20 Under 40

20 UNDER 40: Julie Bombacino

2013-10-06T00:00:00Z 20 UNDER 40: Julie BombacinoDiane Poulton nwitimes.com
October 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Julie Bombacino understands the needs and concerns of the caretakers and customers she serves.

Bombacino, founder and CEO of Just Food Blends, can say she has truly walked in their shoes. Her understanding arises from her personal life experience. An experience, Bombacino says, that motivated her to use her abilities to research and develop a feeding tube product completely made from real food.

“My six-month-old son AJ was put on a feeding tube for a few months and had failed on eight different types of formula, despite having no food allergies,” Bombacino says.

She experimented with blended real food as a substitute for the formula.

“Real food made such a difference in his life and to our entire family,” Bombacino says. “I went searching for a convenient 100 percent real food meal I could feed him when we were traveling, or if I just didn’t feel like cooking for him, and couldn’t find one.”

Thus an idea was born.

“I put my MBA hat back on and started to research the market,” Bombacino says. “It turns out $3 billion worth of tube-feeding formula is sold every year in the United States alone and none contain 100 percent real food.”

Bombacino says feeding tube formula problems can include constipation, vomiting, reflux and general intolerance.

“Most formulas are 50 percent corn syrup or corn syrup derivatives, something most people wouldn't think is healthy to live off of,” Bombacino says. “The biggest issue I see is that someone who is 100 percent feeding tube dependent gets no nutritional variety if they are only on formula.”

“That's the same food every day, for every meal,” Bombacino says. “Our bodies crave variety.”

Just Food Blends first production run is this fall, Bombacino says. Funding has been through a “crowdfunding campaign” which raised $15,000.

“It is a mixture of people who pre-ordered for their own use and those who supported the cause to donate the meals to hospitals,” Bombacino says. “It was also our official public launch to let the tube-fed world know these meals are coming.”

Bombacino’s ultimate goal with launching Just Food Blends is that people with feeding tubes will learn that real food is possible.

“It took months of watching my son vomit almost daily before I stumbled upon this concept online,” Bombacino says. “I truly believe that real food should be the default for people on tubes, not a last resort.”

Most satisfying for her is the letters and emails from tube-fed people and their caregivers thanking her for creating this product line.

“I’ve walked in their shoes and know how much work it is caring for someone with a feeding tube at times,” Bombacino says. “Making that a little easier for everyone is so satisfying.”

She says learning food production has not been easy.

“The key to making Just Food Blends meals for me was that we could only use 100 percent real food and they had to be shelf-stable,” Bombacino says. “Both of those factors have made this process much more difficult than it could have been but then it wouldn’t have been a product I would feed my child if it wasn’t real food or shelf-stable.”

Bombacino’s other challenge has been breaking into the medical system that wants clinical trials and research studies to validate the concept.

Bombacino said support from both her husband and parents have been critical to her efforts.

“First and foremost, I would not have been able to start this business without the support of my husband Tony,” Bombacino says. “Same with my parents Michael and Susan Weis and Paul and Brenda Branco who have helped with accounting services, childcare and invested in the company. From a business perspective, my former boss David Kalt from optionsXpress is a phenomenally successful entrepreneur who taught me a ton while I worked for him and was the first person I took this idea to. He encouraged me to run with it.”

Bombacino calls her son AJ her chief inspiration officer.

Bombacino believes in giving back to the community in which she lives and which has helped her in her business endeavor.

“Although I have many ties to Chicago, I have made a deliberate effort to keep Just Food Blends in Indiana, as an Indiana company,” she says. “We hope that as we grow, we can provide jobs and give back to the Northwest Indiana community. As a startup and a woman entrepreneur, I have been able to tap into many of the state and regional resources to launch Just Food Blends.”

Dushan Nikolovski, director of Purdue University Calumet’s Center for Entrepreneurship Success, first met Bombacino and learned of her story at Purdue University Calumet's Big Sell Entrepreneurship Competition in March 2013.

Nikolovski says Bombacino’s frustrating ordeal “motivated this ordinary mom to change the industry and world.”

“Julie has successfully raised a significant amount of money to produce Just Food in small batches but is now aiming for mass production,” Nikolovski says. “As a Northwest Indiana resident, she is committed to the region and state. There are several companies that can produce her product under the strict specifications Julie has developed. However, Julie is making a plan to have Just Food produced in Indiana and distributed out of this region. Not only is she committed to changing the lives of tube-fed people but she wants to make an economic impact in the region where she lives.”

Nikolovski describes Bombacino as “a remarkable woman who is on a mission.”

“Few people have the ability to help so many and change an industry.” Nikolovski says. “I believe that she is capable of both and is already successfully changing lives and improving the quality of life for tube-fed people. She is a remarkable and inspiring young woman who wouldn’t settle for typical, generic remedies for her sick child. Julie will soon be a nationally recognized figure for creating a life changing product and will make a great economic impact in our region.”

Bombacino is a persevering mother, kind-hearted friend and now the perfect example of an innovative and successful entrepreneur, Nikolovski says.

Julie Bombacino, founder and CEO of Just Food Blends, understands the needs and concerns of the caretakers and customers she serves.

“My six-month-old son AJ was put on a feeding tube for a few months and had failed on eight different types of formula, despite having no food allergies,” Bombacino says.

She experimented with blended real food as a substitute for the formula.

“Real food made such a difference in his life and to our entire family,” Bombacino says. "... It turns out $3 billion worth of tube-feeding formula is sold every year in the United States alone and none contain 100 percent real food.”

Just Food Blends first production run is this fall, Bombacino says.

Bombacino’s ultimate goal with launching Just Food Blends is that people with feeding tubes will learn that real food is possible.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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