States and beyond.”
Langer started the New York-based company in 2015 with bioengineer and food scientist Blanca Rosa Aguilar Uscanga, PhD, who wrote about the challenges of creating powdered breast milk in a way that retains bioactives. that make breast milk, well, stay like breast milk.
Together they investigated the problem, and Langer developed a two-factor laser device that works with commercial condensers. Using Uscanga’s algorithm, the device takes the weight of breastmilk and then adjusts the rate and temperature of the breastmilk sent into the vacuum so it stays in what Langer called “the bioactive zone.”
The result is a powder that retains its nutritional and immunological properties and can be stored for up to six months. BBy packages the powder in one-ounce and two-ounce foil pouches and delivers to hospitals every two weeks. Nurses mix the required amount of powder with water. Not only does this process reduce waste, but it also eliminates the need for multiple freezers to store large amounts of breast milk, Langer said.
BBy processes 10 gallons of breast milk twice daily at eight regional processing facilities located near its 17 customer hospitals in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Texas. Its main research center is in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The company’s technology is patent pending and has over 50 related peer-reviewed and published scientific papers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated BBy’s technology as a dietary device and does not require additional medical review, Langer said.
BBy averages $800,000 in revenue per month, approaching $10 million in annual revenue, Langer said. He expects that figure to double next year, even though hospital contracts come with long sales cycles.
“It’s a challenge that every other health tech startup has,” Langer said. “Everything we do now will probably end next year, so we try to start as many as possible. Invariably a few of them die out.
After starting the business for seven years, BBy raised $3 million in one go last year after participating in Y Combinator’s Winter 2022 cohort. Pioneer Fund led the round and was joined by Y Combinator, 7G BioVentures, Cathexis Ventures and a group of angel investors.
Although the company is focused on hospitals, a future product pipeline could include developing more user-friendly versions of its device, for example, so people can condense their own milk.
“It was time for us to get out of the lab and really kick off all of our hospital contracts,” Langer said. “We are working to become the de facto way hospitals store and administer breast milk.”