Leverage your differences. We had to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which allowed us to maximize our different talents, divy up the responsibilities, be efficient and ensure that the gaps were covered. For our companies, Eric is an operational master and Steph is a visionary inventor. Both are leaders.
As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie and Eric Venn-Watson, Co-Founders of Seraphina Therapeutics, Inc., a health and wellness company.
Stephanie Venn-Watson is a veterinary epidemiologist, public health scientist and CEO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric Venn-Watson is a physician, U.S. Navy Veteran and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. The husband-wife duo, who are proud to be serial entrepreneurs, are working together to launch fatty15 — a revolutionary lifestyle brand and science-backed daily dietary supplement containing pure, encapsulated FA15TM, a powder form of C15:0, and what science now supports as the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in 90 years — under Seraphina Therapeutics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?
Steph: Wonderfully, Eric and I have been able to combine our backgrounds as a physician and a veterinarian to help discover and develop new products to improve both human and animal health. While Eric was a Navy physician helping to keep military personnel healthy, I was working with the Navy to continually improve the health and welfare of their dolphins. Upon making discoveries that could help dolphins live longer and healthier lives, we realized that these same discoveries could help another long-lived, large brained species live healthier longer, too (i.e. humans).
Eric: With our shared vision to improve both human and animal health, we co-founded Epitracker, Inc. to work cooperatively with the U.S. Navy and discover natural and optimized small molecules that are essential to protecting the health of long-lived mammals, especially with age. From there, we co-founded Epitracker’s first spinout company, Seraphina Therapeutics, Inc. to advance selected natural compounds as consumer health products, food fortifiers, and prescription therapeutics — starting with our fatty15 dietary supplement.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?
Steph: During 2010, Eric was deployed to Afghanistan, where he helped to oversee the healthcare for about 4,000 military personnel in austere environments throughout the Helmand Province. This was during the height of conflict. At the same time, we had our 2-year old son entering his rambunctious period.
Eric: Needless to say, that year helped us gain a healthy new perspective of what is and what is not a crisis. We have been able to remain calm and stay on target throughout the rollercoaster ride of starting new companies. That experience has also helped us enjoy and appreciate our shared adventures.
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?
One of our early (and now funny) mistakes was assuming that VCs and strategic partners would surely and immediately understand and accept discovered parallels between dolphins and humans, and how these parallels could lead to newly discovered ways to treat some of the world’s most devastating diseases. Afterall, dolphins and humans are both long-lived large-brained mammals that have co-evolved similar mechanisms to live longer and are naturally susceptible to the same chronic conditions of aging. So, we were quickly enlightened when giving one of our first pitches years ago to a large pharmaceutical company about how our discovered molecules to treat liver disease in dolphins may help to treat liver disease in humans, too. After our presentation, they asked, “First of all, do fish even have livers?” (the answer was, dolphins are mammals, not fish, and yes — they both have livers).
From that experience, we learned that when introducing not only a new discovery, but new ways of making discoveries, we had a lot of biases to overcome. Thus, we went into stealth mode for a few years with a team of experts in longevity, human health, fatty acids, and chemistry, to enable us to not just have made discoveries that could improve global health, but to have near indisputable evidence that our now-developed products (i.e. our fatty15 supplement and ingredient, FA15TM) would improve global health.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
By helping to improve Navy dolphin health, we are also discovering how to improve human health. This novel approach resulted in our science supporting C15:0 (also called pentadecanoic acid) as the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in 90 years! This work resulted in our launch of fatty15 as the first and only dietary supplement containing pure C15:0 to help consumers to replenish their critical C15:0 levels and protect both body and mind health, especially as we age.
Just like humans, some but not all older dolphins develop aging-associated conditions, such as high cholesterol, chronic anemia and even Alzheimer’s disease, while others do not. We applied advanced multi-omic technologies to archived serum samples collected throughout the lifetimes of a multigenerational Navy dolphin population to discover which small molecules appeared to protect individual dolphins against developing aging-associated conditions.
This work resulted in the discovery of approximately 100 promising molecules present in both dolphins and humans, including C15:0, a trace saturated fatty acid found in butter, whole fat dairy products and some types of fish. With these discoveries, we kick-started our parent company, Epitracker, and spinout company, Seraphina Therapeutics, to develop new consumer products, food ingredients and therapeutics to enable healthy aging in both dolphins and humans. With our fatty15 breakthrough, we’re just getting started helping both humans and dolphins age in healthier ways.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently launching fatty15, which has been super exciting to bring to life. We believe this product will have a positive effect on global health by restoring essential C15:0 body levels to improve people’s cellular health and allowing them to take back the reins on their health and wellness. We are thrilled to share that consumers of fatty15 have reported amazing near-term benefits such as better sleep, calmer mood, reduced snacking between meals, and sustained energy throughout the day. These near-term benefits, attributable to C15:0’s natural activation of key PPAR (pronounced pee-par) α/δ receptors present throughout our bodies and brains, are only the beginning of expected long-term health benefits, including maintained healthy glucose and cholesterol levels, as well as balanced immunity, all of which can become impaired with aging.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
After finding people who are natural team players, independently excellent in their field, and fit your company’s culture, never let them forget their importance in your company’s purpose — and your gratitude as they help to achieve the team’s mission and vision. The most capable people thrive in environments where they feel properly supported, trusted by leadership, and truly believe that what they do serves a purpose of greater good.
