EasyKale’s founder, Bilal Qizilbash, is a passionate, driven guy. While studying for his master’s degree in medical science from Mississippi College, he ended up with a surprising discovery from a lab experiment—he found that juiced leafy kale, in vitro, would kill melanoma cells while leaving noncancerous ones alone. He received a patent on that discovery earlier this year.
“I wasn’t sure what I was originally looking at; I thought I was making a mistake at first. When I realized I was getting consistent results, it was then we knew we were on to something fascinating,” Qizilbash said.
After graduating with his degree, he found he had a desire to both continue his research and to create a way for people to get more kale into their daily diets. The cruciferous green is tough to cook, and a lot of people dislike its bitter taste, and yet it seems to offer unique properties that make it an important part of a regular diet. So, he settled on powdered kale.
Of course, he wasn’t content with the powdered version on the market. He developed a process (now patented) of drying the kale in a way that maintains the bioavailability of the kale’s nutrients while nearly eliminating bitterness that turns many consumers off.
The result is kale that you can add to almost anything: smoothies, sauces, dips, soups, stews, even yogurt or coffee—any dish where the little bit of flavor it does add won’t be noticed. Some people shake it right on steak, fries and burgers. Others, like some mothers Qizilbash has spoken with, will hide the kale in their kids’ macaroni and cheese, or in their spaghetti sauce.
“They just need to shake it on their food, a small portion every day,” he said. “The whole key to it is to be consistent and to squeeze a little nutrition into their day. An ‘all or nothing’ approach doesn’t mesh well with general health.”
After pitching earlier versions of the product at the Mississippi New Venture Challenge in the fall of 2017, the first shaker of the newly-named EasyKale was labeled and sold through Aladdin Mediterranean Grill in Jackson, Mississippi in January of 2018. Aladdin is owned and managed by Yoseph Ali, a close friend of Qizilbash and a stakeholder in EasyKale.
In February 2018, the company launched EasyKale.com for e-commerce sales, and Qizilbash set up shop at the Mississippi Farmers Market and other venues to talk to customers, hone the sales pitch and learn more about what people wanted from kale.
“Through the year we learned about the product and had some fun with the customers. We discovered a lot,” Qizilbash said. “We learned that our product is convenient, especially for mothers and busy professionals. As time goes on and people are learning more and more, people are loving it more and more. That’s coming out in testimonials.”
Qizilbash partnered in late 2017 with Richard Sun, at that time the entrepreneur in residence at Innovate Mississippi and the immediate past chairman of its board of directors. Sun is also a co-founder of the Mississippi Coding Academies whose prior careers include investment banking, emerging-markets private equity, and startup investing.
Sun and Qizilbash have worked to commercialize several discoveries, and to continue expanding his research and the patent protection.
“It has been a true joy to work with Bilal,” Sun said. “His energy, integrity, intelligence, curiosity and adaptability are exactly the characteristics sought by professional startup mentors and investors.”
Qizilbash credits Innovate Mississippi with helping him hone his pitch, think through the business plan and find his co-founder; he participated in the Company and Investor Spotlight in the fall of 2018 and the company intends to pitch the Mississippi Seed Fund in 2019.
In summer 2018, the EasyKale team also took part in the Delta I-Fund accelerator, which encouraged them to focus on customer interaction.
“I-Fund helped us clarify and better understand our early adopters; we understood their income levels, that they’re mothers,” said Qizilbash. “We interviewed lots of mothers who gave us valuable information in regards to their eating habits and those of their families.”
One way they’ll take advantage of that knowledge in 2019 is rolling out a USDA-certified organic version and focusing on Amazon as a marketplace, where their research told them many of their target customers shop. In their marketing, the EasyKale team plans to focus even more on the health benefits of EasyKale, including the flavonoids present in the product such as kaempherol, which is an antioxidant that studies show helps fight cancer and other diseases.
Qizilbash and EasyKale are garnering national recognition. Foodboro, an online industry group for food and beverage manufacturers, named “must watch” companies in each state; EasyKale was the Mississippi one to watch.
Qizilbash is continuing his cancer research with his former teacher and now research partner, Dr. Elizabeth Brandon.
He also plans to continue running the “R U Hungry” program through his nonprofit, the Draw-a-Smile Foundation, by which he feeds the homeless every Friday in Jackson’s Smith Park, along with a sister program in Brooklyn, New York.
Qizilbash says his goal is to get people healthier and happier with EasyKale and future products, and that the entire enterprise is designed to serve humanity. p