Alessandra Sollberger - Transforming our Nutrition!

Alessandra and I met at 10 Downing St at the inaugural Founders of the Future event and she is one of the first members of the network whom I have had the pleasure of interviewing. We subsequently downgraded from Downing St to The Wolseley for breakfast for the interview (and forgot to take the selfie)! Alessandra has traversed the investment spectrum gaining experience in M&A, private equity and venture capital before founding her company Evermore - the new standard in bespoke nutrition. Fortuitously her two passions of health and science are some of the hottest tech trends and she is building a consumer brand in the intersection!


Meet Alessandra

Current Job CEO and Co-founder of Evermore

Education I graduated in 2012 with a masters from Oxford, which included finance, business, law and economics

Go to meeting spot  Fernandez & Wells during the day, Chiltern Firehouse in the evening

Favourite book I read all the time, so it’s difficult to choose! Last weekend I read Finite & Infinite Games by James Carse. It's a philosophy text looking at our actions and seeing them as either finite, with a definite beginning and ending, or infinite. The theory behind finite and infinite games offers an interesting framework to think of a company's long-term vision vs its short-term tactics and medium-term strategies. It applies to our own lives as well...

Necessary extravagance I love going to the sauna after a gym session! 

Female inspiration in business Coco Chanel came from nowhere and never apologised for her ambitions. The society she lived in was very different from our own - yet, she built one of the most iconic brands out there. Chanel outlives her.

Top networking tip  Be yourself and take time for meaningful interactions with people

Favourite tech company at the moment Slack - aside from using it with my team and finding it a good tool, I also think it is a company passionate about delighting users and with its own personality


The Journey

You have experienced all levels of the investment paradigm - beginning at Goldman in TMT M&A, then at Blackstone in private equity rounding off with venture capital at Mosaic Ventures. What was your biggest learning from each tenure? 

At Blackstone I learnt a lot of hard skills like data analysis, building financial models as well as requiring the discipline to be organised, structured and the power of just sheer hard work! I already started working as a kid, from setting up my resale business to teaching windsurf in summer. That's always been a key part of my identity, so I got involved in start ups during my studies and even during my time in private equity. It taught me so much along the way - about myself and about the kind of company I want to build. Coping with chaos, learning all sorts of random skills every day, reading about everything and learning from other people... If you realise that world is for you, there's no coming back! Coupling that with the training I had in M&A, private equity and venture capital gave me a good idea of the sectors I'm passionate about and how a company concretely looks like from setup to IPO stage. 

What stood out to you when assessing early stage companies? 

It comes down to the team, the market, the business model and the trends that are taking place over the short-, medium- and long-term. Companies might start tackling something very specific and then expand into a broader sector. You look for a specific go-to-market focus and an ambitious long-term vision at the same time, but the two also need to co-exist in a thoughtful, logical way. I personally believe that focus is key when launching any new product or service. In parallel, I think about the trends driving the sector in one, two, five, ten years. Hell, I love sci-fi and imagine it in 100 years from now too! There's also an objective assessment of the company itself, its employees, its culture, the way they're approaching the opportunity at hand and how they're developing the strengths of their own business model.

Tell us all about Bright Mentors!

It's a tech non-profit that I set up on the side while I was at Blackstone. I did it because I think we all have a responsibility to help inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. By bringing together technical talent and kids in secondary schools, I’ve also seen our mentors being enriched by teaching skills, talking about what they love about their jobs and observing their own impact. Since I had to teach myself most of what I know in CS and biotech, I firmly believe in practice before theory!



What is Evermore? 

At Evermore, we're building the brand for bespoke nutrition. We're starting with the breakfast market, delivering personalised smoothies on a weekly subscription basis. Our customisation takes into account your current preferences, but also what you should actually be eating. That's based on demographics, lifestyle and habits. Our products are meant to get "smarter" about your needs over each delivery. Eventually, we create a nutritional fingerprint that you can apply across our whole ecosystem.

Where did the inspiration come from and what is the evolution to date of the company? 

