Q&A: Healthy formula more than “Oakay” for infants

This week we talk to Elke Pascoe, founder of LittleOak, who produce an all-natural, goats’ milk based infant formula. Elke, a mother herself, was inspired to act when experiencing first-hand the difficulties many parents face navigating confusing nutrition labels and translating ingredient names.

ISB: After being 20 years in the healthcare industry what motivated you to go out on your own with LittleOak?

EP: I had a long-held dream to never see a child go hungry and do what I could to help them to be happy and healthy. Every child deserves that in my opinion. After 20 years in healthcare I decided to combine my commercial experience with my passion for children and build LittleOak. I became interested in the nutritional benefits of goats’ milk after my son started to develop skin irritations from dairy products. It was through this research that I began to explore infant nutrition and, by extension, infant formula. Once I started to pull back the curtains on the ingredients that have long been used in formula, I felt that not only was there an opportunity but also a responsibility to do something better.

ISB: How did you manage to raise the capital required to get the business off the ground?

EP: In short, through hard work, sleepless nights and never accepting no as an answer. I invested the initial pre-seed capital myself –a big decision because it was the choice of buying a house for my children and me or backing myself in business. I decided I only had one chance and I truly believed in the potential of LittleOak, so I invested. I was fortunate enough to have a small network of friends who also saw the opportunity and supported our first official funding round. As a founder, it means so much to have people believe in you and back you.

ISB: Why did you choose goats’ milk for your products instead of the usual cows’ milk?

EP: My goal was to produce an all-natural infant formula as close to human breast milk as possible. I travelled for two years throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, speaking to paediatricians, midwives, nutritionists and goat farmers, to learn how to design most natural infant formula.

We landed on goat’s milk because of milks its composition is the closest to mother’s milk, so it goes through less processing and means each baby is getting more natural goodness. Goat’s milk is also lower in lactose, which is better for infants with food sensitivities and allergies.

ISB: And how receptive has the public been so far with regards to your goat’s milk products?

EP: I’ve been overwhelmed with the support. Mums and dads are looking forward to our launch in June because, at the end of the day, they are looking for the best products to nourish their child. LittleOak is a product they can trust and feel confident giving to their baby because we have carefully selected every ingredient. We have dedicated ourselves to creating a product where we start from a place of “best product” first, not price.

That’s why we cut palm oil entirely and are proud to be the first 100 per cent palm oil-free certified infant formula in the world. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in nearly every other infant formula but knowing its effects on infants – like inhibiting the absorption of calcium – it was a simple decision to find a better oil alternative.

ISB: Where do you see the business developing in the next couple of years?

EP: My dream is for LittleOak to give all parents the best nutrition for their bubs if they choose to nourish their children with formula or are unable to breastfeed. I dream of nourishing the next generation of scientists, athletes, mathematicians, space explorers and infant-formula business owners.

With two children myself, I really empathise with the challenge of finding the right formula, navigating a confusing retail landscape, and battling the uncertainty and fear that the store may be out. And it’s because of that, my primary focus is manufacturing product for families in Australia and New Zealand..

ISB: Finally, what is the #1 piece of advice you’d give to those who are thinking of setting up their own business?

EP: Be passionate. There will naturally be the naysayers but having that passion and confidence in what you are building, will give you the strength to remain resilient and push through even on the harder days. Also, build a team of people that are not only the best in your industry but who you also have fun with. It’s so important to share the journey with people who you enjoy being around and can learn from.

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