Catharine Arnston, the founder of ENERGYbits, is full of-you guessed it-energy. But not because of caffeine, sugar, or the chemicals hidden in so much of our food these days.
No, when she set out to create an energy-boosting product, she knew it had to be “fast, simple and super easy,” it had to “give you all the greens, protein, vitamins and minerals you need each day,” it had to “recharge your immune system, remove toxins, supercharge your energy and give you back your health.”
What is this miracle ingredient, you ask? Algae!
Catharine was so dedicated to this discovery that she quit a 25-year career in the corporate world to get ENERGYbits-tiny algae tabs so nutritionally dense that they eliminate fatigue and hunger-into the hands of everyone from Olympic athletes to everyday outdoor enthusiasts. Now she’s a finalist in the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition’s Pitchfest, and the latest interviewee in our #WomenofPitchfest series. And, as you’ll see, Catharine’s energy comes through even in an interview. We can’t wait to see her take the stage at Pitchfest.
What inspired you to found Energybits?
I started ENERGYbits seven years ago after my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and was advised by her oncologist to change her diet to an alkaline, plant-based diet since it would help her heal. I helped her figure out what foods she should eat and in the process, learned about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I thought others would want to know about it too so I gave up my 25-year corporate career to return to school to study nutrition. After graduating, I gave free nutrition workshops at companies, encouraging their employees to eat more greens, but discovered most didn’t like greens!
I realized that if I was going to make a difference in people’s health, I needed to find something that gave them the nutrition of greens but didn’t taste green. My research led me to algae which is endorsed by NASA and the United Nations as the most nutritionally dense food in the world, and is green! I just needed to find a way to make algae easy to take and easy to understand because everyone thought it was pond scum. In fact, algae is a nutritional superstar and a multibillion dollar industry in Asia where it has been used for fifty years. So, I put my creative hat on and gave algae a makeover! The first thing I did was brand my algae with names like ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits to make them easy to understand. Our spirulina algae is called ENERGYbits because spirulina gives you mental and physical energy. Our chlorella algae is called RECOVERYbits because chlorella algae helps you and your muscles recover from anything, including sports. Next, I figured out that if you swallow our tabs, you don’t taste anything green but you get all the benefits of green! Mission accomplished!
Since then, thousands of runners and endurance athletes have contacted us to thank us for our algae because it gives them energy, doesn’t upset their stomach and doesn’t contain chemicals, caffeine or sugar. We’re the first to provide algae as a sports nutrition product and word about us is quickly spreading to Olympic athletes, professional athletes and now outdoor enthusiasts. We are proud to be the first to introduce algae to the outdoor sports community and to provide them with a convenient, sports nutrition product that improves their performance and health while also supporting the health of the earth since algae is an eco-friendly, sustainable crop. Building ENERGYbits has been an unbelievable journey and the best is yet to come!
What has your experience been like, so far, as a female entrepreneur in the outdoor industry?
It’s always a challenge to be a female Founder/CEO and I wasn’t expecting the outdoor industry to be any different. My entire 25 year career has been spent in industries led by men and even startup-competitions are usually run by men. Case in point, ENERGYbits was recently selected as one of the Top 50 Most Innovative Global Sports Startups in a Competition for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Last month ten companies were selected as finalists and invited to pitch to pitch to a panel of judges in Denver (at Bronco Stadium!). I was the only female founder out of the ten finalists selected. But this is typical. I usually just keep my head down, work harder than anyone else, provide the best product I can and show as much care and compassion as I can to my team and customers. Ultimately that’s all what matters. My experience with Pitchfest and with the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition has been a breath of fresh air and I have to admit that I have never felt so supported and guided as I have since being selected as a Finalist. They have been so helpful and if everyone in the outdoor industries is like this, all I can say is wow! I have finally found where I belong!
Why did you decide now was the moment to apply for Pitchfest? What are you hoping you and Energybits will gain from the Pitchfest experience?
It has taken me seven years to get our company to the point where I felt we were ready to grow rapidly and compete with the big brands in the retail channel. So when I found out about Pitchfest, I thought it might give me the chance to get a toe hold in the outdoor community and see if we belonged there. I grew up in Canada and was eager to find out if our products would be embraced by outdoor enthusiasts and outdoor retailers. I was also really excited about the opportunity to enter a startup competition that was run by women and was for women. This was a first time I had ever seen this and I welcomed the chance to be mentored by professionals who were women. It was very compelling!
And what has the mentorship side of Pitchfest been like, for you?
All I can say is wow. I never expected such incredible support as I have had with my experience with OIWC and Pitchfest. Erin Lucas overseas Pitchfest and she has been a fantastic leader and kept all of us on schedule, sending us updates and deadlines every week. I was assigned a mentor who has been outstanding in her help, providing insights on my financial model so it could be easier to understand and I have had the opportunity to practice our pitch multiple times and gained valuable feedback and advice every time. The program has been outstanding and quite possibly the best experience I have had in my entire career. Thank you OIWC and Ptichfest!
What are your goals for Energybits in the next year or two?
Our goal for the next two years is to grow the number of outdoor retail stores, sporting goods, running and cycling stores who sell single servings of ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits. Until recently we only sold our algae online from www.energybits.com. Our presence in the retail channel is only a few months old which is why we are exhibiting for the very first time at this year’s Outdoor Retail Show (Booth PV1014). Athletes and sports enthusiasts are the ones who love our products the most so we want to make it easier for them to find us and buy us!
What’s the best adventure you’ve been on recently?
Quite honestly, the best adventure I have been on is building my company. Everyone thought I was crazy After all, who tries to build a company and create an industry all at the same time and all by themselves! But it’s finally falling into place and it turns out that I wasn’t so crazy after all. Plant-based nutrition is the fastest growing segment of the food industry and in a few years, plant-based protein (like algae) is expected to represent 30% of the entire protein market globally (it’s virtually zero now) so the future looks exciting! Other than building my company, the best adventure I have recently had was climbing in the mountains with my two sisters just outside of Palm Springs. The raw beauty of the landscape was breathtaking and so different from any hiking that I had ever done before.
What is your spirit biome?
My spirit biome is definitely any kind of forest. I love the earthy smell that you can only find in a forest and the tranquility is both calming and grounding. Put me in the forest any day and I am at home.
In a sentence, what’s your perfect day outdoors?
My perfect day outdoors would include a hike in a forest followed by a healthy lunch outdoors, some yoga and maybe a walk on the beach at night. I could sure use a day like that now! Can’t wait 🙂
This interview is part of our Women of Pitchfest series! Learn more about OIWC’s Pitchfest here.