We're a mix between a lifestyle brand and a science company. These two areas, often unrelated, have always been my passion and are closely interrelated when building an end to end, vertically-integrated company. There’s so much that will change in the nutrition space. The consumer trends in the health and wellbeing market are really strong and in terms of science, I've witnessed what's happening in biotech by being an angel investor in the space over several years. I think that the current developments in synthetic biology and cloud biology, along with the increase in accessibility and drop in cost for DNA / blood / microbiome testing, will result in a real revolution in life sciences over the next decades. It will bring a level of efficiency and accessibility which is comparable to what happened in computer science and the internet over the last decades. Currently, there's a lack of reproducibility in biological experiments as well as a lack of protocols to work in a scalable way with biological complexity. This is starting to change. We're bespoke and that's part of our own brand identity & tone of voice, but it's also something that will become increasingly relevant through scalable R&D and data analysis within precision nutrition.

What might surprise us about the health and wellbeing market? 

The growth in health awareness touches every consumer vertical, from food & beverage to clothing & apparel. Beyond this, there's also a shift in the type of consumer spend. Millennials like myself are much more focused on experiences, so what's better than a cool and exclusive spinning class that gets you out of your comfort zone while also keeping you in shape? On the other side of the coin though, you have something much more profound going on. 72% of millennials feel like the public health system will fail them and are therefore particularly motivated to take care of themselves. This is mainly impacting immediate spending habits, which are actions perceived as more measurable than those taken over the medium- to long-term. The overall trends within healthy foods, fitness experiences, athletic clothing and quantified health are definitely here to stay. 

What are the future ambitions? 

Becoming the global brand that is synonymous with bespoke nutrition, both physically and digitally, and creating a company that sets standards by innovating all along the way. We're starting with a clear focus - that goes for geography, product, distribution channels and digital presence. It's important to be able to measure your activities and target your efforts to nail the initial business model, then expand from there. We want to have a blueprint and a strong understanding of our customers before starting to develop our long-term ecosystem, which is what's the real game changer.


Women in Tech

What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business and raise capital? 

I think it’s really important to spend time understanding what you're passionate about and what drives you. By going through that process over time, you will understand whether you're ready to commit for the long term. You should also build a genuine network around yourself. That goes for raising capital, but also for hiring and for advice on the many new things you'll come across! Otherwise, there's also lots of admin you'll have to deal with. No rocket science, you just have to get on with it. Summing it up - know yourself, know your market and know people ready to help you get started. Bonus points for mixing a positive, can-do attitude with a thick skin and a clear mind.

What business support networks do you value? 

I’m part of several networks for entrepreneurship here in the UK, in the US and globally. In the end though, it really comes down to genuine connections and building strong, long-lasting relationships. 

What is your opinion on the women in tech conversation? How can we do better to attract and retain more women? 

The topic is often controversial and it shouldn't be leveraged just for the sake of headlines. We can all do something about it, but most importantly it'd be best to remove much of the fuss around it. Be spontaneous and take your chances! Charting unexplored territory is an adventure we can all be part of.

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Itxaso del Palacio - Investor and Health Guru!

I met Itxaso after she delivered a fantastic workshop for The New Entrepreneurs Foundation on entrepreneurial finance and raising investment. As a fellow breakfast enthusiast we met again for the interview at Granger & Co (amazing!). Itxaso must have the most envy inducing network after her PHD in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital transported her to the start-up hubs across Europe and America. She founded her own startup Founders Fit and subsequently traversed into venture capital whilst keeping her foot in academia as a teaching fellow at UCL. She is currently investing in high growth media and consumer companies at Lepe Partners. Read on to find out how to literally do it all! 


Meet Itxaso

Current Job Investment Director at Lepe Partners

Education Chemical Engineer and PhD in Entrepreneurship.

First Job I worked at DaimlerChrysler in Berlin as an engineer just after uni. It was boring!

Go to meeting spot Breakfast is always best! Lantana for an informal meeting and The Wolseley for a more formal breakfast.

Favourite podcast/blog A16Z podcasts and CB Insights.

Necessary extravagance Comfortable heels! Cole Haan are great.

How do you switch off Working out. Anything from running, spinning, yoga.

Favourite place in London Barry’s Bootcamp at 6am! 

Female inspiration in business Ana Patricia Botin, Executive Chairman of Santander.

Top networking tip Following up with people and mention something that they might be interested in.

