We caught up with Rachel Lett, the Head of Care at Span, a start-up where you can chat with a dietitian or psychologist when you need – and get a personalised care plan for you.
I’m reading through your bio, Rachel. A professional chef and nutritionist who ended up setting up a tech startup. How did that happen? (In other words, tell us about your journey).
I grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland. After school, I became a certified chef from Ballymaloe Cookery School and then went to study Nutrition at Leeds University.
I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma three times as a child and then relapsed again as an adult, after 9 years in remission. I took a closer look at recent research and developed a personal nutrition/lifestyle plan. Now, I’ve been in remission for three years. So how is this related to technology – you might be asking.
Through my personal experience, I was frustrated by outdated nutrition guidelines. I also realised that a lot of people want to make changes toward a healthier lifestyle, but they don’t have the resources to do so. It’s so challenging for people to navigate what is evidence-based advice, how these recommendations align with their values and how to initiate behaviour change. I started exploring the digital world and how technology can help improve healthcare – which led me to Span where I’m the CCO and co-founder.
Head of Care at Span – What does it mean? Can you tell us a bit more about your current role?
As Head of Care, I focus on how we can help people overcome barriers that prevent them from living the healthy life they want to live.
Our team of clinicians – who I work closely with – specialise in personalised nutrition, psychiatry and epigenetics. With their expertise, we have developed a protocol that helps people in every aspect of their life — mind and body.
Through evidence-based advice, we help people understand more about their body so they feel empowered to take control of their health.
We really get to know our members and then we work together to map out their unique health protocol so they can thrive. We support people so they become their own health expert – they are in charge!
Our mission at Span is to deliver the best health outcomes to the 50% of the population suffering from lifestyle conditions and symptoms. I’m proud that Span’s care model has allowed 90% of our members to alleviate their primary symptoms, with some reversing their diabetes and now on the way to remission – also drastically reducing a key risk factor for Coronavirus.
The next step on our journey is to empower businesses to deliver outstanding employee wellness and save thousands on lifestyle-condition-related absences. I love helping individuals, but I’m also looking forward to working with UK businesses, I believe that there is some education around employee wellbeing needed! To be able to scale up, Span is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs which has been a completely new experience to me!
There are some great digital healthcare startups out there – why is Span different?
There are a lot of digital health startups delivering telemedicine or online consultations that are focused on acute care, which are primarily specialised in one condition, like weight-loss or diabetes. Span is designed for long-term care and total health. We treat people’s symptoms within the scope of their overall health so they can thrive.
Our approach is holistic as there is a deep bidirectional connection between nutrition and mental health. Our decisions around food are impacted by how we feel on a day-to-day basis and most of us have some degree of disordered eating. Equally, nutrition has the potential to restore mental health through the gut-brain axis and hormonal regulation — it helps us manage our emotions, deepen our empathy and help us deal with unplanned dilemmas at work.
We also want to take the guesswork out of employee wellbeing for employers. In the pipeline, we will be sending employee wellbeing reports to managers and employers so that they can identify what areas experience more stress or anxiety and how they can be supported.
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Do you think the future of healthcare is in digital? Will there be a point when more people will access help online rather than going to a doctor physically?
There’s no doubt that digital is hugely valuable to healthcare — it reduces costs, reduces waiting times, empowers people with ‘self care’ and prevention of chronic conditions, alleviates administrative burden and allows for more time with patients, expands accessibility and helps clinicians deliver more tailored advice. One of the biggest barriers is trusting the system. However, since the pandemic, people are a lot more confident in using digital healthcare — they realise that it is a safe and efficient way to receive healthcare advice. We’ve also seen a spike in our new members.
Your background is very much food-related. How do you find working in the tech space? What have been your biggest learnings?
I’m very lucky to work with such an outstanding group of individuals, which has allowed me to combine my passion for food with tech. We inspire each other to develop and progress. Everyday I get to learn something new about technology and sales — I’m constantly amazed at how nutrition can be translated into tech.
My biggest learning is to stay focused on creating a product through the lens of the user. Technology is such an exciting space that it’s easy for it to take the lead in decision making. However, the care model needs to be entirely focused on the individual’s needs and technology supports this process.
There is lots of talk about ‘women in tech’. But is there enough action? Do you see barriers for females to become leaders in the technology world?
We need more women in senior roles, but companies need to want this for more reasons than just ‘box-ticking’ – and not just one trophy woman at the top. Businesses need to take more time to seek out the right female candidate so they truly value their perspective. This might mean looking for candidates in industries other than tech.
Lastly, what inspires you? Any (female) leaders you admire?
The team at Span are huge fans of Emilie Bellet from Vestpod. After working in private equity and tech she now empowers women to tackle money matters! She has a book called ‘You’re not broke, you’re pre-rich’, and she also runs courses and workshops.