Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Yemi Penn is an entrepreneur with many varied interests. She manages her Engineering Consultancy in Sydney Australia, she is also the founder of W Squared Coaching that seeks to empower others to live their best life, at the same time helping organisations build high-performing teams. She recently opened an F45 gym in Brixton to create a new cornerstone of the community and bring people together from all walks of life and create a safe space for personal and health development. She has founded and taught over 1,000 exercise programs around the world including, Australia, Japan and several US Military programs. Yemi has not stopped there and from her own personal and professional story; over the past few years has launched her Coaching company, serving clients in Australia, UK and Africa. Currently, Yemi is working on one of the most important projects she has ever worked on; Sani-Save, a feminine hygiene product that is ethical and convenient. Inspired by the fact that she would want the same for her daughter if the circumstances were different; this product is designed to make a woman’s monthly cycle more manageable and at the same time provide relief to areas of the world that don't have the luxuries of the Western World.
What is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
The idea behind my concept is mainly ‘convenience’. I believe that young girls and women have a lot to deal with and I just wanted one less thing to think about every month as I consistently found myself starting my own period without the right material to hand to make me feel supported and protected. Sani Save came about over a decade ago when I just wanted someone to give me a product that was readily available to support me. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point in our lives- waiting for someone else to solve our problems! And it was the first of many significant moment when I realized no one was going to make it for me, so I thought I’d better do it myself then!
When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?
It started in my mind well over a decade ago but only started coming to life in 2016 when I had the means to start seeking out suppliers, testing products and building an initial prototype, which has evolved so much in the 3 years I have been developing this.
My team currently consists of myself, my fantastic personal assistant, and my mentor Nathaniel Peat who has worked with Richard Branson and his team at Virgin to bring ideas to life. I believe the easy part is having an idea; the true genius is bringing it to life so the world can benefit from it.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
Honestly? Too long, Sani Save is one of my first entrepreneurial loves but also one of my most taunting projects; I have watched Thinx and other numerous products trying to solve a similar problem come into fruition. As I briefly mentioned above, the idea came to me in the early 2000’s just before my daughter was born in 2007. Every time I was caught unaware I would promise to make extra moves to make this a reality and to be fair I did but it’s been slower than I wanted. Truthfully? I know that I need to dig deep and get rid of the fear that seems to be holding me back.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Fear, fear of ‘why me?’, fear of mass rejection. The other biggest obstacle has been the business acumen of getting a product to the market as well as presenting myself and my product in front of prospective buyers. As a mindset and empowerment coach, my biggest obstacle has been me, believing in my idea and just pushing this out to market. I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking but I’m excited about the change as I pitch this product to a range of female investors in Australia in Sep 2019 so watch this space!
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Ooooh so many! Lol, I am no longer shy of acknowledging my achievements (I promise I’m humble). Ok, so my biggest achievements to date would be running a half marathon in my mid twenties when the story I had been telling myself prior was that I had no business running unless I was being chased! Achieving a 1st class degree in Mechanical Engineering, despite a secondary school teacher telling me STEM wasn’t my strength and failing my foundation year.
Keeping two humans (other than myself) alive for 5 and 12 years (this alone deserves an Oscar award).
Relocating to the other side of the world to start again.
Opening a fitness studio remotely, F45 Brixton where it is thriving through the help of a great team.
Launching my podcast ‘Did you get the memo? Because I fu*king didn’t!’
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
I’m involved with quite a few different industries from STEM, to Coaching and product development. The biggest challenge is getting financial support from the banks who typically don’t want to help till they see you flourish. The other biggest challenge is access to relevant business development tools to help structure and manifest ideas into something tangible. As it stands most of my endeavours have been through testing, failing, a lot of heart, intuition and just doing it.
How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
I have to say I am blessed in this instance as over the past couple of years especially when Sheryl Sandburg wrote ‘Lean In’ a lot of women started to do just that, Lean in so that I and others could see and hear the wisdom of women who had made it. That gave me courage to continue to be brave and tell my stories in the form of ideas that could be shared and used. I now see being female, a brown skinned one at that, as a super power, similar to Captain Marvel (my kids will love this reference!)
What are your projects you are currently working on?
I’m currently working on a tech project, which is an app connecting services to minority groups in countries that seem to be remote. (Happy to share more once an NDA has been signed)
Finalizing my first book set to be a no. 1 best seller around the world called: Did You Get the Memo? Because I F**king Didn’t!? This book will provoke readers to shake up the way they think about the life they've lived, and ask questions like “was I too hard on myself?” The book seeks to discuss and reshape the seeming pillars of life: family, education, career, marriage, kids or no kids, divorce, retirement, death. And starting my next one, which is for the Corporate world.
Opening a retreat somewhere in Australia, a place to come and nourish the soul, body and mind.
Moving Sani Save into the health tech space
Is the #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes, now more so than ever. As my daughter started secondary school this year, I was opened up to what the future potentially looks like and technology plays a huge part in this. Considering we are still fighting for equality we need and ought to be at the fore front of all things technology to not just leave our footprints but to be part of the diversity in thinking and building of such things.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Be brave, your dream chose you so keep going and remain fearlessly authentic as you do so.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I see tools through technology being further developed and enhanced to empower women to look after themselves first before they do so with others. I see this educating women across the globe.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech?
Jo Watts - Effini
Katherine Kuzmekas - Simply Vital
Health Tech Women
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.