Photo Credit: Marc Washington, founder of wellness brand Muniq
This Princeton And Harvard Graduate Just Launched A Wellness Brand, Prioritizing Health In The Black Community
This year has been filled with a never-ending amount of ups and downs but one thing is certain, Black entrepreneurs are continuing to makes waves in their respective industries.
Marc Washington is a Princeton and Harvard business graduate and has recently launched his wellness brand Muniq with a focus on serving the multi-cultural diabetic community. Washington began working on Muniq after his sister Monica passed away and he desired to create a brand that would change the perception of living a healthy lifestyle in the African-American community.
Muniq offers nutritional shakes for diabetics but is inclusive to all, and Washington conducted extensive research to ensure each product would positively impact the African-American and ethnic communities.
Travel Noire had a chance to talk to Marc about his journey to launching Muniq, his experience as an entrepreneur, and how he’s navigating the wellness space during this time.
You started Muniq after the loss of your younger sister Monica, what steps did you take to begin developing and building Muniq as a brand?
Yes, my little sister, Monica, was my inspiration for launching Muniq. Monica was full of personality, incredibly colorful, and hilarious, and she truly lived life fully. Her story is similar to so many others when it came to her health, though, as she struggled over the years with her weight, diabetes, and blood pressure. Monica tragically passed away 5 years ago due to health complications during childbirth.
I was inspired by Monica to create a business that would empower others to regain control over chronic health issues like those that she dealt with. I know Monica is smiling down at the prospect of helping people as a way to continue building on her legacy, as she had a warm and giving spirit. At Muniq we are creating solutions to help people effectively address underlying health conditions with products that Monica would have loved.
My first step in creating our brand was to choose a name that really spoke to me…Monica + unique = Muniq. We engaged a purpose-driven creative agency to help us breathe life into our Muniq brand and solidify our overall purpose of increasing hope, health, and happiness through the science of the gut microbiome. We knew that our mission extended far beyond just creating healthy products, but was rather about inspiring hope and empowerment and creating a movement. We also aligned that our brand would be infused with personality and remain very relatable, even though we were addressing serious conditions and were steeped in science. We will always remain in service to our customers and serve a helpful ally in their health journey. It made sense to personify our brand voice as reflecting Monica and her vibrant and uplifting personality. Once these brand pillars were established, it was pretty straightforward to then build out all elements of Muniq as a brand including our overall look & feel, packaging, website, and content.
How do Muniq products differ from other wellness products developed for diabetics that are currently on the market?
Muniq is for ANYONE looking to regain lasting control over their health from conditions that have held too much control over their life. I created Muniq to help people effectively address these prevalent ‘underlying conditions’ and regain control of their health and lives.
Unlike most health & wellness nutrition products on the market, we take a science-based & research-driven approach to product development (more akin to the process typically followed by pharma or biotech companies). This is how we create products that are proven through scientific research to transform your health in a targeted way. Another central theme to our products is that they work through your gut microbiome, which has been proven to be the control center for your health affecting most aspects of your health.
Despite our strong scientific foundation, Muniq is an intensely consumer-driven brand. I know from experience that one of the most significant challenges for people to improve their health is when “healthy” solutions are difficult to sustain or not enjoyable. That’s a recipe for a solution to be a passing fad and not result in lasting benefits. We focus intensely on ensuring our products are not only highly effective, but are also convenient and delicious. Creating products that work through your gut to fundamentally transform your health, and doing so in a way that consumers can actually look forward to incorporating into their everyday lives is how we will have a lasting impact on public health.
Our first line of breakthrough products are balanced nutritional shakes powered by resistant starch, a unique class of prebiotic fiber, designed to promote gut health and significantly improve your body’s natural ability to control blood sugar levels. Very few products on the market include resistant scratch, which has the power to be a game-changer for many individuals looking to improve blood sugar control. For example, most shakes targeting glucose control only include a few grams of fiber while Muniq shakes contain 15 grams of next-generation prebiotic fibers to transform your blood sugar control.
What challenges have you faced so far as a Black man in the wellness space?
Most of the challenges I’ve faced as a Black man working in health and wellness are common challenges among Black professionals across industry sectors. Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with being “The Only One” in many professional environments. We all know that lack of representation and senior role models that look like us presents an additional barrier for career development and advancement. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great leaders during my career, but I definitely could have benefited from having more Black mentors and leaders to show me the ropes and provide additional personal guidance over the years.
The challenges of being Black in the nutrition and wellness space are somewhat exacerbated, though, as the industry is lacking diversity even relative to other industries. The lack of diversity in nutrition and wellness is especially ironic given the populations that need our health-promoting products the MOST are those dealing with the most significant health issues. And as we all know, Black and Brown communities are struggling with chronic diseases at significantly higher rates than the general population, leading to vast disparities in health outcomes.