Academic Journey

After a brief stint at Chrysler you returned to academia, embarking on a PHD in entrepreneurship and venture capital, involving research stints at Berkeley, ESADE and Harvard. What was the premise of your PHD and what were some high level take-aways? 

I studied entrepreneurial ecosystems and how the stakeholders within those ecosystem interact with each other and the elasticity of networks traversing from local to global.  Specifically I analysed how the VC industry affects and determines how this ecosystem works and how government interaction affects the different cycles of technology. 

At a high level non-entrepreneurial ecosystems have higher government involvement than in the more entrepreneurial ones and government actions have a much higher impact when they reduce barriers and create incentives instead of taking the place of private entities by investing directly. 

Following your PHD you became a visiting scholar at Berkeley - researching global networks of clusters of innovation. Can you elaborate on the significance of these innovation patterns and what more could the UK do to accelerate innovation? 

The UK has done really well in supporting innovation and accelerating and helping start-ups. They have not taken direct action but facilitated it. For example, SEIS has done a phenomenal job of increasing the quantum invested in early stage startups. Furthermore the UK made a significant effort in marketing across Europe generating hype and awareness, particularly for London, as a destination for startups and technology. This subsequently has attracted fantastic talent here. Innovation could further be accelerated by continuing to address talent and welcoming individuals from across the globe with well thought out visas. I also think there is an investment gap post seed/series A - and if the government could undertake action to facilitate investment at this round that would be great. 

Despite traversing into venture capital you still have a foot in academia - as a teaching fellow in entrepreneurship finance at UCL. What is your top financial tip for current and aspiring entrepreneurs? 

My tip for entrepreneurs is to seek investment from the right investors. There is a lot of money out there but very few right investors for each business. Entrepreneurs, particularly first time & early stage, require a lot of support and will benefit immensely from investors with the right mindset, connections and industry knowledge. I encourage my students to have the confidence to reject money if the offer doesn't substantiate the aforementioned. 

Startups and Venture Capital

You launched your own startup, Founders Fit, after curating what must be one of the most envy inducing global networks during your time at university entrepreneurship hubs. What was the premise behind it and the biggest challenge you faced?

When I was working at Imperial College they mixed students from the Royal College of Arts, the research labs and business departments to work on new start-ups together. These predetermined teams never worked and the individuals had very different mindsets. I learnt the importance of alignment of goals and strategy in a team in order to build something meaningful. 

I quit Imperial after two years and subsequently founded Founders Fit. Founders Fit aimed to help entrepreneurs find co-founders. Entrepreneurs would be matched online based on their skills and personality, and potential co-founders would get to know each other in the off-line Founders Meetups and Founders Workit. There was voracious demand however, I found it hard to monetise! 

In 2013 you were selected to join the elite, highly sought  Kauffman Fellowship. Tell us more about the program and what you gained from it? 

The Kauffman Fellowship is a highly sought-after two-year program dedicated exclusively to the world of innovation investing. The program connects you with the best investors in Silicon Valley and around the world, with the aim of building the next generation of investors and giving them the tools both in content and network. The Fellowship selects around 30 individuals and over the two years the Fellows receive professional training in Palo Alto, including talks from the likes of Greylock/Benchmark, whilst working full time in an investment organisation. The Program was amazing and it gave me a different attitude in the VC space. Since graduating I have co-invested with Fellows in San Francisco, connect my portfolio companies to investors in China and Singapore and regularly meet up with Fellows as they pass through London! 

You are now at Lepe Partners. Can you tell us more about Lepe and your investment thesis? 

Lepe Capital is an only ever co-investment fund focused on the media, internet and consumer sectors. We invest in growth stage businesses and are looking to back founders with companies in industries that we can add value through our network. This year (2015) we invested in CreativeLive (an online education platform for creative skills), Paddle8 (online auction house) and Masabi (mobile ticketing for transport). We have co-invested with fantastic partners including MMC, Greylock, Google Ventures, Atomico and Mastercard. 

What tech trends excite you right now? 

