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Spokin’s Susie Hultquist: A Fearless Food Allergy Mama!

Susie and her food-allergic daughter, Natalie.

Susie and her food-allergic daughter, Natalie.

If you’ve followed Allergy Amulet for a while, you know our team was founded by a female and that we love to support female entrepreneurs!

Unsurprisingly, we’re big fans of Susie Hultquist and the team she’s assembled at Spokin. This Chi-town team has built an app to help make managing food allergies easier! We recently sat down with Susie and asked her a few questions.

1. We understand you left your financial career on Wall Street to start Spokin. When did the “light bulb” moment happen?

It happened when my co-worker was selling girl scout cookies. I wanted to buy some, but in order to do that, I had to get ahold of a package to check the label and ensure they were safe for my family. I then went to their website to make sure the cookies were also available in our area. It took me 15 minutes to track down all the information I needed! That’s when I realized I was probably not the only person managing food allergies searching for this same information, and that there was a clear need to streamline and consolidate food safety information for the food allergy community.

At the time I was managing my company’s consumer internet portfolio and saw how different businesses were managing pain points. No one was solving this one, and I felt I was uniquely positioned to do so.

2. How long did it take to launch the app? 

It was two years in the making. I started by meeting with a lot of people who have food allergies. From there, we developed a content strategy and hired a graphic designer to work on app designs. We just celebrated the app’s first birthday!

3. What is your “why”?

My daughter Natalie. She’s allergic to peanuts and several tree nuts. I am determined to make her life easier and to help her live the fullest life possible. That’s what gets me up every day. 

A food allergy diagnosis often comes with a lot of no’s when it comes to food, and I want to be able to say yes as often as I can!

4. Spokin has a lot of new features and capabilities on the app. What are you most excited about?

Far and away is the map functionality! If you’re in the app and search within the “eateries” category you can choose any city in the US and see in seconds all the restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream shops others in the Spokin community have recommended. We now have 2.7 million reviews on the app and reviews span across 18 countries! 

To find in seconds all these yes’s after so many no’s is amazing. And it’s built by the food allergy community! This community is so generous. 

5. What does Spokin mean?

It’s a play on the word spoken. I had so many amazing interactions with people in the food allergy community that gave me advice verbally (where to eat in London, what chocolate chips to bake with, what to take with us on an airplane, etc.) but once spoken, that advice then vanished into thin air. All of this knowledge needed to be captured and shared with everyone. The idea was that if we built this platform, we could harness and share all of this great food wisdom with the food allergy community at large. 

6. When do you plan to release the Android version of the app?

We have started an Android waiting list and it’s on our product roadmap. We’re currently assessing demand, so please add your email to the Android list on our website, if interested! 

7. When you’re not focused on helping the food allergy community, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with my girls and my husband! We love to cook together, run together, and travel when we can. My girls all have very different interests so it’s fun to watch them pursue their passions. 

8. Since Spokin is based in Chicago, we have to know: do you cheer for the White Sox or the Cubs?

I love the Cubs, but I applaud the White Sox for offering peanut-free ballgames!

9. What’s your long-term vision for Spokin?

If everyone in the US with food allergies shared five recommendations we could build a database of 75 million data points that everyone can access! We’ve estimated that if it takes you 15 minutes a day to manage food allergies, then you can save a year of your life by having all of this information accessible to you. 

If you haven’t downloaded the Spokin app we recommend you check it out ASAP! Both Susie (Susie in the Spokin app) and Allergy Amulet’s founder, Abi Barnes, (allergy_amulet_abi in the Spokin app) have provided lots of recommendations!

-      Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team

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Invest In Women

Female leadership at Allergy Amulet from left to right: Susannah Gustafson (VP of Operations), Abi Barnes (CEO), and Meg Nohe (CMO).

Female leadership at Allergy Amulet from left to right: Susannah Gustafson (VP of Operations), Abi Barnes (CEO), and Meg Nohe (CMO).

While the Chinese zodiac sign for 2018 is the dog, a more appropriate symbol for this year is the woman.

Across the US, women are running for office in record numbers. France announced that it will begin imposing fines on companies that fail to eliminate unjustified gender pay gaps within the next three years. And in the US, movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have forced our nation to address gender inequality, misogyny, and harassment.

One area where the gender disparity is particularly stark is the startup and venture capital space. In 2017, only 2% of all venture capital was invested in women-led startups, even though women own nearly 40% of the nation's businesses. That same year, the average financing round for women-led companies was less than half that of their male counterparts.

Why the glaring gender gap? While there’s no clear answer, many blame “mirrorocracy”: the idea that the VC community, lacking in diversity, tends to invest in individuals that look like them. Indeed, only ~8% of partners at the top 100 VC firms are women. A recent Harvard study further revealed bias in the line of questioning venture capitalists pose to female and male entrepreneurs. The study found that women were generally asked about the potential for losses, or what the study called “prevention” questions, whereas men were asked about the potential for gains, or “promotion” questions. For every additional prevention question posed to an entrepreneur, the startup raised an average $3.8M less.

Looking back at our own company’s fundraising trajectory, these figures are unsurprising. It took Allergy Amulet nearly three years to secure its first investment: a convertible note in 2016. And the vast majority of our current investors are men.

There’s a strong business case for investing in women. According to Credit Suisse, companies with female CEOs generate a 19% higher return on equity and a 10% higher dividend payout. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that companies with women in at least 33% of senior management roles accounted for higher annualized stock returns. The study also found that Fortune 500 companies with the greatest proportion of female board members significantly outperformed those with the lowest proportion.

We need to invest more in women, and we need more women investors.

Several VC firms are proactively seeking to address the problem. In a two-part series, Forbes identified several investors and VC funds committed to bridging the gender gap either by ensuring female representation among their partners, portfolio companies, or both.

As with any ecosystem, diversity breeds strength. The startup and venture capital worlds are no exception.  

- Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team

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