Helene Guillaume was in town today to speak to students at the International University of Monaco. Based in Portugal and working between the UK and US, the 36-year-old entrepreneur grew up Belgium, Hong Kong, Japan and Peru, although her family settled in Monaco a decade ago.
A competitive rugby player who went on to compete in 100-km ultra runs, Half Ironmans, ice swimming and surfing, Helene had little understanding about her own physiology. “I was training and eating like a man,” she recalls. “I wanted to transform an industry through sports performance and female health.”
The “outdoor addict” combined a passion for sport with her Master’s in Finance and Financial Risk Management, as well as her scientific background as a management consultant optimising internal risk models using AI to Fortune 500 companies (including Fannie Mae) to found WILD.AI in 2017 in San Francisco. The app has a free and paid version available on Apple and Google Play.
Although women make up nearly half of the population, a 2018 paper on “Sex Bias in Neuroscience and Biomedical Research” showed that 80% of the animals used in research are male. “These findings cannot be applied to women who are impacted daily by the 500 menstrual cycles they’ll experience over 40 years,” explains the first-time mom. “More so, a 22-year-old taking the pill has different nutritional needs, physiology and digestion than a 47-year-old perimenopausal woman.”
Using the catchphrase “Unleashing the beast in female athletes,” Helene and her 10 employees want to radically advance female health by building the largest record of female datasets— across all ages, life stages and ethnicities—to help women understand their bodies. “Based on fitness trackers, blood tests and pap smears, women have vast amounts of data but it’s not stored in one place. We understand our cars more than our own bodies.”
Through WILD.AI’s research and algorithms, the app can not only predict that in two days a woman will experience bloating or menstrual pain, but also advise how to alleviate these symptoms. It can indicate that during ovulation, when the body is particularly strong, workouts can be pushed, and even be able to foretell a window of a higher sex drive.
According to Statista, the femtech market in 2021 was worth some $51 billion worldwide and is expected to reach $103 billion by 2030. Helene, a former Hedge Fund quant, says angel investors and advisors have been critical to the startup’s growth, enabling WILD.AI to reach some of the most renowned researchers in female health, such as Dr. Stacy Sims, senescence, and human performance.
Funding early on came from the London-based deep tech incubator Entrepreneur First (which includes board member and Linkedin cofounder, Reid Hoffman, and is backed by Greylock Partners, Founders Fund and McKinsey), as well as The Refiners in San Francisco, started by three French entrepreneurs, including Géraldine Le Meur (LeWeb).
In August 2021, Helene appeared on Dragon’s Den to pitch her startup (WATCH Videobelow) and today WILD.AI has partnerships with Adidas, Garmin and Oura, which she has worked non-stop to develop. “Running a startup is like getting fired a few times a day,” she shares enthusiastically. “Between investors who pull out or strategic partners who don’t come on board … and being a founder is way less sexy than it sounds.”
Last Tuesday in the port of Nice, Fred Ghintran and his son were having an after-school snack near the plage de la Païole, between the war memorial and the dyke. Fred, an Ironman with swimming pool rescue training, was shocked when he spotted a man jump in the water. The sea swell was around a meter and rising, smashing into the rocks of Rauba Capeu. The 30-year-old swimmer was tossed around and soon lost consciousness, floating about ten meters from the rocks.
Fred, 43, knew the man was going to die if nothing was done. He called the firefighters and dove into the water, pulling the man away from the seawall about 40 meters. It was a close call. As he told Nice-Matin, he had calculated he could hang on for about five minutes before a rescue team arrived. Sure enough, the Commandant-Croizé soon arrived with four pompiers on board and the two swimmers were pulled out of the 14°C water. The firefighters managed to resuscitate the victim, who remained in critical condition at Pasteur 2 hospital.
“I tried to save him. I did what I could. We are lucky to have great firefighters who do an admirable job every day. They too put themselves in danger,” Fred said humbly but he warned: “You should not approach the edge when there is a wind like that, at the risk of being swept away by a wave.”
Fred and the firefighters had to risk their lives because of one man’s lack of judgement. It is not about getting in the water, but being able to get out. (By the way, Fred owns Le Felix restaurant in Nice. Go there – have a coffee, order a meal, anything to support this hero.)
Before you chime in, “That’s why I don’t swim in the sea”, remember that the conditions over the past week have been exceptionally dangerous, a combination of large swells and strong winds. One way to stay safe in the water is swimming with a group.
This is where Matteo Testa comes in. He launched SWIMRUN Monaco in December last year. “I was solicited by the newly founded Federation de Triathlon Monegasque, and with a small group of passionate people residing in Monaco, we decided to create the sport association.”
Matteo says the aim is to grow the local community, attract passionate and professional athletes from abroad and offer new sport experiences to people. “Through our SWIMRUN Monaco network, we approach swimrun paying attention to both water safety and developing the sport for the younger generation, as well as having a sustainable philosophy for all our activities.”
