‘Gut Health Is A Women’s Issue,’ BelliWelli On Raising New Capital To Amplify Science Of Gut-Brain Axis

A growing number of research linking brain functions to gut microbiota, bacteria living in the human digestive system, is pushing more gut health-focused food producers to pivot towards mental wellbeing.

Particularly, millions of nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal (GI) tract could even trigger emotional swings for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other functional bowel problems, according to Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology.

The fact that these symptoms disproportionately occur among more women than men has been the centerpiece for IBS-friendly snacking brand, BelliWelli, since its launch about two years ago. Cofounder Katie Wilson, who started the company with her husband Nick Wilson, pointed out how women’s health issues have long been ignored in the grocery aisle, and BelliWelli is well positioned to become a “generational brand” that prioritizes the overall wellbeing for women.

Destigmatizing Gut Issues Among Women

“Gut health is a women’s issue,” said Wilson, an IBS patient herself. “I think we, as women, have been asked to compromise on so many aspects of our lives, not to discuss things like stomach and bowel issues. But we flipped the script on that when we launched the ‘hot girls have IBS movement” [last year] — not only do we want to talk about it, we’re here to make it cool, and to destigmatize it.”

As of May 2022, TikTok videos with hashtags IBSTiktok and HotgirlswithIBS drew a combined 80 millions views, Insider previously reported, as it became a popular trend for women to publicly share their experiences of this common digestive disorder. The chronic disease, which oftentimes causes abdominal distress, also affects up to an estimated 5-10% of the global population.

As evidence that gut and brain interact intimately grows stronger, BelliWelli promises it’ll invest more in promoting mental health especially among female consumers now that the company has just closed a $15.4 million series A round led by The Invus Group.

The private equity manages over $10 billion worth of assets with offices set up across New York, Paris, and Hong Kong, according to its website, and it mainly invests in early-stage growth companies across consumer products, food, retail, software, and medical devices. Most notably, Invus-backed pet products company Blue Buffalo completed its IPO in 2015, raising nearly $677 million in its debut on the NASDAQNDAQ
, PitchBook showed.

Building A Female-Centered Brand

The raise is a combination of BelliWelli’s incremental growth — double-digit annual revenue increase across key retail banners, including Sprouts, Gelson’s Markets, Bristol Farms, and its economically viable products, said Tyson Woeste, who currently serves as cofounder and COO at the company.

“If there was a secret to our success of raising at such a challenging time, that was we had a really compelling, unique value proposition,” Woeste noted. “We think this could probably be the most significant win for a female-centered brand of this decade, and we think we can IPO this company.”

Indeed, women remain grossly underrepresented among both venture-backed entrepreneurs and VC investors, with businesses solely owned by women receiving only 2% of all VC money in 2022, according to the latest PitchBook data.

A recent analysis of more than 2,000 venture-backed firms in the U.S. also revealed how women founders, who exclusively raised from female VC partners for their initial funding, were two times less likely than their male counterparts to raise a second round.

But BelliWelli’s latest fundraise means more than a victory for a woman-owned business, Wilson believes. It shows continued institutional interest in gut-friendly functional food. “To achieve overall health,” she said, “you need to start with gut.”

Wilson added: “Invus is an incredible capital partner who brings differentiated values and shares our long-term vision. They’ve driven us to develop operating muscles earlier than most traditional CPG companies, and have made sound decisions based on solid business principles.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/douglasyu/2023/02/28/gut-health-is-a-womens-issue-belliwelli-on-raising-new-capital-to-amplify-science-of-gut-brain-axis/