  1. Health - There is a lot happening in health right now with particular momentum in consumer health and awareness. This has resulted in a lot of companies that are tracking data and using it to prevent deceases and in general to help people manage their health.
  2. Fintech - Blockchain is attracting a lot of attention, on a broad sense as a way to optimise transactions. Banks are also getting active as investors as they recognise the need to innovate and provide better services to consumers. 
  3. Media - There is a lot happening on video, content marketing, messaging, and online solutions targeting millennials. Big players in media and publishing houses are actively engaging with innovation. The google fund focused on media is a good example of that. 

What investment opportunity did you turn down that you regret? 

I don’t have the feeling of having missed an opportunity… I am confident about the companies that I turned down. I did not have the chance to see some good investment opportunities, but this is probably not the same as turning down a good deal. Now at Lepe I am about to invest in a Series B of a company that I passed on the Series A (while I was at EC1 Capital), which I am very excited about. 

What are your future ambitions?

At Lepe I would like to raise a bigger fund as we have great deal flow so I would like to be able to monetise these opportunities. Personally, I am passionate about health and I would like to get involved in more health-tech companies that will help people to be healthier and happier. 

      Women in Tech

      What is your opinion on impact investing? Would more female investors result in more of it? 

        I am a great believer that technology and information can change the world and improve the lives of many people. There are ways to do that by creating attractive, financially sustainable business models. I think impact investing attracts both male and female investors who are equally seeking impact and financial return. I think impact investing will attract more money if entrepreneurs are able to design suitable business models. 

        What is your opinion on the women in technology debate? 

        I am very positive about it! The number of women in tech is growing all the time. I think technology is one of the spheres where men welcome women in management roles. Women are the decision makers at home when it comes to kids and grandparents health, shopping, activities...who better to design and manage consumer tech companies than women, given we know our target market! 

        What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business or enter the investing landscape? 

        I will probably say the same to a man who wants to start a company...

        1. Start a company in an industry you know well 
        2. Be focused
        3. Hire the best talent 
        4. Get the best investors on board 
        5. And just make it happen

        Follow Itxaso!

        Tania Boler - Revolutionising Women's Health

        I would like to introduce Tania Boler - the Jonathan Ive of women's health technology! Our serendipitous introduction meant I got a glimpse into her future rocket ship over tea at Riding House Cafe. A few years ago Tania took the entrepreneurial leap from her career in sexual and personal wellness and founded Chiaro - a women's wearable technology company with real impact. Chiaro's first product is Elvie, your most personal trainer. Elvie is a smart kegel exercise tracker and app and is unparalleled in its scientific innovation and exquisite design. Mine hasn't arrived yet but when Tania presented one to me the "out of the box experience" was a hybrid between opening an iPhone and a Tiffany box! Keep reading to learn the secrets to better core strength, control and even better sex! You will also boss that pilates class! 


        Meet Tania

        Current Job CEO, Chiaro - a women's wearable technology start-up

        Education Oxford, Stanford and a PHD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

        First Job When I was thirteen I had a Saturday job working on a clothes stall in Portobello Market

        Favourite place in London The canal behind my Islington home. I love the juxtaposition of cultures & styles

        How do you switch off Watching Homeland - it just gets better and better! 

        Necessary extravagance A blow dry 

        Go to meeting spot Profrock coffee shop on Leather Lane 

        Female inspiration in business I recently met Cindy Gallop in New York. She is a strong inspiration as someone who doesn't care what people think and is relentless in her ambition to change the world

        Top finance tip Raise more money than you need

        Top networking tip Don't think about job titles 


        The Journey

        You have a long career of working in women's issues, including working for the UN on global sex education curriculum. Can you share a highlight? 

        Travelling two days by rickshaw and boat in northern Bangladesh to deliver family planning services with the Marie Stopes team.

        Where did the idea for Chiaro stem from and what was the catalyst to quit the day job? 

        I thought I was an expert in women's health! This was until I got pregnant and realised that there are so many things to do with our bodies that we don't talk about and that I wasn't aware of. At the time I was leading the innovation and strategy team at Marie Stopes and knew we were at the beginning of a health tech revolution and that I wanted to be a part of it. My vision for Chiaro was to change the way technology is used by developing new products that break down stigma and change lives. I talked to over 40 physiotherapists and kept iterating. The catalyst was winning the UK Technology Strategy Board Innovation Award of  £100,000 which validated the idea! 

