Female Founder Interview with Carolina Barsa: Fostering Unexpected Opportunities

Female Founder Interview with Carolina Barsa: Fostering Unexpected Opportunities

In honor of Women's History Month, we asked our female co-founder to share a bit about her accomplishments, learnings, and challenges as a female founder in biotech.  Here is her full Q&A.

SO WHO IS CAROLINA?   

Kindness, commitment, and equity drive how I show up in the world and how I lead at FitBiomics. I am a passionate woman who cares deeply, is always learning, and enjoys helping others.

I thrive being in nature (despite being a city girl) and staying active, be it hiking or biking. I prefer to be near water (good thing NYC is an island). Naturally, my favorite colors are teals and greens like the ocean and forest. Music and dancing feed my soul. One of my life goals is to travel the world and of course, I love my family & friends, but am obsessed with my soul dog, Charlie (our mascot and CHO - chief happiness officer).  

WHY ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT FITBIOMICS? 

The world needs more cutting-edge solutions that address the root cause of our health issues and not just mask the symptoms. Our vision for generational health and longevity as a right for all is what motivates me.

The reality is it is harder to stay healthy today than ever before. Our current healthcare model, lifestyle, and diet / food supply are not designed to keep us living our best lives. Many health and wellness brands are more marketing than science, and many have misleading claims, causing skepticism and mistrust in the industry. We need solutions with real science that actually work!

My personal story also drives my why! I struggled with IBS C-D my entire adult life and felt how profoundly it impacted many aspects - from physical discomfort to the emotional stress of not knowing when I would have to deal with tummy trouble. Over the years I have tried supplements and food elimination, even had my first colonoscopy in my early 20s… nothing helped before I started to take Nella. It’s been almost 3 years and it has been a game-changer for my life!! And that is just our FIRST innovation.

Knowing how critical the gut is for holistic health, I am passionate about continuing to innovate quality and efficacious solutions that can help improve people’s lives. FitBiomics is taking a pharma-grade approach in terms of the rigor in scientific research and clinical validation but a consumer approach, providing natural solutions for preventative care that are accessible to every body. 

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I lead innovation and growth at FitBiomics, translating cutting-edge microbiome research into next-gen health and longevity solutions that everyone can access and benefit from. This entails understanding the health needs that exist and working with our scientists to unlock the secretes from the microbiome to improve health and longevity.

At a high level, I work on anything needed to bring our vision, technology, and brand to the world while educating people on the profound impact of the microbiome. The days begin with brainstorming how we tell our story and they unfold into how we can create a scalable business so our innovations can widely reach and resonate with more people/communities. I can rapidly shift from doing research into collaborative discussions that further our innovation platform and how we operate the business. Making sure along the way that the team has clear objectives and direction.

As a startup co-founder, I get to wear many hats and as taxing as it can be, it is also the most rewarding part of the job, to see it all come together. At the end of the day, driving innovative solutions that deliver real results and creating a community where people feel supported to achieve their health and wellness goals is what keeps me going!

HOW DID YOU BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR IN STEM?  

Growing up, I loved to dance and draw and wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to tap into my creative side. Being naturally strong at math and science, I started my professional career as an engineer and completed a master's degree from WPI. Then I completed my MBA from Duke where I concentrated on marketing and social entrepreneurship and went on to work with amazing brands from CPG giants Mars Chocolate, Danone, & Unilever as well as smaller startups. My taste for entrepreneurship came when I joined the founding team of a small creative brand strategy agency. After that, I met Jonathon Schieman and as soon as he shared his vision for FitBiomics, I knew it was what I was meant to do!

My career has been an atypical journey of agility and determination. I learned throughout the years that taking risks and being open to the unknown has been my greatest path to growth, both professionally and personally. I love to solve problems, especially those that have a positive impact on society. 

By being open to unexpected opportunities that fulfilled my passions, I was able to pivot through my career while building on what I have learned. My various roles allowed me to tackle the growth challenges of entrepreneurship by exposing me to new people, perspectives, and possibilities. The more I experienced, the more I realized how powerful it is to do something you love and that can have a positive impact on society.

I am proud to be building a company that stands for these same values. I can’t say I chose this particular field other than to say I felt the world needed more values-based empathetic leaders building purpose-based businesses and this opportunity opened up the possibility for me to fulfill that dream while tapping into my breadth of experience. 

What have been the most significant challenges you've faced as a female co-founder in an industry predominantly led by men?

Being a founder is a roller coaster of ups and downs, and navigating through the challenges and being resilient to get back up and push ahead despite adversities is what sets good entrepreneurs apart. It’s human nature to have self-doubts when you are paving a new path, and most people experience imposter syndrome at various points (men and women alike). 

Unfortunately, the unspoken biases in our society result in women experiencing more obstacles to achieve success and greater feelings of imposter syndrome.  Women also have the added challenge of balancing being enough of something but not too much (cue Barbie movie). Female founders often are not taken as seriously in the eyes of investors or partners and are often spoken down to (unintentionally, I hope). Over time, having your intelligence questioned and navigating condescending comments take its toll on your confidence. In addition to these, I  have struggled to own and acknowledge my accomplishments, often dismissing them as “no big deal” or “it was a team effort” which spirals this imposter syndrome.

