Meet Nele Wessels, the founder and CEO of Næo, the first sustainable, personalized, and impact-driven gummy supplement brand. Inspired by her personal struggles with acne and long-COVID, Nele sought to create a more effective and sustainable solution for nutrition. With more than 40% of people struggling to remember to take their supplements and suffering from pill fatigue, Næo’s gummies make taking supplements fun, delicious, and easy. Using AI, Næo creates personalized gummyceuticals and health reports, delivering eco-friendly products through a circular packaging scheme. Sustainability and ethical sourcing are core values for Næo, which aims to become the most sustainable and ethical supplement brand to disrupt the $230 billion supplement industry. In this interview, Nele shares her vision for the future of the health and wellness industry, the challenges she’s faced as a solo female founder, and upcoming initiatives for Næo.
What inspired you to create Næo, and how did you come up with the idea for personalised nutrition?
The idea came from my personal struggles with Acne and long-covid that led me to spend hundreds of £s on generic pills and tablet supplements that never really worked and just crowded my cupboard. Doing some more research I realised I wasn’t alone, but that 7 out of 10 people want to become healthier, just struggle with the abundance of available generic options and real results. Further, more than 40% forget to take their supplements daily and 1 in 2 struggle with nausea and dysphagia upon taking supplements. In addition I realised how vast the environmental impact of the supplement industry was – in the US alone there are more than 1.8bn plastic bottles produced every single day, more than 24M animals killed to produce supplements and that not to mention the tons of CO2 that is produced. I wanted something that would show measurable results for my personal needs, target the holistic approach of nutrition, all while setting new sustainable standards in the industry. Due to the lack of available options I founded Naeo.
What sets Næo apart from other supplement companies, and how does it address the issue of “pill fatigue“?
Naeo is the first truly sustainable, personalised and impact-driven gummy supplement brand with a holistic approach to nutrition and the environment using more sustainable materials and plant-based ingredients than what is currently on the market. We use Ai, to create personalised gummyceuticals and health reports and deliver our eco-friendly products through a circular packaging scheme, to make individuals healthier and the supplement industry more sustainable. For us impact doesn’t just mean having an impact on the health and well-being of the individual, but also caring about people who aren’t in a position to even think about purchasing our products. Hence, we donate for every product sold – for our bottles we donate a year of safe water to people in need together with water.org and for our supplements we will partner up with the Felix food project to donate a meal for free for a person in need in London.
More than 40% forget to take their supplements on a daily basis which is mostly due to the case of pill fatigue – Nobody enjoys taking pills on a daily basis, let alone up to 10 of them, especially not when it’s not a medical need. We use gummies which make taking supplements fun, delicious and easy and therefore help anyone suffering from pill fatigue or dysphagia (disability to swallow tablets and pills) to keep up with their nutritional routine.
How do you see the health and wellness industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and what role does Næo play in this evolution?
A big topic will be personalisation and the intersection of technology and nutrition. Customers demand more and more personalised solutions that show real results as well as holistic approaches to nutrition for long-term success, rather than short-term impacts. Using our Ai will give the most precise recommendations and in interaction with our report and a fully holistic solution to your monthly health concerns. We also have more ideas in the pipeline so stay tuned:)
Sustainability is another topic: The ugly truth about the supplement industry is that it is super polluted just that no one talks about it – we want to disrupt the industry and set a new standard for other brands to follow through our sustainable, circular packaging scheme and vegan, GMO-free standards.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building and growing Næo, and how have you overcome them?
I think from a work perspective raising investment has definitely been one of the biggest challenges. Fundraising is generally not a walk in the park but as a solo female founder you get to experience so many other hurdles: from unconscious bias to sexism and other stigma. Now raising funds in 2023 is widely considered difficult. When we closed our first deal, SVB went down and credit Suisse – perhaps the worst possible conditions as most funds were occupied dealing with their existing portfolio rather than investing in new risky ventures. What helped me was setting myself up with a plethora of advisors that I could get in touch with any time and I can just recommend anyone doing the same when fundraising. I further tried to get a balance from the due diligence process by going out to my favourite cafes, working out on a daily basis, meditating and meeting friends for coffee breaks.
Another, rather personal challenge I faced when building Naeo was staying patient and managing outside expectations with inside goals. It is easy to get distracted by watching others and compare yourself to others founding startups or starting their corporate career. This can really challenge your self-esteem and motivation at times, especially when results don’t come as quickly as you wish. Paired with outside pressure to show measurable results (even if implicit, through questions of „How is the startup doing“) this can really impact your motivation. Focusing on your strengths and vision and just keep going is therefore as important as not making any hard announcements on launches or events unless you can truly predict them. Things always change and not everything is in your control so look at what you can control which will help you to stay always accountable and not measure yourself against things outside your scope.
Can you tell us about any upcoming products or initiatives that Næo has in the works?
We have a lot planned in terms of the interaction between technology and improved nutrition as well as circular packaging – All coming to you very very soon, so stay tuned:)!
How does Næo approach sustainability and ethical sourcing in its ingredient and packaging choices?
Sustainability and ethical sourcing is a core value for us. We aim to become the most sustainable and ethical supplement brand to disrupt the plastic-heavy $230 billion supplement industry, which produces more than 1.8 billion plastic bottles (or secondary packaging incl. sachets & boxes) every year and kills about 24 million animals to make supplement ingredients (in the US alone).
All our ingredients are vegan and GMO-free and produced in the UK meaning a minimal impact to the environment in regards to Co2. Further, we are using sustainable packaging materials and a circular packaging scheme to enable customers to integrate sustainability practices into their routines just like they do with our supplements.
However, for us, sustainability also means creating an impact beyond our core customers with what we do. Hence, we also donate for every vitamin and complementary item sold and with our complementary offering of tools have a holistic approach to health & well-being other than brands that just provide the product.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting their own health and wellness business?
My biggest advice would be just go for it. You might not get the desired outcome initially, you might have to pivot or adapt, but you will learn so much along the way which is invaluable. Also stay patient: running a startup can at times feel like an endless marathon where results especially in the beginning can take time to materialise but it will always pay off one way or another. The health and wellness business is extremely popular and there is a lot of competition so one other advice would be to always challenge the status quo and never take a „no“ for an answer. Stay alert and ahead of the competition by just keeping an open mind and not being afraid to change, when needed.
How do you stay motivated and inspired on a daily basis, and what practices do you have in place to maintain a positive mindset?
I think one important way is to set yourself targets, which are realistically achievable as well as a long-term vision. By manifesting the long-term vision through short-term practical goals you can not only hold yourself accountable but achieve results faster, which motivates on the sometimes lonely road of building a startup. Accepting that you cannot control every aspect of the business and that this ok is another key way to keep a positive mindset (or rather avoid having a negative one). Accepting that things not always will go according to plan is part of the deal and once you give into that a lot of pressure will be taken off your shoulder. I further like to surround myself with people who inspire me on a daily basis and add value to my day. Times are limited and stressful so surround yourself with people that have that positive mindset that can be your cheerleaders on the journey. Lastly, I like to work out on a daily basis, which releases endorphins naturally and can have spillover effects on the work you do. Paired with treating yourself on coffee dates for successful work for me is a good balance to stay motivated and inspired.