        Tell us about Elvie, your most personal trainer, Chiaro's first product

        Elvie is a small yet powerful exercise tracker for your pelvic floor. It's beautiful and smart - giving women real-time feedback so that they can track their progress.  It's hard to exercise a muscle you can't see. Without feedback, you simply don't know how you're doing. We have designed and patented a new way to measure force so that women can visualise their kegel exercises. Elvie even corrects your lift technique as 30% of women push down which can lead to damage.  A journalist recently said it was like the iPhone - the new must-have gadget for all women. We agree with that!

        Can you elaborate on your motivation behind Elvie? 

        I think all women deserve smarter technology. Women and men are different physically and therefore have different health and lifestyle needs. Technology doesn't seem to have caught up with this basic fact. With 1 in 3 women experiencing problems due to weak pelvic floor muscles, there has been shockingly little innovation in this area and we hope to use the novel, innovative data to improve motivation for women to exercise and see results.  

        Most consumer electronics - when adapted for women - tend to focus on the aesthetics like the colour or adding a jewel or prettier packaging. Sure, Elvie looks beautiful which is part of why women get excited about it - but it is also smart. It has induction charging, no lights, no exposed parts, fully waterproofed, machine learning-based algorithms and personal goals.  But why isn't there more smart technology for women? 



        You have won best R&D at HealthTech Awards and Best Startup at the Wearable Technology Show - tell us more about the research and innovation that distinguishes Elvie

        My partner is Alexander Asseily and he founded Jawbone so we have really benefitted from his experience in designing awesome products. We worked with academics at Imperial and Oxford and also with some top engineers and designers. The likes of kickstarter have helped inspire a hardware renaissance but I think that we are being flooded with poor quality products that will disappoint customers. We are under pressure sometimes from investors to show how we will launch four products in two years but this is unrealistic unless you don't really care about true innovation and quality.

        As well as working with the best, we also worked with the end users throughout the process. I think we had over four sets of user testing and well over 150 women test Elvie and tell us what they think. Just this morning I got an email from a journalist who told me she was at a party this weekend and her friend came racing up to tell her all about Elvie. I fundamentally believe women have been waiting for something like Elvie for a while - something fun yet effective.

        How did you pitch Chiaro to your early financial backers Lars Rasmussen (co founder of Google Maps) and Alexander Asseily (co founder of Jawbone) 

        I think the numbers speak loudly here. For Elvie as our first product, more than half of all women have physical problems at some point during their lives and one in ten women need to have an operation because of a pelvic floor related problem. The adult sanitary pad market is valued at close to $17 billion over the next couple of years. This has to end and is crazy as it is largely preventable. 

        For Elvie, you need investors with vision as there isn't an existing marketing. This is a new product category so there is an element of education involved. We intentionally delayed raising an institutional round, bringing in a lot of super angels instead who bring so much to the table; as well as Alex and Lars we have Nicole Junkermann and Michael Spencer. So far our rounds have been doubly over subscribed meaning we have the luxury of being picky in the next raise. We will look for investors who can help with accessing new distribution markets for example in East Asia or North America. 

        What are your future ambitions for Chiaro? 

        We want to be the Apple of women's health tech. We are changing the way technology is designed for and used by women and we want others to follow suit. For example, for Elvie, there are a few competitors coming to the market and they are using our language of women's empowerment and placing this more as a lifestyle and wellness issue rather than waiting until it becomes a medical issue. This is great - together we can change the discourse! 


        Women in Tech

        What is your definition of success? 

        When your consumers tell you that your product has changed their lives

        What has been your observations of women in tech?  

        Female investors are without a doubt amazing Elvie women and ambassadors. However, behind most male investors is a strong Elvie women! For us the female tech journalists have been incredible too - Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch, Olivia Solon at the Mirror and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian. Check out their Elvie experiences: 

        What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?

        1. Don't worry about what people say about you
        2. Live with the uncertainty - it won't feel comfortable and it is a steep learning curve but that is part of the fun
        3. Be determined - you need to be the kind of person who doesn't give up as it will always take longer and cost more money than you expected

        What is one thing you recommend all women to do right now to safeguard their health? 

        Our motto at Chiaro is: Learn your body. Love being a woman

        Check out Elvie!