Andrea Sorkin, CEO and Director of Sales and Marketing, Pi Gluten Free
Socially conscious, gluten-free baked goods (including dessert pies, quiche, knish, potpies, and carbohydrate-conscious stuffed vegetables)
“Everyone deserves a piece of the pie!” & “Pi thinks outside the breadbox”
In early December 2010, Andrea Sorkin launched her business Pi Gluten Free. Her company was one of the two winners of the 10th annual Baruch College Invitational Entrepreneurship Competition last spring. Pi won in the social-entrepreneurship track, for businesses with social-benefit-focused missions. The prize was $10,000 cash plus $20,000 seed money.
Although Sorkin holds down a demanding full-time position as a Manhattan-based pharmaceutical sales representative, she also devotes what amounts to a second full-time work schedule to Pi: most weeknights from 6 pm to 2 am and every weekend. Sorkin knows it’s crunch time for her fledgling food business.
BCAM caught up with this busy entrepreneur to talk all things Pi and to get some advice for fellow newbie entrepreneurs.
Q: What motivated you to become an entrepreneur? What still motivates you?
I entered the College’s entrepreneurship competition during my first semester at Baruch after Jennifer Hernandez (MPA ’10), my classmate and now business partner, heard me share my story during class introductions. She suggested that we enter the competition together.
I told the students that public health advocacy is my passion and that, from my MPA coursework, I hoped to learn how to advocate for public policies that ensure a better quality of life for people with chronic diseases—specifically autoimmune illness. My motivation is personal: I have been diagnosed with endometriosis and chronic fatigue/immune dysfunction syndrome.
Gluten consumption triggers the symptoms of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. Studies suggest that people suffering from other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases may respond well to a gluten-free diet.
I have led a gluten-free lifestyle for over 10 years, and it has improved my health significantly. But many of the gluten-free products out there are unappealing at best and unhealthy at worst. Some contain artificial and processed ingredients. But limiting gluten is really about eating healthier. Pi’s ingredients are not only gluten free but organic. There are no preservatives, artificial ingredients, or antibiotic residues found in Pi products. And probably most important, they taste good.
In the larger scheme of things, for me, Pi is about engaging people in public policy solutions for those with chronic diseases. I think that a gluten-free diet is one solution that may help people control their symptoms, but there are other solutions that have yet to be broadly embraced.
Q. Pi launched a couple months ago. What are your most immediate business concerns?
The biggest challenge right now is developing an operating structure. I’m in the middle of recruiting people with expertise other than my own. I’m also in preliminary discussions with distributors and am working with my team to set up a delivery service.
Q. What advice do you give to up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
I tell people that they’ve got to be 100% committed—and at least a little bit insane. If your first question is “How much time will this take?,” then don’t do this.
Q. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Is Pi part of that picture?
In five years, I want to be part of Pi in a different capacity—less day-to-day and hands on.
In the beginning, I made the pies and was developing the recipes myself. Now my team includes my cousin Casey Laytin, an experienced chef and graduate of the French Culinary Institute who is passionate about creating healthy, delicious food for people with dietary restrictions as well as for those just looking for a highly nutritious way to eat.
Down the line, I want to devote my time to marketing the brand and its social mission. Pi Gluten Free is dedicated to creating a discourse about autoimmune and inflammatory diseases—diseases that I call “invisible disabilities.” It is believed that autoimmune illnesses affect 20 to 50 million Americans, 75 percent of them female. Yet this phenomenon has not yet reached the public radar. I hope to change that.
Learn more about this crusader and her business at Pi Gluten Free
About the Baruch College Invitational Entrepreneurship Competition
The Baruch College Invitational Entrepreneurship Competition offers student teams throughout New York City the opportunity to participate in an exciting learning experience that inspires innovative thinking and paves the way for new ventures. Read more Related Stories