Women in Business: Isabel Hoffman, CEO and Founder of TellSpec

Hoffmann is an entrepreneur who has successfully founded eight companies over the last 26 years in the fields of preventative medicine, health care, technology, mobile health and education.
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Hoffmann is an entrepreneur who has successfully founded eight companies over the last 26 years in the fields of preventative medicine, health care, technology, mobile health and education. Her natural ability to lead and inspire has resulted in numerous awards and honors throughout her career. As CEO and Founder of TellSpec, the company behind the world's first food scanner for consumers, she leads a team of researchers, mathematicians, software developers and designers towards their mission to power a social revolution for clean healthy food by empowering people to make informed choices about what they eat.

Hoffmann has embodied the entrepreneurial spirit from the age of 19 when she started her first company. She went on to receive her PH.D in Mathematics from the University of Toronto. She has founded eight successful companies, taking companies from $0 to $75 million, and has negotiated strategic investments with groups such as CBS Corporation and Mitsubishi International. Hoffmann has raised equity investment and convertible debenture notes in Wall Street, New York City, and Bay Street, Toronto. She was also the main strategic negotiator on several business acquisitions, including a US$28M acquisition of Corel Multimedia business division. More recently, she has shared her experiences as an entrepreneur by teaching MBA-level entrepreneurism courses at the University of Porto.

As a sought-after keynote speaker, she's presented at conferences around the world. Her presentations have covered topics including Preventative and Predictive Health at the Sixth Annual International Congress on Anti-Aging SP Brazil, Delivering the Right Message at the Women of Influence Luncheon Series, Leadership at The Rotary Club, A New Vision of Aging at the CARP conference and Entrepreneurship and Innovation at TED City Toronto.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was born with a strong, type A grandmother as a role model who showed me how to make things happen on my own. Then, my daughter got sick when she was 14. She was plagued with hives, low blood pressure, tremors and light sensitivity so severe that she had to drop out of school. The doctors could not determine what was causing the chronic illness so I took matters into my own hands and made it my mission to identify the cause of her mysterious illness. We spent months in waiting rooms where we saw hundreds of others that also suffered from similar un-diagnosed illnesses - all seeking an answer to explain why they were sick. After dozens of specialist visits and exploring every possibility, my daughter was diagnosed with mold toxicity which causes severe allergic reactions and sensitivity to gluten, dioxins and other allergens. It took us a year for us to get an accurate diagnosis but we finally knew what we needed to do to make sure she could live her life free of her severe symptoms. That knowledge and information was truly empowering. I was overcome with empathy and thought, there must be something I can do to can help so that she and the others I saw in the waiting room don't have to go through that experience, and thus TellSpec was born.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at TellSpec?
I've always worked for myself, leading software and internet companies and also leading health and genetics companies. My experience in these two fields merged nicely for TellSpec. As an entrepreneur, I know I'd have the best chance to succeed if I drew from what I knew well, so I reached back to my experiences leading software companies and my work in the preventative health world. It didn't come out of nowhere, I knew what questions to ask and the right people to ask them to and thus, TellSpec was born.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at TellSpec?
One of the biggest challenges any entrepreneur faces is putting together the right team. We've made a concerted effort at TellSpec to form a solid mix of talent consisting of research professionals, software engineers, designers, writers and more. Everyone brings something unique to the table which has been truly imperative to the success of TellSpec. Their drive and belief in the company's vision is spectacular. One of the most rewarding experience so far with TellSpec was being asked to deliver a TED talk about the future of the food industry + TellSpec at TEDGlobal in Brazil this October.

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Never hesitate to make a decision, indecision will kill a company. This was the first advice given to me by a father a friend of mine. He told me you only need to be right 51% of the time and to just keep moving forward.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's difficult. The key is to find someone who shares your passion and vision, respects what you do and supports your dreams no matter what.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Childbearing. We haven't successfully integrated it with the respect it deserves. When my first was born, maternity leave was only three months. There is much room to for improvement to ensure that women are able to have both a successful career and be able to grow their families.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I never had a professional mentor but I've always been able to find the drive within myself and create my own thinking, likely thanks to having such a strong grandmother as a role model from a young age.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire Raquel Carson who wrote the Silent Spring. Her message is very similar to what TellSpec is aiming to do - if you continue to pollute, there will be nothing left. She was one the first ecologist and had a huge impact on my life. I also greatly respect Mother Teresa because of the compassion she bestowed upon others as well as Simone de Beauvoir who was largely regarded as an early feminist.

What do you want TellSpec to accomplish in the next year?
We are working to get into the hands of consumers to enable people to make better choices about what they eat. Since TellSpec provides information beyond the nutritional label, we also hope to bring about transparency in produce farming and food manufacturing, and educate the consumer on the wellness implications of each ingredient in their food.

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