By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Hannah Carney with her donut holes at the Happy Valley Venture Capitalist Competition. Photo: Provided.
Sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention. At least that’s the case with Hannah Carney, whose medical condition inspired her to take dietary matters into her own hands.
Carney’s issues with her health originated in 2020, right before the pandemic began.
“I was diagnosed with a few different autoimmune conditions at the age of 20,” said Carney. Carney, at the time of her diagnosis, was an in-shape runner and was devastated to hear a doctor tell her she’d either have to follow a very strict diet, or deal with the aftermath of having her colon removed. Carney chose the former.
However, this wasn’t the first time that Carney rethought her relationship with food. “Back when I was 15 years old, I struggled with and overcame anorexia and at that time I began rethinking my relationship with food and viewing it as medicine, instead of the enemy,” she said.
“So many people were fascinated and, although I didn’t see myself being a CEO, one thing led to another and before you know it, I had 10K in startup funding from the Ag Springboard Competition at Penn State and Happy Valley Venture Capitalists."
After her 2020 diagnosis, Carney said, “I went grain free, soy free, gluten free, refined sugar free and dairy free; it’s called The Specific Carbohydrate Diet and is restricted to meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables. It’s also extremely boring.” When she felt the diet just wasn’t for her, she started developing recipes to help her heal, which she regularly posts on her blog wholesomelyhannah.net.
All of her experiences led Carney to pursue a bachelor’s degree in food science and now the Penn State student is working on her master’s degree with a focus on resistant starch and the human gut microbiome. As such, she has spent a lot of time in labs, experimenting, while working towards her master’s. During this time, she learned that it takes 17 years for published data to be translated to industry and adopted by the consumer.
“This didn’t sit well with me, after learning first-hand how simple dietary changes nearly reversed my autoimmune disease,” she said.
This dissatisfaction led to the creation of the Unbaked Flour Company, which is on a mission to make nourishing food more easily accessible. Carney has developed a probiotic-fortified, non-dairy food product that provides benefits from a gut health supplement and Unbaked Flour Company sells unbaked donut holes that are gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, refined sugar-free, symbiotic, non-GMO and sustainably packaged in compostable materials.
To take her business to the next level, Carney entered a product development competition in 2021 and got a positive response. This, in turn, gave her more confidence on the viability of the business.
“So many people were fascinated and, although I didn’t see myself being a CEO, one thing led to another and before you know it, I had 10K in startup funding from the Ag Springboard Competition at Penn State and Happy Valley Venture Capitalists,” she said.
Carney also credits the 10-week Ben Franklin TechCelerator Program for believing in her product and empowering her with information to nudge her forward.
“They got me thinking about supply chain logistics, business strategy, pitching our concept to potential investors and managing a team — all of which are out of my comfort zone, but they challenged me to get uncomfortable and develop a level of confidence in myself that I’ve never had before,” she said.
The TechCelerator Program is free and has helped more than 170 companies and invested more than $5 million in 32 startups.
During this time, she also was able to learn the ropes of marketing to those most likely to benefit from her product.
“My 18-year-old brother doesn’t care about gut health yet, but there are chronic disease support groups for ulcerative colitis and other forms of Intestinal Bowel Disorders (IBD) to whom I can market,” said Carney, who also learned, during her research, that 62 million people are diagnosed with a digestive disorder every year. “Ben Franklin gave me the tools to market to those people,” she added.
Carney said that because her company is still in its infancy, she’s still working on the challenges of launching a startup.
"These connections have highlighted how the food industry may be starting to change for the better, with the goal of truly nourishing people from the inside out."
“The money goes so fast when you think about getting the raw product and paying rent to a Pennsylvania Department of Health-certified facility,” she said, adding that she is currently working on pitches, trying to get her company name out to potential investors. As for advertising, people are currently learning about her product through word of mouth. Her goal is to begin selling her donut holes online soon and some have made it to several coffee shops in the State College area.
Despite the challenges, Carney is optimistic about the future of Unbaked Flour. She said, “As CEO of Unbaked Flour Co., I have not only found something to wake up excited for every day, but I have also been able to connect with so many incredible mentors, community members and food industry professionals. These connections have highlighted how the food industry may be starting to change for the better, with the goal of truly nourishing people from the inside out. I feel so fortunate to be at the forefront of this movement and I couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come!”