After getting harassed by her female bosses, Hannah Carter pursued her passion for entrepreneurialism and launched vegan egg replacement company OGGS
Many female entrepreneurs have experienced sexism from male investors and co-workers. But for Hannah Carter, founder of OGGS, the plant-based food startup, it was her female colleagues and seniors which proved to be an obstacle in her career. “[My] own personal experience suggested that women tended to be more challenging to work with whilst men were hugely supportive,” she recalls. “The female bosses in question would make fun of my dyslexia, deliberately trying to make me look small in front of the rest of the team in our open plan office. Of course, now I can see that this was their own insecurities being played out but at the time it made me incredibly anxious and stressed.”
Being bullied at work made her realise that she wanted to become her own boss and set an example for her team. And this drove Carter to launch leadership consultancy Capital Shift in May 2015 which helps clients “maintain a calm mental state, despite their often exceptionally busy lives.”
Despite having a successful company, Carter wanted to start a food business. The reason for launching a plant-based startup was essentially because she found it difficult as a vegan to satisfy her craving for desserts. “I love cake but when I went turned vegan, I realised I couldn’t buy good vegan cake so started to bake my own muffins at home,” she recalls. She then realised that aquafaba – or chickpea water – was ideal to use as an egg replacement. However, finding the ingredient was far from easy at supermarkets. “I searched high and low and soon discovered that no one actually made ready to use aquafaba,” she adds. “I realised that there was a gap in the market in a world that was looking for animal substitutes.”
Given the UK vegan market is worth £443m and the number of plant-based consumers has spiked 33% in three years is testament that the sector is set to rise. “The UK is becoming one of the world’s fastest growing regions for adopting veganism as a lifestyle,” Carter affirms.
However, while she had a unique business idea, getting the product perfected needed work as it’s “highly complex and scientific.” “There were no experts we could call upon who had researched this topic,” she notes. “Through sheer hard work, trial and error, we have eventually gained considerable and invaluable knowledge on the effects of starch and proteins in chickpeas and water and their capacity to be valuable as an egg replacement.”
While Carter’s career background was in marketing, her experience with bullying at work and subsequent foray into entrepreneurship with Capital Shift helped her. “[It] put me in good stead to create a robust business plan and map out the market objectively for [OGGS],” she adds.
Upon getting the product right came the most important task which is to secure money. Looking at her passion and determination Carter was able to raise £325,000 from angel investors she knew personally within three months of launching. Her intention when she approached them was, however, something else. “I wanted to practice my pitch with them in the vain hope and unlikely event that they might refer me to [Dragons’ Den investor] Peter Jones,” she reveals. “Instead, they told me not to go elsewhere and gave me the money. This was a huge moment for us as it meant we could develop the products even further and secure deals with supermarkets.”
Carter then managed to secure partnerships worth £2m with supermarkets and her vegan cakes were shelved in 750 Sainsbury’s and 328 Waitrose stores across Blighty. She credits her ability to really understand what customers require as a big reason for seeing an upward curve. “I think a large part of our success with supermarkets comes down to being able to talk to customers about what they need, rather than pushing products,” she says.
Furthermore, she wanted to make an impact on the environment through OGGS. “By swapping animal protein in some foods for plant-based protein, we can make a difference without seemingly altering anything at all,” she states. “In a world where humans can be slow to adopt changes, even those which would ultimately benefit them in the future, this product has the capacity to fast track the change that’s required to modify how we eat. If everyone did a little, it would impact a lot. It’s up to food manufacturers like us to ensure this can happen.”
It’s easy to see Carter’s endeavour towards environmental improvement and passion to “change the world” as she doesn’t regard other plant-based startups as rivals but rather people working towards the same goal. “We embrace competition as it means someone else is talking about the same problem and looking for solutions,” she says. “Our main objective is the cause, not the profit.”
Additionally, apart from her attempt to play her part for the environment to reduce the excess carbon footprint, Carter aims to achieve her target of zero wastage during the manufacturing and supply process of her products. “This could potentially mean donating the chickpeas discarded during manufacture to animal sanctuaries,” she continues.
Looking forward, Carter is bullish about making OGGS a household brand and replacing eggs with vegan OGGS for families globally. She is also doing research about using aquafaba in non-food items such as toiletries and cosmetics.
Looking at her vision, we’re sure to say that OGGS is only to scale further. And with more celebrities like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Ellen DeGeneres switching to plant-based diets, it’s no secret that veganism is a great sector to venture into. Despite facing a plethora of challenges, Carter says it’s essential to have “less doubt in what you do.” “Don’t overthink the future, instead focus on what needs to be done today,” she concludes.