Matteo hails from Finale Ligure, in Liguria, about 100 km east of Monaco. “Finale Ligure is known as the ‘Mecca’ of outdoor activities – mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, trail running, surfing – with an incredible and unique playground. On my free time I was a mountain bike and outdoor guide there, but then I decided to move to Monaco and focus on family and my primary job.”
Sports have always played a role in Matteo’s life. At the age of 8, he was competing in swimming and alpine skiing. He started motocross at 13 and did his first triathlon at 19. “I have continued consistently with running, swimming, triathlon, mountain bike competitions, windsurfing, kitesurfing and exploring new places and new disciplines.”
Then he discovered swimrun, where you alternate between running and open water swimming over multiple stages outdoors without changing your clothes (so yes, you swim in your running shoes and run in a wetsuit). The sport ÖTILLÖ swimrun was founded in the Stockholm Archipelago in 2006 by Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott, who both stepped down from the organization in February 2023.
“I actually did my first swimrun race in Italy, near where I was born, and it was a solo competition and we were 40 participants at the start. Despite losing one of my paddles at the first swim and taking the wrong route three quarters into the race, I still won. I could not believe it. Since that race I continued training in swimming, running and swimrunning, which I do between three to four times a week.”
Matteo was so passionate about the sport he organised two editions of EPICBLUE Swimrun Finale Ligure in 2019 and 2020 and designed a series for Turkey and Indonesia, which unfortunately did not happen due to Covid. In April 2021, he ran a successful 3-day swimrun camp in Roquebrune-Cap Martin. “We offered a training program dedicated to swimming and running, with a swimrun outing each day on the most beautiful courses of our region – Cap Martin, Cap Ferrat and the Italian boarder. Nicolas Rimeres provided professional coaching and after-session analysis and there was yoga-relaxation around the resort pool.” The camp (photo above) was a hit. 25 participants from France, Switzerland and Sweden came together with a medium-to-good level in both swim and run disciplines. Expect more local camps and in Sardinia (dates to be determined). “Beginners are always also welcome in our future camps.”
And he means it. Matteo may be a high-performance endurance athlete, but he embraces sportsmanship, waiting for and encouraging others or slowing his pace to not leave anyone behind. Everyone knows him. “It is true, I know nearly everyone in the world of swimrun and especially in the endurance sport network, local and international. And this what it drives my enthusiasm. I love to connect to people and to share experiences with them.
“We recently heard news about changes to ÖTILLO management and there are new expectations within the community about how this brand will evolve and what changes this will bring to the discipline. I see swimrun growing in our area and strongly believe there will be a huge development in 2024/2025. Covid slowed down the forecasted exponential growth of this sport, but swimrun continues to make progress in France and the rest of the world, even if it still struggles to get established in Italy … but that will come.” (By the way, France is the first and only country to have an official Swimrun national team.)
Matteo, who is founder and manager of H20 Maritime, an independent consultancy firm in yachting, is focusing his energies and resources into a new platform dedicated to sport exploration and travel experiential, which will hopefully launch a new swimrun race and concept in Monaco. “Along with my team, we have conceptualised an eco-conscious MÖNACÖ SWIMRUN event that will explore zero-waste solutions. The Prince Albert II Foundation enthusiastically approved our idea and accepted to integrate our event into Monaco Ocean Week, the country’s leading event in spreading clean ocean awareness.” The project is currently pending approval from the government for 2024.
The MÖNACÖ SWIMRUN (Ö means Island in Swedish) event during Ocean Week is not to be confused with SWIMRUN Monaco, the new association that acts as a sports club building membership, organising regular training and swimrun outings in Monaco and neighbouring France and Italy. “We aim to bring the sport to a different level here in Monaco, where our community is predominately made up of CEOs, doctors and other professional individuals with a passion for adventure multisport in this area,” says Matteo.
They are off to a strong start with 15 founding members. “Our regular outings are set to begin this spring starting with a special experience in partnership with Waouh le Sud for France 3 TV Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. This media coverage opportunity takes place between March 20th-23rd, for anyone who would like to sponsor this initiative.”
SWIMRUN Monaco’s official website will go live later this year but you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram. “For fun” outings will start beginning of April. “Anyone can join. Beginners, those curious and new explorers are more than welcome,” says Matteo, who turns 49 this Sunday March 19th.
He adds, “I train everywhere I go, whether I travel for work or pleasure, to discover new coastlines and lakes. Undoubtedly my favourite playground is Monaco-Roquebrune-Cap Martin and Beaulieu-Cap Ferrat. I see swimrun growing in our area. We invite new people to join and experience the sport with us.”
The next SWIMRUN Monaco event is the convivial “OFF” Swimrun Finale Ligure on Sunday, March 26, with two distances Long (23.3k) and Short 13.3k. For more contact Matteo Testa: firstname.lastname@example.org or to become a member of SWIMRUN Monaco sign up here.