Venture Foundry: meeting with Tana Hoffman, entrepreneur in residence

Earlier this month, we caught up with VF’s Venture Foundry Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR), Jean Pierre (JP) Aramouni (link). Today we share insights from Tana Hoffman, founder and CEO of ILLA, and another of the foundry’s EIRs.

Find out what Tana had to say about women in the outdoors and how her new project, ILLA, is coming to fruition.

Q: What is ILLA?

A: ILLA is a collective for women in adventure sports, inspired by my own experiences as a participant and mentor. I have worked in the outdoor industry for my entire career and have always been frustrated with the lack of support and resources specific to women. Outdoor adventures often involve a certain level of risk, and because of this risk, it is not recommended to do these activities alone. I always wanted to date other women, but there was no easy way to find women like me. ILLA will be that space – a community built on collective trust and support where women can foster lasting friendships, elevate their outdoor experiences, and connect with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts across the country.

Q: What life experiences led you to create a brand for women and outdoor adventure?

A: I have worked in the outdoor industry for over 20 years, including roles in retail, marketing, outdoor coaching and beyond. Throughout this trip, I was often the only woman in the room. As more and more women came forward and became more supported in the outdoor industry, I took on the role of mentor to these women and helped them grow. When I think about what inspired ILLA, I’ve really spent my entire career researching this project, engaging and learning from the women who make up our customer base.

Q: What is your biggest goal for ILLA?

A: My super power has always been to be a “super connector”. I’m still the go-to for gear or event recommendations and I’m still in touch with people in my network. My goal is to scale this superpower to create a product that is accessible to the largest community of women in adventure sports and provide that level of customization. Instead of consumers having to do all the research themselves, I want to create a community that connects women to the right people, the right experiences, and the right opportunities at the right time to help them achieve their adventurous goals.

Q: What attracted you to the EIR program with Venture Foundry? What is your goal with Venture Foundry?

A: VF is at the heart of the outdoor industry and in looking for a partner to help me build this vision, I needed someone who truly understood the need of this community. I have worked with VF brands and athletes throughout my career and it was refreshing to see so many women on the VF Foundry team. As an EIR, I can open this community to more women, faster than I could on my own. I can tap into the huge base of VF customers who are passionate about the adventure lifestyle and make it accessible to more women.

Q: What challenges have you encountered as a woman trying to create this network and this collective and why does the Foundry feel like the right place to overcome?

A: When I started my e-commerce website, Mountainist.com, people asked me if there were even enough women interested in motorsports to make this business viable. But, in fact, when the pandemic hit, our sales skyrocketed! The entire industry has seen an explosion in female participation.

Typically, 2% of venture capital funds go to women, and often women pitch ideas to rooms that don’t have many or even any women in the room. Within the adventure community, this creates a challenge as you try to engage and show your passion with others who may not fully understand your personal experience, making it more difficult to opening the door to financing. The biggest challenge has really been explaining that not only is this a real customer opportunity, but a real problem that we’re solving for a lot of passionate women.

Working with VF has been a dream come true as in some of my previous roles I have had the good fortune to work with several female VF athletes including Angel Collinson and Hana Beaman. I have seen firsthand the work that VF has engaged in in terms of sponsoring these female athletes and their outdoor passions. It’s a great testament to the company’s commitment. Building this community and working with the people who are truly my people, makes this opportunity synergistic.

Q: What have been the main benefits of working with Venture Foundry?

A: I try to take advantage of as many research opportunities as possible.

I wouldn’t have been able to do that amount of research on my own. I reached out to my network and carried out small-scale surveys, but this is the first time I have had access to such a breadth of research. Even when I think I know the answer, I usually discover something new or discover an angle I hadn’t considered before.

Another great resource is access to the VF team. I’m paired with a Venture Catalyst; she is a mentor, a partner, a devil’s advocate and a sounding board. There is also a wider network of Venture Catalysts and other EIRs, which serve as an informal advisory board with different perspectives and backgrounds. Every question comes up with so many different answers and points of view, which I would never have access to without this network of people.

About Ethel Partin

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