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‘We need to treat ourselves as equals’ - Shimrit Lev [Interview]

Article-‘We need to treat ourselves as equals’ - Shimrit Lev [Interview]

© Fi Global Insights Women in Food Interview with Shimrit Lev
Shimrit Lev is co-founder and COO of Sweet Victory, an Israeli company that aims to help people beat their sugar cravings with its chewing gum, which contains a natural botanical extract that prevents the tongue from tasting sweetness.

Lev studied nutrition and traditional Chinese medicine at Reidman College in Israel and, with her long-standing business partner of many years, Gitit Lahav, she co-founded two healthy living and weight loss startups, before establishing Sweet Victory.

Sweet Victory's taste-modulating gum was recently selected as the most innovative finished nutraceutical product by the panel of judges in the 2023 Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge.

How did you get the idea for Sweet Victory?

“My partner and I, Gitit Lahav, have both been entrepreneurs in the past decade in the field of nutrition, health, and wellness. We established Sweet Victory two years ago as a continuation of our previous activities because we were helping people to maintain a healthy lifestyle through our previous company.

“We wanted to find a solution for people struggling with sweets. In our personal backgrounds, we both suffered from health challenges. I, as a young teenager, suffered from an eating disorder and my partner had cancer. When she found out, it was stage four. We were both struggling with sweets because of those issues and we decided, very early on in our career, to dedicate our life to helping people to reduce their sugar intake because we struggled with that.

“We searched for what we could do to create a 'magic' tool. The product is chewing gum that blocks the receptors for sugar, which means that it blocks the [sweet] taste, breaks the craving, and prevents the reward that we feel from the brain after eating sugary food. The active ingredient comes from a very known plant in Ayurvedic medicine called gymnema sylvestre. But even though our gum works like magic, it's only a tool to help maintain a healthier lifestyle. You need willpower and the gum!”

Prior to founding Sweet Victory and the other wellness startups, was your background in business or nutrition?

"I [studied] Chinese medicine and my partner Gitit studied psychology, so we both combined our knowledge in herbal plants with behavioural [science] and we came up with this proposition. We learnt how to deal with the business part of the business through time. Now we are dealing with everything.”

In your opinion, how inclusive is the food and nutrition industry?

“We are in the food tech industry and most of the companies and founders that we know are mixed women and men. I don't see any difference; I think it's the same for men and women. I have seen men [founders] pitching their startups for the menopause. It's surprising but the industry belongs to everyone in this century.”

Are there still some challenges that need to be overcome to achieve gender parity?

"Yes, but in the business part, not in the pharmaceutical part. There are fewer women founders than men in the business world, and women need to be more serious in order to be taken seriously. Men can do lots of things and everyone will take them seriously but as businesswomen, we mostly find ourselves as the only women in the room. And we need to overcome a few stages before changing that. We need more women founders.”

Do you find it useful to have women-only mentor groups and support networks in the corporate world?

“In the foodtech industry in Israel, there is a place for everyone. It's very alive and we love this sector. We've had support from everyone and it's an amazing opportunity to be part of this.

“We are in groups of mentors but they are mixed. If these [groups] are just for women, it emphasises that there is a problem, and I don't know if this is the way to overcome the problem. I think, from the beginning, we need to treat ourselves as equals, maybe that would be [the solution].”

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

“I wish I had believed in myself more from the beginning. I have had [imposter syndrome]. We raised money a year and a half ago and when we received the money - $1.5 million from our partner, CPT Capital - it was so exciting for us, but I remember that I just froze for a moment, thinking, 'Really? They believe in me and my product? No way!'. It was unbelievable.

“But my advice is: just do it. Don't overthink it. If you have a vision or a solution that you can give to the world, if you want to leave the world with your footprint and make it healthier, just do it.”