Meet Nourish’s Super Scientist, Super Mum, and All Round Super Hero.
Anna El Tahchy is Chief Technology Officer at Nourish Ingredients, one of the world’s most exciting foodtech companies — and creators of animal-free fats that transform the taste of plant based food.
With over 15 years in lipid science, Anna is a leader in a male-dominated field — she steers Nourish’s R&D efforts and team of scientists, gracefully juggling her responsibilities with raising two young children. Anna is a fierce advocate for women in science, and over half of her diverse team are female.
We sat with Anna to hear about the highs and lows of her career journey, and her advice for women looking to start a career in science, food tech and sustainability.
What’s the one piece of wisdom you wish someone had told you when you started your career?
Learn how to say no, and to only focus on doing things that achieve impact.
Have there been females in your life who have inspired your career?
I was raised by very strong women who were teachers in Science, Math and English. I was always encouraged as a child to be curious and ambitious. I remember digging in soil to look for spiders, freezing frogs to dissect them. And if I or one of my siblings asked a question, we would be encouraged to find the answers by reading. In particular, it was my late aunt who piqued and nurtured my curiosity and gave me the encouragement to pursue a science career and try to change the world.
I’ve also had strong professional mentors over the last 10 years — world class scientists such as Dr. Colleen MacMillan. Colleen is an inspiring woman, a Senior Research Scientist, and the Executive Lead for Diversity at CSIRO. Colleen has given me a great deal of support — when I was a young postdoc who needed direction, she have me advice and inspiration, as well as throughout my research career. The step I made to move from a research organisation to join a startup — Nourish Ingredients — was a really difficult one and she was the person who was always there for me.
Have you faced any barriers as a female leader? How have you overcome these barriers and have you any advice you can share?
Yes, I’ve joined organizations in the past to discover that they are very male-dominated and where I’ve thought “Wow, I’m the only woman.” And certainly, being a ‘woman in science’ can mean fighting to be seen for my skills, regardless of my gender.
My advice is to try to find a great female mentor who can help to guide you, inspire you, and be a sounding board when you need it.
Build your network to make an impact on food and agriculture both locally and globally.
Be true to your ethics and beliefs. They are really important in this space!
And if you want to be in a startup in this space, it’s not like a research organisation — there’s a lot of challenges everyday and you often have to roll your sleeves up and work at all levels. The kind of people who flourish are people who can expand and adjust their skills, and are able to work with people from all different backgrounds.
Anything else we should know about you?
Well, it’s International Women’s Day today, and the story of how I came to join Nourish is worth telling —like many women in the world who have demanding careers, there’s a lot of plates spinning behind the scenes as I juggle work with our family life!
My daughter Luna is allergic to dairy and she has endured regular trips to Emergency because of her dairy allergy. For the first two years of her life, I spent several hours a day pumping and delivering my breastmilk in a portable cooler to her daycare so she could drink it during the day while I was at my work at CSIRO.
It was on one of those mornings that I ran into soon-to-be-Nourish-CEO James Petrie and, after learning of Luna’s troubles with dairy fats, he proposed a project — to develop “alternative lipids for dairy” so Luna could have another option. Working with Nourish Co-founder Ben Leita, within one month, not only did we have proof of concept, but we had filed our first patent for our animal-free fats and launched the company that eventually came to be known as Nourish Ingredients.
It was soon after that our company evolved our focus to using our scientific technologies and process of precision fermentation to create animal-free fats. And now we help the plant-based industry solve their most fundamental challenge — taste.