Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill: athlete turned women’s health ambassador
As one of Britain’s most successful athletes, Jessica Ennis-Hill is best remembered for her iconic performance and gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic games.
“I had the most amazing career as a heptathlete – winning Olympic Gold in 2012, Olympic Silver in 2016, and winning three World Championship Gold medals in 2009, 2011, and 2015,” she said. “I was the unofficial face of the home Olympics in 2012 and, despite the immense pressure of seeing myself on ads and posters everywhere, I went on to win in front of a crowd of 80,000 cheering faces – it was truly incredible.”
It was in front of her home crowd that Jessica took her iconic gold medal with a new personal best score of 6,955 points and made history.
In 2017, Jessica was awarded a Damehood by HRH Queen Elizabeth II for services to sport, which she describes as “a huge honour”.
It was during her career in athletics and, particularly post pregnancy, that Jessica became keenly aware of the power of her hormones to affect her performance, recovery, moods, and motivation.
After she retired, she started digging deeper into the hormone knowledge that could make a massive difference to a woman’s health, performance, moods, resilience, and more.
“I learnt so much as an athlete and I am taking many of the learnings into my femtech business,” she said.
Rather than keeping it in elite circles, Jessica launched Jennis to make hormone health and optimisation easy to access and even easier to apply.
Jennis is a women’s hormonal health platform. The app gives millions of women the hormone intelligence and tools to improve their health and body literacy at every lifestage.
Jennis CycleMapping was Jessica’s first hormonal health launch and is a programme that helps women map fitness sessions, food, and lifestyle tips to the four phases of the menstrual cycle.
The Perimenopause programme is a brand-new launch and is designed to be a one-stop-shop during the hormone changes of perimenopause.
Jessica’s mission is to close the gender gap, tackle taboos, and to help women live happier and healthier by providing expert lifestyle interventions (exercise, nutrition, de-stress techniques) that are proven to reduce symptoms and get results.
"I launched Jennis to show that by talking openly and moving differently we can regain power over our bodies, symptoms, and hormonal health," she said.
Jessica always knew that when the time came to retire from sport, she wanted to leave a legacy built on her learnings as an althete.
“So, setting up a business to achieve this was a natural thing to do,” she commented. “I set the business up with my long-term manager with the objective of educating women on how to achieve their full potential in terms of performance and health.
“It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. We have had some amazing success to celebrate but, with only 3% of VC funds going to female founders, the fundraising journey has been very tough.”
Jessica notes that she was really lucky to have a fantastic support team as an athlete – coach, doctor, nutritionist, physiologist, physiotherapist, etc. and when she had her first child and wanted to come back as an athlete, she had all of the best advice readily at hand. This allowed her to go on and win another World Championship a year later and then go on to win a silver medal at the Rio Olympics.
“I know that not every woman has this kind of science and support and the idea behind Jennis was formed from my desire to bring greater access to expert advice and support to all women,” she said.
From athlete to founder
“My success as an athlete has given me an incredible platform to work from and I have, over the years, gained a lot of public support – particularly in Britain,” she notes. “I never take this goodwill for granted but know it has been a real benefit from a business relationships and publicity point of view.”
Athletes are very focused and organised and work very much as part of a wider team and these are all attributes that Jessica applies to her business life. She has a fantastic team of people working on the app and some of the best scientists and experts supporting her work.
Getting positive feedback from subscribers has been a real highlight for Jessica: “There is nothing better than feeling you can help improve the quality of life for other women.”
But she notes that, without a doubt, the biggest challenge has been the rapid learning curve she has experienced in the tech industry and also the difficult fundraising landscape that she has encountered.
Not only that but: “As much as I have a co-founder and an extended team at Jennis, it is very much my name that is synonymous with Jennis and this comes with personal pressure.”
On your marks, get set, go!
In June 2023, Jennis extended its services to support women in perimenopause through a new in-app programme. The new Perimenopause offering is designed to help users better understand and manage their symptoms during this life stage, which can last up to 10 years.
“[The new] Perimenopause product will really help women facing the challenges of changing hormones,” Jessica notes. “[We] are in exciting talks with sports governing bodies about working with elite athletes who are lacking education when it comes to their hormones and how they impact their performance.”
The inclusion of the Perimenopause feature in Jennis reflects a growing recognition of the importance of addressing women's health concerns across female specific life stages. By providing tools and resources that are tailored to women's unique health needs, Jennis is helping to empower women to take control of their health and wellbeing and perform at their best.
“By opening up the conversation and making it easier for women to understand their cycles, my team and I want to help women all over the world feel better, train better, and understand their bodies better.
“That’s a legacy I will be really proud of,” said summaries.
This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe