Make people as passionate as you are: As founders we are passionate but it doesn’t mean that everyone around you is. It’s important to make everyone understand your vision and why you are passionate while also making them excited to be involved. The success is that of the whole group and not just the top-level founders and managers. Success comes from everyone involved really caring about their work.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Avital Beck, Ph.D., CEO, CSO & Co-founder of MilkStrip.
Dr. Avital Beck is the CEO, CSO and co-founder of MilkStrip, overseeing all business decisions for the biotech and wellness company and subsidiary of DiagnoseStick. In this role, as a leading innovator in the baby-tech industry, she brings to bear her expert background in biotech and science. MilkStrip is the only company that offers breast milk diagnostic kits that deliver real-time results and actionable results at-home without the long delay of lab work.
Prior to co-founding MilkStrip, Avital spent over six years in the Israeli biotech industry as a Research & Development Scientist and an intellectual property manager. She received her Bachelor of Science in biotechnology from Bar-Ilan University and Ph.D. with a direct track followed by two post doctorates at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Avital’s expertise extends to molecular cell biology, diabetes, stem cell research, microbiology and bioinformatics. She is also the mother of six children, all of whom she breastfed while pursuing her full-time STEM career. Avital is passionate about helping mothers thrive in their professional careers while raising babies in the modern world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was a surprise journey. I didn’t plan a career in the biotech industry or know from a young age that I would start my own company. My dream was to stay in academia as a scientist. I was on the right track and interested in going to Boston to further my academic career having been accepted to Harvard Medical School for post-doctoral at their lab. However, at the time, I was going through the process of receiving fertility treatments in Israel and ultimately had to postpone my post-doctoral plans for the benefit of my family.
Thus, I finished my Ph.D. at 28 and received an offer to join the biotech industry in Israel, an industry I never thought of entering. It opened a whole new world for me with its multiple job opportunities and fast-paced energy. Working in academia, the day-to-day is more or less the same, and it became too mundane for my high energy level, leaving me feeling like I could do more. Biotech was the perfect option for me.
However, there were changes in my company that resulted in me having more free time than usual, and to fill my days I decided to create my own startup. I opened a WhatsApp group, added a few friends from my molecular biology Ph.D. program and asked if anyone wanted to join. Dr. Hadas Shatz-Azoulay was part of this group and became my co-founder, we soon came up with multiple ideas and realized that moms worldwide were struggling with the same breast milk problems we were, in determining whether their breast milk had expired and in meeting their babies’ nutritional needs. This led to the creation of MilkStrip, the only company on the market that offers breast milk diagnostic kits that deliver real-time results and actionable insights at home, without the need and long delay of lab work.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
In the beginning, we experienced the startup honeymoon phase. I had nothing to lose, other than a vision and a dream. The hard times came later. Some people questioned why we created MilkStrip and made us feel as if it was impossible for two female scientists and working moms to successfully run a business. I would receive feedback including, “you’re a woman”, “you’re a scientist”, and “you’re a mother”. Other times, I would be asked who the real boss was, but overall I had to believe in myself, I knew that I had the right experience and couldn’t give up. There is a glass ceiling for mothers and women and sometimes you may feel that there is no road to follow. That’s when you have to pave a new road for yourself, which is exactly what I did. Each time I got a negative reaction, I would look for a signal, something that lifts my energy up and keeps me moving forward. Even if it is just one small positive factor from the day.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’m a religious woman. I always feel that God gives me signals that prove to me that if I got this far already, I’m okay and everything will turn out for the best. As a CEO and co-founder, you do a lot of networking and business pitching. You don’t always get responses or an immediate benefit from meetings. Or you may go to a conference and it’s not the most helpful, but then three weeks later you get an email from someone wanting to learn more about the company. One time I was asked to speak at an event for female, religious entrepreneurs, which I thought would be great but not have a direct benefit for my business, but afterwards, someone approached me and it turned out that they wanted to invest!
It’s always great to see your work pay off, even if it doesn’t have immediate results. You always see the benefit at the end and that’s my motivation to work hard and be patient.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
My background in science led me to study the baby-tech market from a biotech perspective and learn more about women and their needs when it comes to breast milk. We have successfully raised money and launched our two breast milk test kits in the U.S. this year and are excited that women can now find certainty during this uncertain time. We are currently working on developing new products and working toward our latest funding round.