How do you define “Leadership”?
We typically follow the roles of Servant Leaders. It is important to understand what your capable and passionate team needs. Once this is understood, good leaders roll up their sleeves to provide their team with the support and resources that enable employees’ best performance.
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 about that?
Some VCs are good at following trends, while others have bold foresight to make the trends that change how the world works. Dr. Kim Kamdar, a VC and Partner at Domain Associates, is the latter. Early on, Kim, along with Dr. Nicholas Schork (a global leader in longevity and Scientific Director for the National Institutes of Aging-supported Longevity Consortium), recognized how our novel approach of applying advanced multi-omics technology to an unprecedented longitudinal cohort of long-lived dolphin health data could result in groundbreaking nutritional and therapeutic discoveries to improve global health. Three years ago, Kim and Nik rolled up their sleeves to help co-found Seraphina Therapeutics. Our weekly meetings throughout this time have been invaluable in translating our dolphin-based discoveries into the peer-reviewed, science-backed, and VC-funded fatty15 supplement that is available today. One product launched, 99 more molecules to go.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We have always been keen on using our studies and learnings to bring goodness to the world. With the launch of fatty15, we believe we are shifting the world toward a healthier future, allowing people to age on their own terms. For decades, people have been depleting themselves of the essential fatty acid, C15:0, which protects against aging-related breakdown, and with fatty15 we are providing consumers with a way to halt that pattern. We are also dedicated to keeping our Earth healthy, which we demonstrate through fatty15’s sustainable subscription model and packaging. Pairing our dolphin health, human health, and eco-friendly approaches, we often end our team meetings with the saying, “Save the dolphins. Save the world.’’
What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Leverage your differences. We had to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which allowed us to maximize our different talents, divy up the responsibilities, be efficient and ensure that the gaps were covered. For our companies, Eric is an operational master and Steph is a visionary inventor. Both are leaders.
- Walk, dance and/or laugh every day. Some of our most productive business strategy discussions have been during our daily walks, which also give us a dose of sunshine, fresh air, and exercise. We also play Just Dance, which offers us as a family a healthy, laugh-filled fitness hour nearly every night. Watching Eric dance to ‘U Can’t Touch This’ also keeps our lives from getting too serious after a busy day of work.
- Don’t fight it — make your company a family affair. As husband-wife co-founders, it can be difficult to parse out business from personal time, so we have wonderfully embraced our companies as family affairs. Our 12-year old son helps to make animated videos for our emails and social media posts, while our parents and siblings provide helpful feedback on our products and messaging from a consumer’s perspective. We’re an all-in family!
- Have each other’s backs (also a military thing). You never want to go into the field with troops that don’t have each other’s backs. Same with couples and start ups. At the same time we support and trust each other, we are also really good at putting our egos aside and growing teams with smart and passionate people who are better skilled than us in nearly every aspect of our businesses — science, finance, manufacturing, marketing, etc. Then we make sure they know we have their backs, too.
- Enjoy the adventure and shared purpose to do something good together. There is no question that we have been able to do more together than we would have as individuals. The extra gifts are choosing to do things that can improve the world, and enjoying doing so. We have been very fortunate to do all three of these things.
You are people of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
By naming our first product fatty15, we wanted to help drive important conversations about the current stigmas around the words ‘fat’ and ‘fatty’. We hope to inspire a movement that improves the world’s understanding of fat — including saturated fats. While even-chain saturated fats (like C16:0) continue to be associated with increased risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, odd-chain saturated fats (like C15:0) are associated with decreased risks of these same conditions. In fact, science now supports that our population-wide lowered dietary intake of C15:0 over the past 40 years, and the resulting lower circulating C15:0 body levels, may be contributing to the increased global prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and obesity. So, it’s time to restart the conversation on saturated fats.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Eric: Don’t f*** it up. I was in charge of overseeing the healthcare for many of the Marines and Sailors stationed throughout the southwest United States, when a two-star general called me into his office. The conversation lasted less than a minute and went something like this: “Doc, come on in. I need you to do something for me. We are going to war. I want you to take care of our Marines and Sailors. Don’t have much else to say, except don’t f*** it up.” With his support, a team of motivated doctors, nurses and Corpsmen, and access to the appropriate resources, we were able to successfully deliver high quality medical care in very austere environments throughout the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. To this day, even after starting and growing multiple companies, it is still the most entrepreneurial endeavor that I have ever undertaken. This experience provided me with the confidence and desire to transition from a full time physician to an entrepreneur, with the knowledge that no task is ever insurmountable.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
As a thriving husband and wife team out to save the world, how could Bill & Melinda Gates not be our dream couple with whom to share breakfast or lunch?
How can our readers follow your work online?
You can keep up with our latest discoveries, such as the exciting near-term effects some of our consumers are reporting, by creating an account on fatty15.com, reading our blog and following us on Instagram @meetfattty15.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.