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Andrea Sorkin: When Pi Equals Pie

Entrepreneurship Competition Winner Plans to Improve the Taste of Gluten-Free Living

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Pi Team

Andrea Sorkin, 2010 first-place winner in the social venture track of the Baruch College Merrill Lynch Invitational Entrepreneurship Competition, wants to combine advocacy for people suffering from autoimmune disorders with lip-smacking good eating. An MPA candidate in the School of Public Affairs, Andrea is set to launch “Pi,” a gluten-free line of foods chiefly -- you guessed it –- made up of pies. The company’s punning name was chosen to represent the infinite culinary possibilities of the kinds of pies people like to eat.

Andrea and the Pi team with Professor Ed Rogoff taken at the Entrepreneurship awards ceremony on May 27.

The Pi business plan is detailed and ambitious. Capitalizing on health-food consciousness and the dietary needs of the estimated 45 million Americans who are gluten-intolerant, Andrea is aiming for eventual nation-wide distribution of a product line that will rival Amy’s, the largest producer of organic convenience foods in the nation. Although “gluten-free” is now a common designation on packaged foods, according to Andrea, many tend to be cardboard-flavored and lacking in key nutrients. Pi expects to change all that by concentrating on fillings that Andrea considers the essence of pies, tarts, empanadas, pirogi, quiches, dumplings, and stuffed vegetables.

Andrea learned about gluten-free foods the hard way. Ten years ago, she was in ill health and down to 92 lbs. When a doctor finally diagnosed gluten-intolerance, she tried her best to adhere to a gluten-free diet. “The food sucked,” she says bluntly. It was the start of a long odyssey during the course of which she learned a great deal about autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus, all of which appear to benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle. Recent medical evidence even suggests that autism and schizophrenia may be modified by gluten-free living.

As a result of her own tribulations, Andrea became a community advocate for women with inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders. She made a film, Priority Seating, and conducted a support group. And she began baking pies.

In the meantime, it was also necessary to earn a living. For nearly ten years, in addition to her other activities, Andrea has worked as a medical sales consultant and products representative for a major pharmaceutical company. She has been phenomenally successful in her sales career, winning a number of awards. Her interest in health care, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals also led her to pursue a master’s degree in Health Care Policy at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, something she continues to chip away at while beginning the hard work of starting up a new business.

The first phase of Pi involves test-kitchen and product development, as well as raising the capital required to take advantage of a fast-growing but highly competitive niche in the alternative foods movement. For this, the prize money from the Baruch competition will surely help, as will the $20,000 in start-up funds for which Pi is now eligible. Within a few months Andrea hopes to have a storefront location in Brooklyn and a sample of her wares in local greenmarkets and specialty stores. A bit further down the line, she envisions partnering with advocacy groups and fund-raising through “featured” pies on sale for $3.14. The Pi business team, which includes CEO Andrea and three partners, vow to always keep in mind the fundamental axiom that before anything else, food needs to taste good. “We don’t want people to eat this food because they have to, we want people to eat the food because they want to,” she says.