Additionally we have been selected to join Google for Startups Accelerator: Europe, a three-month program designed to boost European and Israeli startups’ business growth. MilkStrip was chosen as one of the nine participants and the first-ever biotech startup focused on breast milk.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Both my co-founder, Hadas and I are mothers with five and six kids respectively, so you can only imagine what juggling working full-time and helping the kids around the house is like. One day we had a meeting with an American investor on Passover Eve (we’re based in Israel) and we were in the middle of cleaning the house trying to prepare everything for the holiday. In all the frenzy of the moment we forgot about the meeting. Just in time, we were able to quickly pull ourselves together, change outfits, and put on makeup. Once we joined the Zoom and saw each other, we started laughing at our situation and how quickly we switched mindsets to be professional.
Moving forward, we are always careful to check in with each other about our schedules but keep in mind that it’s important to have fun at work during our downtime.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
MilkStrip provides the first real-time testing for evaluating the nutritional profile and degree of freshness of breast milk to empower parents with detailed insights into the sustenance of the breast milk their infants are receiving. It is the only diagnostic kit on the market that delivers results in real-time and at-home with actionable insights.
When mothers become uncertain of the vigor of their breast milk, they would rather be safe than sorry. They often throw away milk that they are unsure of and prefer to feed their babies formula or pump new milk instead of potentially making their child sick. In fact, 40.6% of women question whether or not their breast milk is sour before giving it to their baby. Moreover, more than 60% of women throw out stored breast milk, which is usually still good for consumption because they are unsure of its quality profile. In the United States alone, a total of 85% of mothers breastfeed their babies in the first three months postpartum, which means a large portion of breast milk is being unnecessarily thrown out.
In addition to throwing out perfectly good milk due to uncertainty, mothers are often unaware if their breast milk is optimal for their growing babies. While the overall benefit of feeding babies breast milk has been well established and will always be the optimal option compared to any formulas on the market, mothers need and want to know more about the nutrients they are feeding their babies.
MilkStrip opens up the possibilities for parents to use real-time diagnostic kits at home to learn more about the quality of their breast milk, their babies’ vitamin levels and how to best care for them with actionable insights. There is no packaging up a test kit, no mailing, no labs, no wait and parents get results in just three minutes.
In addition to having a stellar patented new product, we are also incredibly lucky to have massive family support as two mothers with five plus children and fantastic partners. During the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, we had a big delivery of one thousand boxes that we had to fulfill but since we couldn’t hire employees to come in due to the COVID restrictions, we mobilized our kids and spouses to help! We packed from day to night and could not have done it without their help.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Continue networking and try to bring 110% to everything you can. You’ll benefit from your hard work even if you don’t see the return immediately. Always have a plan by trying to set your calendar for the month to help you stay focused and remember all the details. Also try to set aside times for all of your tasks to increase your productivity.
When you feel like it’s too much, just take a day and return with new energy and always be grateful for your progress — no matter how small. You’ll benefit from your hard work even if you don’t see the return immediately.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful to my co-founders and our first investors who believed in us, and gave us a chance to make MilkStrip an awesome product and company to be a part of. I’d also like to give a special thanks to all those that believed and supported us along the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I recognize that a lot of people have helped me during my journey so I try to do the same for other entrepreneurs or anyone in need amongst my fields and beyond. Any time I receive a call from someone that needs help or advice, I am always happy to help because I’ve been in those shoes before and I know I wouldn’t be where I am without sound advice and insights from business owners, investors, entrepreneurs and other scientists.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Make people as passionate as you are: As founders we are passionate but it doesn’t mean that everyone around you is. It’s important to make everyone understand your vision and why you are passionate while also making them excited to be involved. The success is that of the whole group and not just the top-level founders and managers. Success comes from everyone involved really caring about their work.
- Be open to changing things: Whenever I have an employee leave, I always make sure to have an exit interview with them to gain insights into what they were happy with and what they weren’t. This allows me to learn and understand what I can do to improve myself as a leader and my company to foster further success.
- Having a company is like being on a rollercoaster: One day you could be on top of the world and then the next you might feel like you’ve made a big mistake and are not sure what you’ve gotten yourself into. Sometimes there are big intervals to navigate but by having the dedication to achieve your vision you will stay on the right track.
- Be a good leader: There are many challenges in running your own company, and no matter how hard it gets it’s good to keep going and set an example for the rest of the team. You have to make sure your team and business are aligned to foster your company’s growth and lead it toward success.
- Be happy about the little things: For instance, even if your company hasn’t launched yet it’s still great that you have your product ready. Maybe an article was written about the company and it was a small mention, but it’s still something worth celebrating. In the end, no matter how big or small your successes are — they lead to the big successes down the road.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In my position as a CEO, I have many opportunities to volunteer in promoting women and teaching them how to be more influential. I volunteer at high schools and talk to girls about science and how they can still have a family while working. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.” I work to help women overcome the glass ceiling and that is the movement I’d like to see move further along.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn here.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Dr. Avital Beck of MilkStrip: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.