When I first was introduced to Leila, she was described to me as ‘a crazy lady’. But, after learning about how Leila was making milk outside the body here in Durham, NC, I only saw her as ‘visionary,’ not crazy. As a sucker for all things exciting, I could not wait to learn more about her work and see if maybe there was a place for me to get involved. Spoiler alert: there was plenty.
When I met Leila, she was bravely pushing through the chaos that came with trying to make her dream of nurturing milk-producing cells beyond the breast a reality. She was balancing a scientific communications career, young family, and small farm, while pursuing a dream that could not be accomplished alone. It was then, another one of my personal drivers kicked in: being conscientious of what others need and wanting to find a way to help someone, however I can.
I didn’t know what supporting Leila meant exactly, but I knew that I wanted to help another driven woman bring life-changing technology to the world and we could figure out the rest.
So, to the confusion of family and friends, I jumped in with both feet, while maintaining my status as a full-time grad student. Michelle and Leila, nearly a year after opening BIOMILQ’s doors
We met in coffee shops, coffee for her and tea for me, and co-working spaces for months — basically anywhere that was of little to no cost. We discussed our ‘whys’ and frequently would end up in tears — moved by the potential of what we were striving towards. We finished last minute pitch decks and applications with fervor, unsure of the outcomes, but always ready to resiliently bounce back and learn in public along the way. And above all, we dreamt of a world where women didn’t have to sacrifice so much of themselves for their children. In these early meetings, it quickly became clear that we were a match made in heaven, and we were determined to make our world a reality. Michelle and Leila on a beach near San Francisco
We took a hairbrained trip to San Francisco, which happened to overlap with the JPM Healthcare conference (which, for the record, I’m 90% positive is an opportunity for pharma dudes to boost each other’s egos). It was here that our partnership really bloomed. We snuck into networking events to eat fancy cheese (of which we both adore), we adventured like tourists, and slowly began learning one another’s quirks.
Finding a co-founder is not too dissimilar from dating.
First, you begin to love things about the other person. Then, you find things that bug you about this monster you have decided to commit your working life to. And finally, when it works, you build a relationship on a foundation of mutual respect and authenticity, that underpins the good and the bad days — of which we both have had many in the last year.
By helping Leila, an overwhelmed mom trying to navigate a new world of starting a company, we established a precedent for how we wanted BIOMILQ to exist. Yes, we’re pioneering next-generation lactation science. But, more than that, we’re offering support for new parents by empowering them with greater choice when it comes to infant feeding and therefore parenting.
We are not a ‘big infant formula’ company looking to pillage and plunder in marketplaces to become the only option parents can turn to — we want to be there for parents whether they select our products or not.
There is no way to overstate how mission-driven we are, as individuals, as a team, and as a company without sounding cheesy. Our mission and values drive every decision we make; sometimes to a fault. Our view of the future has remained unwavering from the first day we met — to ethically and sustainably bring human milk to parents who deserve better options to feed their children. To advance lactation science and begin to unwind the effects of animal agriculture on our world. To fundamentally shift the ways we unlock human potential through nutrition.
left to right: Alex, Leila, Michelle, Holland, Victoria; not pictured: Charlotte, Michael, Malika, Claire, Ishi
And so, putting our values to paper was, well, easier than almost anything else we did! And once we had our values down, we built an enviable team here in North Carolina, where just 1 short year later each person embodies our values in everything they do. Whether they’re studying cells, reading for our team book club, or learning from moms (virtually, of course), I am honored to serve every day as CEO of BIOMILQ. I love to be able to not only talk the talk, but walk our walk, as a team.
I hope by sharing our values, and my thoughts on how we came to show up each and every day as BIOMILQ , you can feel our intentions and care for the world. This work is all consuming, exhausting, exhilarating, and empowering. We hope you’ll support us on this journey and jump in with both feet too.