ICON recipient Holly Williamson’s STMNA Bioactives

Getting old is … well, inevitable. But what if it could be a little bit easier? Less ache-y and pain-y, with more mental focus and body mobility? Our latest ICON grant recipient is making news with her new business that brings the benefits of plant-based biochemistry to our personal longevity, which she refers to as ‘healthspan’.

We had a great chat with Holly Williamson, STMNA Bioactives founder, chemist, scientist, and the most qualified person to ask “what do I have to do in order to live longer and healthier?”

Holly Williamson, STMNA BioactivesTell me about your company and how it came to be.

STMNA Bioactives combines plant-based bioactive compounds with scientifically proven health benefits into a single daily dose. More excitingly, it is targeted to your specific health needs, and it’s delivered directly to your door in sustainable, reusable packaging. Sign up for a monthly subscription and never run out!

The most fulfilling part for me, as a scientist, is educating my customers on what they’re putting into their bodies and to remove some of the myths associated with the (sometimes dodgy) supplement industry.

I first had the idea of STMNA Bioactives in my last two years at Australian National University, where I majored in chemistry and molecular biology and graduated with first class honours. I am obsessed with how things work in your body and how molecules bind to specific receptors, causing a cascade of events on a molecular level. Then I learnt that most new medicines are discovered from the chemicals found in plants, which are then modified to improve their function.

So, I conducted some research on natural products in plants, and it turns out there are chemicals called ‘bioactive compounds’, which cause our cells to react or bind in different ways. Recent research has validated the health benefits of these plant bioactives that have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and herbal medicine. The scientific evidence now allows us to understand the therapeutic doses and the importance of improving bioavailability to get the most out of them and improve our healthspan.

My dad and I were talking one day about the need for a combination of multiple drugs into a single daily pill that improved common ailments that come with aging: pain and inflammation, increasing cholesterol and blood pressure, lack of energy, poor sleep quality, high stress / anxiety and weight gain. Why not give everyone a combination of low dose prescription medications that target those issues? Well, in came my biochemistry expertise – so, of course, not everyone can take myriad prescriptions each day, as many medications interact badly. But this got me thinking …

I realised we need better quality, natural, and non-prescription drug interventions, which is how STMNA Bioactives was born. I scientifically formulated the perfect combination of bioactive compounds to combats all these issues without the need for a ‘script, a visit to the GP or a handful of vitamins.

What Canberra Innovation Network programs / connections / mentorships / workshops helped you along the way?

I’m lucky to have close ties with CBRIN, as I recently was a recipient of the ICON Innovation grant. I was so excited, having been told the first time you apply, you usually don’t get in … but I did! I’ve met some super cool people, mentors and other startups through CBRIN who are at similar or varying stages as me – talking to them is always worth the time. and definitely inspirational.

What did you see as the need in the market?

There is a need to personalise health and wellness, and turn away from vitamins (my product comes in capsule form, but is NOT a vitamin). I believe if you have a healthy, balanced diet and don’t have any deficiencies, there’s no need to take daily vitamins. My product is different, and is designed to be taken every day to improve both short-term health and your healthspan, and reduce the risk of age-related concerns. There is also demand for a digital platform – with the pandemic, online shopping is the norm, so my website will be the main point of sale.

What drives you to make a difference?

I love being the medical detective for my family and friends – they come to me to diagnose their symptoms like an in-house WebMD. When I started my degree, most of my courses were based on medical sciences; I then applied for medicine but decided it wasn’t the right path for me. I’ve always been a driver for change and questioning the status quo, so once I found my path in business and in the natural plant bioactive world with a focus on holistic health, I began to feel right at home – it’s a place for ‘disrupters’ like me. I believe the medical industry has lost touch with treating the root cause of health issues, which I know my products are engineered to do (by nature!).

Do you have advice for newbies to innovation?

I’m so excited to be doing this, and of course every day is new and scary, as there’s so much to learn. But it’s all worth it when you surround yourself with the right people, tools and knowledge (there are programs at CBRIN as well as government funding available to women in STEM, amongst other things). If things don’t go quite to plan, learn, adapt and keep trying.

Tell me about Canberra as a city for entrepreneurs.

Anyone who’s lived in Canberra their whole life, like me, knows it’s a small but SMART city; this is advantageous for start-ups as connections are easy to make. And with the population density + multiple universities + the seat of government all squished into the ACT, you’re not many degrees of separation from someone who can help you with your idea. I’m proud to build my global business HQ right here.

What stage of the game are you at?

I’m at pre-launch phase – currently working with Therapeutic Goods Association-approved manufacturers to mix, encapsulate and package my product. The next step is a TGA license. I’m also working with developers to get my website up and running (in the meantime, find me on LinkedIn and follow the business on Insta!). All of my trials have been completed with extremely positive feedback and real results, so I’m ready to hit the ground running!

That’s fabulous, Holly. Imagine what we could all do with more healthy time, without unnecessary aches and pains. Keep up the good work, ICON 😉