Being a Black executive in the wellness space can at times feel like a lonely existence. It’s a rare occurrence to spot someone that looks like me while walking the halls of an industry conference or symposium, or while meeting with supply chain partners and vendors. There are times where I’ve felt like I was carrying the heavyweight of representing an entire culture, and pushing for more representation and inclusion practically single-handedly. All that said, I’d be remiss to not also mention that my experiences as a Black man in this industry have also afforded me a platform to speak openly about the importance of diversity and representation in our industry, and to help support positive change.
What steps do you think the Black community could take to lower the rate of diabetes among African-Americans?
That’s a billion-dollar question. Some would say it’s so simple…Just follow the basic guidelines of eating less, and moving more.
While that general advice is “factually accurate”, in practice it’s significantly more complex than that. This is evidenced by the staggering stats around the diabetes epidemic.
In total, 35 million US adults have diabetes and another 90+ million have prediabetes. As we’re all too aware, African Americans are 50% more likely to have diabetes than the general public. So we are disproportionately affected by ‘The Sugars’ and the serious health risks that come along with the condition. Behavioral factors including poor diet and lack of exercise are definitely factors that contribute to the prevalence of diabetes. However, there are so many other deep-rooted structural factors also contributing to the high rate of diabetes within the Black community, including lesser access to healthcare, poorer quality of care, and socioeconomic disadvantages. Our healthcare and food systems aren’t helping our community in this regard either, given the escalating costs of drugs and lack of effective and sustainable nutritional solutions to effectively address the diagnosis over the long term.
Fortunately, all is not lost in this fight for the Black community to regain better control over diabetes. Here are a few of my recommended, practical steps to address the diabetes epidemic within the Black community:
Diabetes is a chronic condition affecting 15% of African Americans and is very difficult for most to reverse. What most don’t understand is that an additional 40% of African Americans have prediabetes, which is the precursor to diabetes. Most of whom don’t even know it. That’s why it’s critical for ALL of us to pay close attention to our sugar intake and weight as preventative measures to avoid prediabetes and diabetes. When your body gets to the stage where it requires a higher than normal level of insulin to move sugar from your blood to your cells, that is called insulin resistance. This can lead to a vicious cycle of increased fat storage & weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, and diabetes. It’s important to be proactive about keeping blood sugar levels and insulin resistance under control even if you aren’t diagnosed with diabetes. Awareness is key, so my recommendation is to proactively check your glucose levels during your next doctor visit to see if you are keeping your blood sugar under control. Following some basic healthy diet rules can have a significant impact on preventing prediabetes & diabetes, including significantly limiting sugar intake and eating lots of fiber (especially prebiotic fiber like Resistant Starch). Regular exercise also helps mitigate the risk of your blood sugar levels getting out of control.
Research has proven that your gut is essentially the control center for your health across most systems in your body. Multiple clinical studies have shown there is a direct relationship between the strength of your gut microbiome and the prevention or management of diabetes. So it makes sense that strengthening the health of your gut can also improve your blood sugar control. Consuming lots of resistant starch is one way to achieve better gut health and blood sugar control, which has been proven through clinical studies. Resistant starch is a powerful prebiotic fiber that resists digestion and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut responsible for keeping you healthy and keeping your blood sugar under control. Resistant starch has been shown through hundreds of clinical studies to improve insulin sensitivity, and even reduce average blood sugar levels (called A1C) over time. The challenge is that resistant starch is typically only found in low levels in a variety of starchy plant foods (like green unripened bananas, uncooked rolled oats, cooked and cooled potatoes), and is largely absent from the Western diet. That’s why we formulated Muniq shakes to include a high concentration of resistant starch to be an easy (and delicious) way to feed your gut what it needs to keep you healthy, including balancing your blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity.
How has launching a business during a pandemic and protests against racial injustices affected your experience as a CEO and entrepreneur?
The coronavirus pandemic has certainly been a significant hurdle to launching a brand new business, as we launched Muniq in the midst of this.
One of the biggest challenges of launching Muniq during the pandemic has been figuring out how to break through all the noise, as the noise level is extremely high. Even more importantly, this pandemic has had such a devastating impact on so many people, especially Black and Brown communities, who were already in ‘critical condition’ from vast healthy disparities and socioeconomic challenges even prior to the pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made the situation even more difficult for those who are the most in need to readily access what they need to address their health.
I aspire for Muniq to be a solution to help so many people regain control of their health, especially minority communities who need it the most. Despite these challenges, I’ve never felt a greater sense of obligation to help people by providing effective and accessible solutions, education, and resources. There really has never been a more important time than right now for what we’re doing. So this has increased my resolve and commitment as a Founder & CEO to deliver on our mission.
The recent examples of devastating racial injustices against Black Americans have only added to the criticality of the current situation and emboldened my resolve to help people. The vast disparities in health outcomes for Black Americans that have existed for centuries have been exposed in a much brighter light than they ever have with the increased emphasis on social justice and equality. We collectively have an opportunity to make substantive progress in improving the health of the Black community right now. I’m encouraged by the public expressions of support for the Black community, but more action is necessary. This movement has afforded me increased opportunities to vocally express my commitment and aspirations to bridge the gaps in social justice and health outcomes for the Black community.
