Leslie Kenny is a Southern Californian entrepreneur and Berkeley and Harvard Business School graduate, whose life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in her 30s. She set out to optimize her health as best she could using safe, natural solutions and created Oxford Healthspan, an anti-aging supplement that uses a natural compound called Spermidine. She also co-founded The Oxford Longevity Project, which brings together a team of scientists to make scientific breakthroughs around aging readily accessible to the general public.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’m a patient advocate, health coach and entrepreneur, originally from Southern California, now living in Oxford, where my company, Oxford Healthspan, commercialises scientifically backed molecules that trigger cell renewal in a process known as autophagy and slow the aging process.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Because of my background as a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient, I was introduced to two scientists at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology who were working on a molecule called spermidine, and its role in rejuvenating the elderly immune system. Because it occurs naturally in food, and we even make it in our tissues and gut when we are young, it was difficult to patent, so no pharmaceutical companies were interested in the research. But the research was so compelling, showing benefit not just to the aging immune system, but also brain, heart, skin and bones, that I decided to bring it to market in the US so my mom could take it.
How did you achieve awareness?
Having trained as a health and biohacking coach with both the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Coaching Program, I had a network of health coaching friends, many of whom were starting podcasts. I began talking about the healthy aging and beauty benefits of spermidine there and word spread organically.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I was fortunate to have served as an adviser to the University College, Oxford, endowment investment committee, where I met their visionary investment bursar, Frank Marshall, a former investment manager at Schroeders. He backed me as an angel and is the only outside investor at present.
What are the key successes?
On the scientific side, we are the only non-Japanese member of the Japan Autophagy Consortium, whose Chief Adviser is Yoshinori Ohsumi, the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology for his work on autophagy. We also have the exclusive distribution rights for our autophagy activating, food derived spermidine and prebiotic formulations, also developed in Japan.
On the commercial side, breaking even within Year 1 and continuing to thrive into our third year means we have defied the survival odds of most startups.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
The main challenge has been introducing a supplement that works on aging at the cellular level. Most people don’t think that slowing aging is possible and the idea of improving cellular health is quite abstract for most people. I’ve done many podcasts, YouTube videos and lectures to educate and empower people about how to do this.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We plan to continue to bring more novel, age slowing molecules from Japan to market. As the population of older people grows, interest in these types of molecules ought to as well.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Be 120% committed to your product. Use it, love it, believe in it and its value, because there will definitely be days when things don’t go to plan or when the naysayers will get louder. They might even be within your own family, so you need to believe so much that you can overcome this opposition.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Get a mentor you admire, can share ideas with and get candid, constructive feedback from.
Know your tribe, whether that is women’s business, university alumni, community or hobby groups, and rely on them for ideas and early support.
Get initial proof of concept before you look for investment.
Bring people on who aren’t in it for the money but also share your passion and want to take equity so they can share in your success.
Take breaks to unwind. This is a marathon, not a sprint and you will get winded if you don’t pace yourself and pay attention to self-care.
When things go pear-shaped – and inevitably something will – just remember, ‘This too shall pass.’
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Canadian skincare entrepreneur and Living Libations founder, Nadine Artemis; Oprah Winfrey; Spanx founder, Sarah Blakely; my grandmothers, my Taiwanese grandmother was one of the first women to go to medical school at the University of Kyoto in the 1920’s and my grandmother who partly raised me with her pioneering, American ‘can do’ spirit and joy in life.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“If you think you are too small, try sleeping with a mosquito.” The Dalai Lama
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
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