An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Know that you can always ask for help. Lean into your team, mentors, other entrepreneurs, and your entire support system. Never hesitate to ask for help because you alone can’t do everything. This will make you work more efficiently and open up new doors and opportunities.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Hua, RD, MPH, Ph.D., Founder of Million Marker — a health-tech startup that empowers people to detox environmental toxins out of their lives through mail-in test kits, lifestyle audits, product recommendations, and counseling.
Even at low doses, exposure to environmental chemicals has been linked to developmental delays in children and infertility and chronic diseases in adults. Frustrated by the lack of data for how harmful chemicals (like BPA, phthalates and parabens) from plastics and everyday products affect our health and clinical outcomes, and the absence of personalized approach to mitigate harmful chemical exposures, Jenna is set out on a mission to change these.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was always a health-minded, nature lover, a physically active person, but also an admitted lover of food! So, all of these passions have naturally created this path towards my career. I am an environmental health scientist and dietitian by training. I hold a BS in Nutrition and an MPH and Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from UC Berkeley and completed my postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford Medicine.
I’ve followed what I’m drawn to, and loved challenging myself at solving hard problems. My love for food led me to become a dietitian, which exposed me to how serious the obesity and chronic disease epidemic is, domestically and globally.
Soon I realized that practicing dietetics alone wouldn’t be enough to move the needle to curb this epidemic, so I went back to graduate school to study environmental health, particularly the food environment, believing that if we can promote the availability, accessibility and affordability of healthy food, we can fundamentally change people’s behavior.
My research focused on how the changing food environment in China (i.e. increased fast and packaged food) and other environmental factors affect childhood obesity risk there. Through this research, I found that it is not only what we eat that influences obesity and chronic disease risk, but also what is in the food: pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants. When I measured the levels of pesticides and heavy metals in fruits, vegetables, and rice, the levels of toxic exposure in these foods were shocking. With over 30% (almost as high as in the US) of children in China considered overweight, it was pretty undeniable that these food sources could play a role in their health issues.
The issue of environmental toxic chemicals also became personal. As an active person who has the privilege of living in a country with safe products and organic foods, I never considered my own personal levels of toxic exposure. When I started experiencing fertility issues, including four late-term miscarriages, my instincts told me that environmental toxins could be the triggers.
Many of the environmental toxins are common chemicals used in everyday products that we use to eat, put on our bodies, and clean our houses. They also mess with your hormones. For instance, BPA can mimic estrogen, which can throw off your body’s natural hormone cycles.
When I went to my OBGYN to ask for a toxic chemical test, I was told the only test available was a test for heavy metals. There are also plenty of tests for lead, mercury, arsenic, and other common heavy metals. Consumers can even order genetic tests, but you can’t change your genetics. However, there aren’t any direct-to-consumer tests for toxic chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and parabens, which consumers can actually take action and reduce their exposures. Through curiosity and frustration, I decided to put all of my years of schooling, all of my passions, and all of my struggles into creating Million Marker. I wanted to provide an easy way for people to measure these toxic chemicals in their bodies and eliminate them from their daily lives, particularly those who are trying to conceive, staying pregnant, postpartum, and parents with young kids.
We measure the levels of 13 hormone-disrupting chemicals in a customers’ body through an easy mail-in urine test. The customer also logs diet and product use in an exposure journal.
This information is compiled in a personalized health report. We use the consumer’s own data and daily routine to expose which foods and products are increasing their toxic exposures. Then, we provide actionable lifestyle changes and safe product alternatives to help them reduce toxic chemical exposures and achieve hormone balance, health optimization, and potentially prevent chronic diseases.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I began my career was changing my mindset and making a leap from academia to industry/startup. I was on the trajectory of becoming a professor in environmental health/public health, but realized that we need better ways to collect data for environmental health research and policy making, translate and communicate the research and scientific knowledge to the public, and activate consumers to push for safer environmental policies. Being a health-tech startup, we will be able to address these limitations in a much more time-efficient and cost-effective manner and use technology, citizen science and marketing to maximize impact.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
There is a well-known saying that’s simple but really resonates with me. It’s kind of in line with this whole “big idea” article, as well. That saying is, “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”
Whether it’s me as a supervisor, a spouse, a friend, or an entrepreneur, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated.
I also lead by example. That’s why my own toxic exposures and fertility issues shocked me so much. I’ve always tried to eat healthily and use clean products.
However, there is so much greenwashing out there, giving false or misleading claims on labels. For instance, “unscented” products are still made with fragrance, which can be made of thousands of chemicals, including various phthalates. Food brands could write “organic” on their labels if just one ingredient out of dozens were grown organically. This lack of transparency is dangerous, and we’re seeing the effects of it now.
I champion for honesty, transparency, and sustainability. Million Marker is my platform for this change. We hope to collect as much data about toxic exposures as possible so that we can influence change on the corporate, local government, and global scales.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change the World?”
Million Marker offers a simple, science-backed way to detox your life. Let’s face it. A lot of education is required to understand, 1) what toxic chemicals are, 2) how they affect our bodies, and 3) what to do about it. I’ve studied for years to learn about these things. The average person doesn’t have the time, energy, or foundational knowledge to comprehend all of this.
So we’re breaking it down for the consumer to understand. We take the guesswork out of their toxic exposures. Our mail-in test can confirm your exposure levels of bisphenols, parabens, phthalates, or oxybenzone.
We then let you know which products are causing these toxic exposures. This information is priceless for people who are loyal to their everyday products. Confirming that your shampoo is safe can be a huge relief, trust me!
In the same respect, learning which products, foods, or supplements expose you to hormone disruptors can change your life. When you cut down on these exposures, it gives your hormones a chance to recalibrate.