The way to navigate this is through a support system - both men and other women!  I am blessed to have met smart and successful women who have had similar paths (and roadblocks) to success throughout my journey.  Sharing is never a competition but rather a safe place where we are transparent and trust each other in all aspects, from challenges with leadership or business decisions to our compensations. We push each other to see our worth and ask for what we deserve. You need cheerleaders in your corner!

I am also fortunate to have an incredibly supportive male co-founder who acknowledges that as a woman, I am spoken to and treated differently. Jonathan has always stood up for me and made sure others know we are partners in this venture. 

What advice would you give to others struggling with self-doubt?

Building your confidence is a daily practice - I don’t think women ever fully let go of imposter syndrome but it’s important to constantly remind yourself what sets you apart (your super power) because it will be tested regularly. Some important habits I recommend for combating imposter syndrome include:
  1. CELEBRATE YOUR WINS. Find a cadence to write down your accomplishments and wins - regardless of where you are in your career, be it starting out to C-Suite. As women we sometimes forget just how much we’ve done. It’s like exercise for your brain - self-talk can have real impacts on your self-perception which impacts how you show up (think gratitude journal for your wins). Be okay with making it known.  I know it can be scary because we don’t want to sound like we are bragging, but it's important to advocate for yourself!! 
  2. DEFINE YOUR VALUES.  External validation is always great (who doesn’t love a compliment and some reassurance), but it is important to validate your why (decisions and actions) for yourself.  That comes with knowing what is most important to you, what you are not willing to compromise on, and where you prioritize your time. Investing in your career is important, but if you lose sight of what defines you as a person, you will lose the spark and passion that drove you to success.   
  3. NURTURE YOUR NETWORK. Surround yourself with strong and smart people (men and women).  It is important to have women you can confide in who will understand your challenges. Look for mentors in your workplace, from your circle of friends, and various women networking groups. Remember that this requires giving as much as you get,. Be sure to pay it forward by sharing your knowledge and experiences to help build other women. 

How do you foster diversity and inclusion within your company, and what strategies have you found to be most effective in creating a supportive environment for women in leadership roles? 

As a first-generation American and child of immigrants, I didn’t have access to understand all of the different opportunities that were out there. My journey has not been a traditional one, and I acknowledge that people should be evaluated on their mindset and skills rather than the title or company they worked for.  As we build our team, it is important to also recognize the immense power of diversity. This is one of our most critical values at FitBiomics - diversity in our research (biologically) and diversity in our thoughts (backgrounds of our team and leadership). 

I also take extra time to mentor and support our female team members with what is best for THEM (not just our business). By supporting them through tools, advice, and honest feedback from a place of empathy and development. I do this so that they can avoid some of the painful mistakes I have had to learn the hard way.  I also empathize with the added challenges that female minorities experience and help share how I have overcome them. With networking being so critical to success, connecting them to the network I have built over the years gives them greater reach to expand and learn from different people. 

We as a company take a lot of pride in making sure EVERYONE has a safe place to voice their ideas or opinions and lead in areas even beyond their title. We let them take initiative in areas they are interested in and include them in various leadership meetings so they learn and understand the purpose behind their work.  

Looking ahead, what do you see as the biggest opportunities for female entrepreneurs in breaking barriers and driving innovation in traditionally male-dominated industries? 

I see more and more women becoming empowered to address key challenges that women have faced and men have “tried to solve for” without the proper understanding. Women’s needs have often been dismissed as little men or just make something pink and charge more for it (cringe).  But as we continue to see more women in STEM and business, we are unlocking the unique needs of women with deep and real understanding of what problem we are solving for. 

I see it more in the wellness and healthcare space. Everywhere really, with growing research focused on the female anatomy, it’s spilling over into the technology space and AI, in software and app development with tools to support the cyclical nature of women (and not just period or fertility trackers but robust high tech solutions for women’s needs). Furthermore, in career development and financial independence.  So much progress that is getting to the heart of improving women’s lives is being created by female entrepreneurs.  

Women-owned and run businesses are more successful - the data does not lie!  According to Forbes, “Even though men have a significant advantage in raising funds, companies founded or co-founded by women do better along several dimensions than companies started by men. Women founders tend to build businesses that generate more revenues, create higher job growth, dream bigger, and execute better.”  

Best advice for the next generation of female entrepreneurs?

Be fearless and kind. Your voice is worth being heard. You can inspire others even when you don’t realize it, so embrace empathy in everything you do. It is not just in the workplace but you can learn and impact others at any touchpoint.  Most importantly always believe that you are smart, creative, and strong enough to get back up, time and time again.

The impact you can have on the world and your own personal growth by pursuing your passion is undeniable. These fundamentals are the building blocks to everything in life, and there are so many great careers you can pursue.  At the end of the day, believe that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help along the way!

 

 

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