Bilal’s EasyKale: Studying Cancer and Improving Health from Mississippi

Bilal’s EasyKale: Studying Cancer and Improving Health from Mississippi

 

Bilal Qizilbash - Innovate Mississippi
Bilal Qizilbash started the company that became EasyKale after a cancer research breakthrough.

EasyKale CEO and co-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 his studies—he found that juiced leafy kale, in vitro, would kill melanoma cells while leaving noncancerous ones alone. He received a patent on that discovery in 2018.

“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 realized 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 powered 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 a “shake-on” 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.”

Bilal's Destiny EasyKale shaker - Innovate Mississippi
Bilal’s Destiny EasyKale launched with a new label and USDA-certified organic kale in 2019.

Beginning in early 2018, the first shaker of EasyKale (it had at least two other names while in development in 2017), was labelled and sold through Aladdin Mediterranean Grill in Jackson, Miss., which Yoseph Ali, a close friend of Qizilbash and a stakeholder in EasyKale, owns.

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 Bilal’s discoveries, and to continue and expand 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.”

The mentorship appears to have paid off. Qizilbash was invited to apply for a $100,000 award from the Mississippi Seed Fund, which the company received in June. The concept is to keep innovating in the state of Mississippi and to show what a company can do in the state, he said. “The award creates a lot more interest in our company, and it’s pretty exciting because at this point our company is truly valued. The value doesn’t matter until an investor puts his money in.”

Bilal's EasyKale Ribbon cutting - Innovate Mississippi
EasyKale had a ribbon-cutting at Innovate Mississippi’s office in recognition of CEO Bilal Qizilbash’s affection for the group.

Qizilbash attributes a great deal of EasyKale’s success to the support he’s received from Innovate Mississippi, which is why he held his ribbon-cutting at their offices.

“People thought we had opened a shop at Innovate. But I wanted to highlight that they’re an asset to Mississippi. They’re just generally awesome with very positive energy, constructive criticism, practice pitches, being patient with me and the kale doughnuts,” he said. “I really love them.”

In summer 2018, the EasyKale team took part in the Delta iFund accelerator, which encouraged them to focus in on customer interaction.

“iFund 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. We’re trying to maximize their strategies and make EasyKale a tool in trying to maximize their time.”

One way they’ve done that this year is by rolling out a USDA-certified organic version (now called “Bilal’s Destiny EasyKale” and focusing on Amazon as a marketplace, where their research told them many of their target customers shop. As of March 2019, EasyKale is available only on Amazon, and in July, sales tripled compared to previous months, according to Qizilbash. An Amazon’s Choice product, it has a five-star rating and is the top-rated, lowest-cost powered kale on the site.

Qizilbash is proud to note that as sales have increased, he’s been able to drastically lower the price, making the product available to more consumers. “Last year it sold for $29.99 non-organic. Now we’re organic and sell it for $14.99.” Interestingly, most sales are from out of state, a “perk” of selling on Amazon, with hot spots including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Atlanta, and Boca Raton, Florida.

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.

Bilal 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.

In an effort to minimize its carbon footprint, EasyKale is among a select group of companies chosen to make their products available through the Loop platform, a zero-waste, circular shopping program that gives consumers the option to purchase certain items in reusable packaging delivered by UPS. Qizilbash says his team is working through multiple prototypes to ensure durability.

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 between 80 and 100 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.

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