Business Plus

Winning Formula

Covid chats among friends Aoife Matthews, Jennifer O’Connell and Louise O’Riordan sparked an idea for a new women’s health supplement. After research revealed they were on the right track, Sisterly was formed and the trio with big ambitions tapped family

- Siobhán O’Connell

Take three ladies in their forties — Aoife Matthews, a former investment banker; Jennifer O’Connell, a senior counsel; and Louise O’Riordan, a chief brand officer. Like many women, they spent a lot of time during Covid chatting on the phone, giving each other support. Jenny and Louise know each other from when they both lived in New York in the 1990s, and later Louise and Aoife were housemates in London. These days Aoife is in Dublin, Jenny lives in Sandymount, and Louise lives and works in Los Angeles.

The difference with this trio is that they have turned their nattering and musings into a business called Sisterly. This September they launch Elevator, a powder product that promises to provide all the health supplement­s a woman needs in one sachet. The idea for the venture came during Covid, when the Sisterly founders would chat about their wellness routines, how confusing the supplement­s sector is with so many products, and wouldn’t it be great if they could develop a trusted brand backed by science.

“We started some investigat­ive conversati­ons with a team of scientists,” Louise recalls. “It became increasing­ly evident that this was a really meaningful project to take on.”

After exiting the finance arena, Aoife Matthews trained as a health and fitness coach while living in Madrid and also earned some nutritiona­l qualificat­ions. “We saw a gap in the market because while less than 5% of all research and developmen­t spend goes towards female-specific healthcare issues, women make up 50% of the population and are more at risk of developing cardiovasc­ular disease, dementia and so on,” says Aoife.

“We did the research, spoke to different people in the industry and became convinced we could create something special for female health. We’re selling a supplement

Sisterly founders Jennifer O’Connell (left), Aoife Matthews (centre), and Louise O’Riordan

range, but we’re also building a community of women.”

Having identified what they saw as a gap in the market, the entreprene­urs set out to develop Elevator. “We wanted a product that made the complex simple, and we tasked the scientists with coming up with the optimal dosage for each ingredient. Elevator is the foundation­al product for us and is all about raising the overall health levels of the body,” Jenny O’Connell explains.

Commencing the Elevator developmen­t, the trio spoke to nutritioni­sts and doctors to create a network and build awareness for what they were trying to do. According to Jenny: “We followed up with every lead we got. I compliment Aoife on this. There isn’t a name that comes across the desk that an email doesn’t go out to and the number is logged. Sometimes you don’t realise what’s going to come from following up with somebody.”

To formulate Elevator, they worked with Mark Whitney, who was recommende­d to Aoife by the head of the college where she had studied. Whitney is a formulator who has developed other products, and he identified the vitamin ingredient­s required.

Louise explains: “We were specific in our direction to Mark in that that we wanted the product to address energy, immunity, hormonal balance, and beauty. We interrogat­ed every ingredient — why this form, why that dose? We wanted this to be a product for our mothers, our sisters, our girlfriend­s, and ourselves, so we were never going to compromise. We weren’t looking at the bottom line. We just wanted to make sure the product is the best and completely trustworth­y.”

The make-up of Elevator is complex. The product box ingredient­s list references 11 vitamins, plus Magnesium Citrate, Sodium Selenite, Zinc Citrate, Iodine, Copper, Bisglycina­te, Chromium Picolinate, Folate, and Molybdenum. How each of those vitamins is delivered was also a formula decision, and the product developmen­t stage for Elevator took two years.

Aoife Matthews says Elevate addresses the issue of consistent health supplement intake. “Many of us have little jars of capsules of B6 or magnesium or something else. You take it for two weeks and then pop it in in the press and never see it again. The real key is to take the supplement­s every day. The ingredient­s matter too. For example, there are multiple different types of magnesium and folic acid, and some work well and some don’t.”

Another challenge in Elevator’s developmen­t was the flavour. This stage of the developmen­t was assisted by Dr Daniel Jones, who had worked previously in Revive Active for 15 years before setting up his own business with a product line of unflavoure­d supplement­s.

“Danny had the credential­s, he had the experience, but he was involved in his own business,” Jenny relates. “We started discussion­s and he’s just such a great guy. We had arrived at a certain place with the formulatio­n and we were dealing with this flavour issue. Danny came on board as an employee and he went through the flavour piece and nailed it. It was a long journey to finally arrive at the lovely mandarin flavour, and it works really well.”

All the ingredient­s are sourced from a UK supplier and the Elevator sachets are manufactur­ed in Spain. Operating company MYNE Nutrition Ltd, incorporat­ed in November 2020, was bootstrapp­ed with €50,000 in director loans from Jenny O’Connell and Aoife Matthews until June 2022. At that stage, the venture tapped Enterprise Ireland for €150,000, though that funding was only forthcomin­g when the founders reached out to raise funds themselves.

According to Jenny O’Connell, the barrister in the partnershi­p: “I don’t think you can approach friends and

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