June 18, 2018

Dual Batten-Darden Graduate Recovers From Severe Injuries, Develops Medicinal Tea for Infections

For Ali Barta, newly graduated from both the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy (MPP ’18) and the Darden School of Business (MBA ’18), establishing her nascent business is about much more than just the standard challenge to develop a strong product.

Barta’s commitment to the success of her herbal products company, Nuna Med, is deeply personal. Her first product, called Urinary Tract SupporTea, treats her own chronic urinary tract infections, caused by a workplace accident in April 2014 that nearly killed her.

“It’s been a long, difficult road,” Barta said, “But I have so much to be grateful for, and hopefully I’ll be able to help a lot more people” with Nuna Med.

The accident that ended Barta’s career at Hain Celestial Group, a global food and personal care products company, occurred at a distributor’s warehouse. A lift carrying Barta and a lift operator dropped suddenly, which resulted in her having an open tibia fracture, broken back, and spinal cord injury. In July 2014, while Barta was still reliant on a wheelchair, her then boyfriend/now husband Chris proposed. Chris is a dentist in Charlottesville.

“I am unbelievably blessed to come from a wonderful family who supported me in a variety of ways throughout my life and to have some pretty amazing guardian angels,” Barta said.

“That [faith and family] drives a lot of what I do. I’m someone who very much believes that to whom much is given, much is expected,” Barta said, referencing the Gospel of Luke.

While she noted that “unfortunately, I still have pain every day. I’m still in physical therapy and I can’t do many things that I used to enjoy,” she is committed to making the most out of her situation.

Her motivation to fight through her own medical conditions and help others with theirs is, “ ‘Hey, do we have options? Do we have a solution? Let’s fix it. Let’s make whatever it is better.” I think that’s really the heart of what this business is about.”

Far from being opposed to conventional medicine, Barta believes that Nuna Med complements what physicians and others are already doing well; she’s very thankful for the professional medical care she received after her accident.

But, she notes how scary it was when “modern medicine was not working any more” for her chronic urinary tract infections; “it couldn’t prevent [her from] developing antibiotic resistance. And taking antibiotics repeatedly was not sustainable.” 

That’s where, she notes, recommending products like Urinary Tract SupporTea are helpful both for doctors and patients. “By encouraging the usage of products like SupporTea, antibiotics can be reserved for when they are absolutely necessary, thus making them more likely to work when they are needed and providing patients with more options. And options are great,” Barta said.

Nuna Med takes its name from the first two letters of its tagline, “nurtured with nature.”

More than 200 people have requested Urinary Tract SupporTea samples, which Barta will be sending out early next month. She laid the company’s foundation while completing her two masters’ degrees during the past three years and will now be able to devote considerable time to running the business.

“So much up until now has been getting everyone in line in terms of being ready to produce SupporTea and figuring out the regulatory landscape, who the suppliers are, who’s going to be doing the blending, who’s going to be putting the herbs in the bag, sourcing tins, sourcing labels, and things like that.”

And she’s committed to thorough, costly testing of the tea, to ensure that Nuna Med’s products only contain the highest quality ingredients. “Ultimately, Nuna Med’s consumers can be confident that we’ve done everything possible to make sure that what they’re getting is what is listed on the label and of utmost quality,” Ali said.

The Urinary Tract SupporTea recipe was created by a long-established herbalist who has been using the product with her patients for over a decade with an 80-percent effective rate. Barta has also benefitted from advice from former colleagues at the Hain Celestial Group, which owns Celestial Seasons tea.

“Overall, I’m just excited to get SupporTea into more people’s hands who can benefit from it,” Barta said.

The combination of classes from Batten and Darden prepared her to navigate government regulations, and to maintain a business focus.

“There are many more regulations within the herbal supplements industry than I imagined going into this—from guidelines in the ‘Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994’ to label requirements, to some of the do’s and don’ts related to Good Manufacturing Practices compliance,” she said. But, “I’ve wanted to make sure that everything that Nuna Med is doing is at as high of a level as it can be—dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s”. So many companies make compromises on quality to cut costs and I refuse to let Nuna Med be one of them,” Barta said.

She noted that Batten Professor of Public Policy Randy Lutter’s Federal Regulatory Policy course and former Batten Professor Eric Patashnik’s Health Care Policy course were two Batten courses in particular that have served her well starting Nuna Med.

As for Darden, “I am certainly glad that it’s a general management MBA program!”, she said since she anticipates that she will rely heavily on everything from Mary Margaret Frank’s Taxation course to Tim Kraft’s Operations classes to Damon DeVito and Saras Sarasvathy’s entrepreneurship courses.

“I am going to miss the classroom environment because I’ve learned so much from my classmates and their various experiences,” Barta said. But, she continued, “I’ve also really enjoyed meeting so many incredible people in the process of getting Nuna Med up and running. I can’t wait to finally be selling, beginning with helping people one urinary tract challenge at a time.”

Urinary Tract SupporTea will be available in a month at Nuna Med and in the University of Virginia Bookstores.

Ali Barta is one of three recent graduates of the dual Batten-Darden MPP/MBA program. Barta’s company is among those selected for support by Darden’s renowned i.Lab for student entrepreneurs: ”Nuna Med, founded by Ali C. Barta (Darden MBA/Batten MPP ’18), is a complementary and alternative medicine company that offers evidence-based natural remedies for common ailments.” View Barta’s promotional video on Urinary Tract SupporTea. 

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