Inspirational Female Leaders Series #4 ~ Nicole Dahlstrom, Founder FemTech Collective

Roya Sabeti, Founder Stilobox (6).png

This week we’re catching up with Nicole Dahlstrom a leader in the female health space.

In running her own female health startup Nicole recognized the problems and roadblocks that female founders in the female health space kept running into. Her passion for women's health inspired her to leverage her network of established feminine health companies, industry professionals, and leaders in the women's health space to develop a network of support for founders of female health focused tech startups called FemTech Collective.

Their vision is to shape the future of healthcare through technology that meets the needs of women.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS FemTech Collective SOLVING?

FemTech Collective's mission is to support startups creating innovative products and services for female health using technology by connecting them to resources and to a network of support. Our vision is to bridge the gap that exists between the healthcare system and the female consumer. The problem that many FemTech startups face is that they are operating in uncharted territory. Innovation for female health has been relatively stagnant and introducing new products to the healthcare system is no easy task. In addition to these challenges, startups must navigate our current administration and the cultural taboos surrounding female health. FemTech Collective offers a welcoming space where startups can connect to the entire ecosystem and get the focused support they need.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

The total journey from idea to launch has been about a 9-month process. It all began when I recognized a set of common problems that kept on recurring for female health focused companies.

The first 3 months felt like a long conversation that I kept having with founder after founder in the female health space. The idea for a FemTech incubator was floating around during those three months. My cofounder at the time had a coworking space, and so we were seriously considering hosting an incubator out of that space. Life happens though, and my cofounder had to step away from the opportunity. It was during this time that I re-evaluated the idea of hosting an incubator and thought seriously about just giving up in general. Fortunately, I reached out to the network of supporters that had assembled over those first 3 months, informing them that the incubator idea was paused due to the loss of the space, but that I was more than happy to meet with anyone interested in FemTech to discuss opportunities. The feedback I received from my community was essential. Many people reached out and urged me to continue this work. I've had meetings every week since and tirelessly explored options for supporting FemTech startups.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS OF FemTech Collective?

The heart of any success I have achieved in my career has been through the support of a network of people. I haven't achieved anything that wasn't earned through connecting with people, whether online or in person. Being open to opportunities and taking initiative has also been key.  

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

That is a great question because I feel like every failure is an opportunity to learn. One of the best opportunities I had was to start my own female health focused company in December of 2016. I cofounded a company which sold probiotics for feminine health. Myself and my cofounder bootstrapped the company. We were trying to solve a big problem for women suffering from a bacterial imbalance by offering them a probiotic that would rebalance their natural vaginal flora and then educating them on how to maintain that balance. It was an extremely ambitious thing to do. We wanted to talk about Bacterial Vaginosis and discharge, and to say the word vagina. These were still things that you didn't talk about, and they made people very uncomfortable. After a year of failures and successes, we finally called it quits. The primary reason was because we couldn't afford to keep it going. Our margins were terrible. In order to do the business right, we would have had to raise funding. It simply wasn't possible to bootstrap the business any longer, at least not for us. The most important thing I learned from the whole process is how much I love building communities and supporting people.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

I used to think leadership was about simply rolling up your sleeves and doing the work, you know, leading by example, but now I think that is not effective. Leadership is about enabling others to do their best work towards a common goal. The best leaders offer structure and support, but they don't manage people on every task. Leaders must also make tough decisions and operate in unknown territory.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I've had several mentors. My mentors have been bosses, supervisors, friends, and colleagues. I am very fortunate to have had several examples of women in leadership, and so I've always had high standards for myself. I haven't had a formal mentor to this day. I think it would be very beneficial to have someone who has agreed to pass along their wisdom to you and help you navigate the business world, however, I wouldn't trade all of the amazing people in my life who are guiding me for one official mentor. Everyone has something they can help you with, you just have to ask for help.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Women need to speak up and speak often. I never spoke up during school while growing up. It wasn't until college when I began speaking up in class. I didn't feel confident in what I had to say until then. As soon as I started speaking up, I realized that I had the answers to questions and a perspective to add to the conversation. The more I spoke the more confident I became in this idea. If we don't speak up and speak often, we will never have the confidence it takes to lead. Of course, speaking can only get you so far, you must also listen. The ability to really listen to someone and connect with them is invaluable.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

I've felt imposter syndrome, I feel imposter syndrome, and I'll continue to feel it. Women in particular are prone to imposter syndrome, and even some of the most accomplished women in the world suffer from it. I don't know if there is a cure for that feeling of not being the right woman (or man) for the job. All I can do is remember why I am doing this work. It doesn't matter how many people sing my praises or tell me what I'm doing right, at the end of the day, I must continue to do this work because I feel it's important. Knowing your why is very powerful.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I feel overwhelmed every day when I think about all the emails I've left unanswered, the things I promised to have done by a certain day, my general to do list. I used to spend lots of time worrying and stressing over all of these things. Now, when I'm feeling overwhelmed, it doesn't last long. I quickly try to prioritize. I've also been kinder to myself these days. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we are only human and that nobody is perfect.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -Maya Angelou

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Try to stop caring so much what everyone thinks of you and instead try to practice feeling gratitude daily.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Yes, thank you for sharing my story and creating Stilobox! I hope that many more women will pursue leadership opportunities and feel compelled to share their story. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the women who have paved the way before me and given me an example to look up to. 

Facebook: @femtechcollective

Twitter: @femtechcollect

Website: femtechcollective.com

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.