As a Black founder & CEO of a health and wellness business, I am deeply passionate about being a force for positive change, and I believe we can help improve health outcomes for the Black community, which is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time. The time is NOW.
What advice do you have for Black entrepreneurs wanting to break in the wellness space?
My initial advice is to begin with your “Why.” Be clear about what your intentions are, and what is driving your specific interest in the wellness space. This is important to ensure that your anticipated venture aligns with your greater purpose and motivation. Launching a new business as an entrepreneur is HARD, so you need to make sure that this journey is one that will bring you energy and joy (regardless of the potential future outcome) before diving in headfirst.
Secondly, I suggest being very clear about what problem your wellness business will solve for consumers. Clearly this includes sizing the total addressable market, understanding the specific needs your solution will fill, and what makes your solution unique.
Beyond that, you also really need to deeply understand the consumer mindset and validate that your venture will align with their interests and needs. Some of this can be conducted via research and market studies. But the most valuable consumer insights are usually gained by talking to people who represent your target consumers.
I also suggest that you speak with as many people with relevant experience as possible, especially entrepreneurs whom you respect and would like to emulate. That includes professionals with specific experience in the wellness vertical that you’re interested in, as well as others who operate outside of your specific targeted space. I try to be a helpful resource for those who reach out for counsel who have clear and positive intentions and respect the value of my time. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of Black founders in the health and wellness space, so you should plan on broadening your aperture and connecting with Black entrepreneurs adjacent to the wellness space, as well as connecting with non-Black entrepreneurs within the wellness space. Although gathering this feedback is critical, you shouldn’t consider these different perspectives as directives, but rather helpful input to inform your perspective on the opportunity.
And finally, you should take a deep breath and reflect on everything you have learned to ensure you are ready before diving in. Being an entrepreneur is NOT for the faint of heart. And there are extra challenges you must be prepared for as a Black entrepreneur in the wellness industry given the limited historical minority representation in the industry, and long-standing preexisting relationships that can be challenging to break into coming from the outside. At the same time, I’ve been encouraged by the recent progress within the wellness industry acknowledging the need to increase diversity and representation as both a business and social imperative. I do believe the wellness industry acknowledges the need to increase diversity and the desire is genuine. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the health and wellness industry is the opportunity to have a significantly positive impact on the world by creating solutions that improve people’s health and happiness. The Black community needs more of us driving positive change to address the prevailing health disparities.
How will Muniq impact the Black community’s outlook on health and wellness?
I created Muniq as a platform brand that creates solutions to transform human health through the gut microbiome. We have significant ambitions to have a positive impact on the world by helping people regain control of their health from serious conditions that have held too much control over them. Inherent in our overarching mission is an explicit aspiration to be a part of the solution to help close the pervasive health disparities for minorities and the Black community specifically. I realize these are ambitious goals, but the challenge is massive as our community is in such dire need of a path towards better health. In fact, African Americans deal with chronic diseases at 1.8x the rate of the general public, so bold ambitions are necessary to address this significant challenge.
Muniq is starting with our line of nutritional shakes focused on improving gut health and blood sugar control. We want to help people regain and remain in control of their blood sugar, as this is such a critical step for overall health and wellness. Diabetes is often called the “gateway disease” given the high rate of comorbidity along with other conditions. Muniq shakes have the potential to have a massive impact in helping empower our community to regain control of our blood sugar, and thereby improve our overall sense of hope and wellness. We take a community-driven approach at Muniq which reinforces our commitment to authentically engage our diverse community with solutions and resources that are practical, accessible, and meant for them.
Going forward, we are focused on addressing other prevalent health conditions which also disproportionately affect the Black community. We are actively developing future product platforms that target these prevalent health conditions.
My vision for Muniq in 5 years is that we will offer consumers a suite of products that address a range of health conditions, offered in a personalized way based on a consumer’s individualized needs. Muniq products will share a common theme of transforming your health through your gut. The continued breakthroughs from ongoing emerging research around the gut microbiome will enable Muniq to remain at the forefront of transforming health and addressing critical conditions, which will positively impact the health and wellness of the Black community.
What is your favorite Muniq product and why?
That’s like asking a parent who’s your favorite child!?! As a father of 3 beautiful kids, I know that the ‘right’ answer is I love all of our Muniq shake flavors the best!
Seriously, though, I really do love all 4 of our flavors and switch things up regularly. That said, my most common go-to Muniq shake flavor is Mocha Latte. For one, it’s an absolutely delicious combination of chocolate with a nice hint of coffee. And secondly, it provides a nice jolt of natural caffeine from coffeeberry fruit (equivalent to a cup of coffee), so it’s a great way to start my day full of energy!
Where can we keep up with you and be a part of the Muniq community?