WCC alumna’s new company selected for competitive accelerator program in NYC

When Linta Mustafa, BHSc’19, learned her start-up company had been selected for a highly competitive accelerator program, she was thrilled by the prospect of putting her networking and pitching skills to the test once again. 

A World’s Challenge Challenge Global Final alumna who represented Western in 2017, Mustafa spent a few years in investment banking after graduation, before returning to entrepreneurship and focusing on her passion for health care. 

After meeting her future co-founder, Chidozie Ojobor, a PhD graduate in Molecular Genetics, the two started ideating and soon developed the vision for Vitract, a gut health company focused on improving mental health outcomes. Vitract’s three-month program offers a holistic approach to mental wellness by pairing gut technology with clinical care to treat root cause of illness versus just the symptoms.

The company was recently offered the opportunity to participate in the Spring 2022 Techstars NYC Accelerator Program. For three months, Mustafa was in New York, learning from mentors, fundraising from investors and making connections to elevate Vitract.

“Our company was one of just 12 companies accepted out of 7,000 applications from 48 countries from all over the world,” said Mustafa. “It’s been fast paced and challenging but being part of this program has been a fantastic opportunity.”

With plans to eventually launch in Canada, Vitract is headquartered in the United States and has launched a private beta service in New York City. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, 40 per cent of the US population is experiencing stress and mental health issues,” said Mustafa. “We aim to provide a holistic approach to mental and brain health by using food as medicine to improve the health outcomes of people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression. Our solution is rooted in science and we curate a personalized program, including a nutrition plan, by working very closely with doctors, nutritionists and scientists, as well as our care team and patients.”

Mustafa first became interested in health care and functional nutrition while she was training as a varsity wrestler at Western.

“I was a varsity athlete who wrestled in years one and two. I stopped in third year because I was experiencing inflammation and not feeling well,” she said. “I couldn’t communicate to my coaches why I felt the way I did, and I spent years trying to figure it out.”

Mustafa said she was offered medication, but she was reluctant to rely on taking a pill for the rest of her life. 

“I did a ton of research and eventually found that I was able to adjust my diet, exercise and lifestyle to control it. After four months of that I came off the medication for good.”

As a health sciences student, Mustafa was always interested in the idea that food is medicine and in finding healthy alternatives. 

In 2017, she and two other students formed a team and pitched their idea to encourage responsible food consumption and production through low-input meat alternatives, such as edible cricket products at the World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC). Their pitch won first place and the opportunity to represent Western at the first World’s Challenge Challenge Global Final. 

“The WCC and Techstars are similar in some ways,” said Mustafa, who participated in WCC three times while she was at Western. “WCC was the first time I had access to this type of experience. Pitching, discovering the importance and value of building network – that came from my experience with WCC.” 

Although that product only continued for a short time following the competition due to the amount of support required and a lack of suppliers at the time, Mustafa said the experience had a great impact on what she does today. 

“I also learned that you really need to lean in to where you align with your values. Even while we were in the competition, we were value aligned with people. So, you follow each other on social and you can take advantage of the power of networks. You should always keep your options open. People might surprise you later and they might become someone down the line who you’ll connect with again in your business.” 

Mustafa is now excited for the future and what will come after Techstars. Vitract recently began offering the product to select customers and is working on their go-to-market strategy. They will also be running focus groups across some of the biggest US universities (Columbia, NYU and Yale) and will make a stop at Western. 

“The idea is to provide a space to share stories and create a positive community surrounding mental wellness. We are looking forward to seeing where it goes.”