These effects can positively impact a person’s health in so many ways. That’s because hormones influence our sleep cycles, moods, focus, stress, skin, and fertility.
Today’s consumers don’t have the time to read every item on an ingredients list. If they do, they might not know what they’re reading. These chemicals have some ridiculously long names. So, we did all the vetting for them.
Through the Million Marker app, customers can replace questionable products with toxic-free alternatives. Our team highly vets every ingredient, the company’s testing processes, and even their packaging. We want to make toxic-free living a seamless experience for the everyday person.
How do you think this will change the world?
It’s going to give a lot of people who are losing hope the answers that they need. As a registered dietitian myself, I can say that it is frustrating talking to doctors sometimes. When you turn to a trusted professional, and they say, “I don’t know,” it can be deflating. I was at an all-time low after each miscarriage. Million Marker wants to provide every individual assurance through science.
As we help the world get well, person by person, it allows us the unique opportunity to collect data about the exposome and key biomarkers. With this information, we can grow from supporting the individual to supporting the community.
Hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA, phthalates, parabens, and oxybenzone aren’t easily biodegradable. They are messing up our hormones and the climate. It’s not a sustainable way to live by any account. Learning about your personal toxic exposures won’t just change the world; it could save it.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
One potential dystopian result of any health company is if that company sells user data for personal profit. That is not our intent. Our intent is to use this data for the greater good so that we can advance precision medicine by discovering and developing novel biomarkers and make tangible changes in manufacturing processes and policies.
Million Marker operates in full transparency. That’s a core belief ingrained in our company from the top down. We will not share anybody’s data without their permission. All samples are held for two weeks in the event the customer needs a re-test. After, it’s destroyed. We don’t want to risk the privacy of any customer.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Everything in my life was leading towards this tipping point. It really bothered me to see the raw data firsthand. Pesticides and heavy metals are causing innocent children to have health problems, including obesity. Obesity is a leading cause of so many health issues, including heart disease, cancer, and infertility.
When I was witnessing my own personal setbacks, I knew something had to be done. Not only are children being impacted, but people who are making what they perceive to be educated decisions about their health are also being impacted.
And once we address these issues, we hope to close the gap in toxic exposures. Underprivileged communities are at a far greater risk of consuming contaminated water or buying processed foods and everyday products (personal care, cleaning, and household products) with hormone-disrupting ingredients.
Even if we can’t test these populations directly for BPA and phthalates, we’re hoping to use the data we’ve compiled from our customers to influence change on a legislative level. That way, underprivileged communities will have cleaner options for purchases.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We are still a burgeoning health-tech startup. So we’re fundraising, attending health conferences, and going through all those exciting growing pains successful companies do in the early days.
Right now, it’s about making connections and establishing partnerships. We’ve made some great relationships with fertility doctors, women’s health advocates, and environmental groups. We’ve recently entered a partnership with the Healthy Nevada Project (initiating an exciting pilot study that could lead the way to large-scale population studies) and are looking for other ways to spread via word-of-mouth.
It’s been a grassroots approach so far, which is what it needs to be. A lot of education is required. People are being confronted with truths about their health and pushed out of their comfort zones by discovering that their foods and products are causing toxic exposures.
We need more open conversations. We need people not to feel scared. Instead, they should feel empowered to learn about their toxic exposures and get rid of them. Change is scary, but it’s also necessary for growth.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Share examples for each)
- Building a business is both physical and mental. You will be working many long-hour days and you need the physical energy to keep going. You will also need to make thousands of decisions day in and day out. So self-care is extremely important.
- Building a brand takes time, especially one with an innovative product. It will take people time to get to know your brand, so you will need to be patient and persistent. You are in for the long haul!
- Have thick skin and be resilient! You will hear 10 times more “no’s” than “yes’s” from investors, potential collaborators, and customers. This can be demoralizing, so growing a thick skin and being resilient will help you stay on track and keep pushing.
- Learn to manage time, stress, and people. Management comes with experience and can be learned. You will realize that 24 hours a day is not enough to get all the work done. You will be stressed, and people expect you to lead and make decisions quickly. So it’s important to figure out a way to prioritize the to-dos, how to de-stress and relax, and lead by example. Treat people as you wish to be treated. Over-communication is better than under-communication to make sure everyone is on the same page to achieve the common goals.
- Know that you can always ask for help. Lean into your team, mentors, other entrepreneurs, and your entire support system. Never hesitate to ask for help because you alone can’t do everything. This will make you work more efficiently and open up new doors and opportunities.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had to make a 60-second pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she may see this if we tag them 😉
Million Marker empowers people to detox their lives through mail-in test kits, lifestyle audits, product recommendations, and counseling. Harmful chemicals are present in food and drinks, plastics, and everyday products. These chemicals have been linked to infertility, IVF failure, child development, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Million Marker is the first and only company that makes it easy for everyday consumers to learn about their toxic chemical exposure, and provides scientific and actionable solutions to minimize future exposure. While anyone who wants a healthier lifestyle can benefit from our service, our initial focus is on those wanting to start or expand their families. The company is led by a group of ardent scientists and professionals who are trained in environmental health, medicine, toxicology, analytical chemistry, big data, AI, design and marketing.
Our mission is to crowdsource biomonitoring and assessment of environmental exposures and build the world’s most comprehensive environmental exposure database and metabolic profiles.
Starting with a few markers of harmful exposures, our vision is to discover over a MILLION MARKERS to inform and improve individual health and advance precision medicine.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram as Million_Marker. Don’t forget the underscore. We hope to see everybody on an upcoming IG Live, or in one of our DMs. Drop-in and say “hi” any time!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Million Marker: Dr Jenna Hua’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.