Our Founder

LOONAWELL Founder and CEO Maria de Bettencourt Tavares

LOONAWELL brings together all the knowledge and expertise that I have collected throughout the years; in the fields of Cancer Research, Biomedical Sciences, Nutrition and Business Strategy. It wraps it all up and puts it at the service of our dogs, our loving furry family members.

Who am I?

I would like to share my story with you, my profile and the reason for the creation of LOONAWELL. Who knows, maybe you will find that it resonates with you too!

Growing up in Estoril, Portugal, by the vast Atlantic ocean, has taught me one very important lesson: to put things into perspective. Even today I always try to understand any aspect of life, by placing it into a wider context and exploring its connection to other aspects.


Finding my Purpose.

At University in Lisbon, I studied Biology, a degree that teaches how our bodies work, the organisation and capabilities of different plant, animal and human species on earth, about bacteria, virus and the relationships between them all. 

While studying, I volunteered at a Cancer Hospital, helping the elderly and children, providing company while they were receiving treatment. Here I learned about being genuine, about the importance of caring for others. I was also witness to how violent and devastating Cancer can be. I wanted to know more about it. I wanted to learn and help develop therapies to treat it, and so I did. 

LOONAWELL Founder Maria de Bettencourt Tavares attended Dana Farber Cancer Institute - Harvard Medical School
I enrolled to get a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at Lisbon Medical School and was offered a position at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, to develop my thesis.
I moved to Boston and during the following 6 years I studied the biological processes that lead to tumor development, how our bodies react to these and found a new gene that today is a target of cancer therapy. I met with patients, talked to them about how I was using their cells for research and felt the meaning of the word "purpose" like never before. I felt my life had a purpose.

Pushing More Boundaries.

At the same time, I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do classes, a martial art. What was initially meant to be a hobby, soon became much more than that, and after years of practising I became a second degree black belt.

This was a great learning experience. I explored fears, pushed boundaries and limitations inside myself I didn’t even know I had. I met a new level of discipline and I made life-long friendships. In essence, I learned that what sometimes seems completely out of reach, might very well be reachable, if we believe we can do it. 

Moving on, and during my PhD, I also developed an interest for the commercialisation of technologies and the path from discovery to consumer.

After finishing my PhD and having completed a few years of Postdoctoral fellowships, I decided to enrol in an MBA, this time in Seville, Spain, where I was living at the time.

I loved every moment of it and realised that my "true north" as Prof. Bill George explains in his book "Discover your True North", was (and still is) the interface between science and business.


Where was my purpose now?

From that moment and for the following 10 years, I worked for different large corporations in the fields of innovation and business strategy, within the industries of health and nutrition.

During this time I had the opportunity to lead the development of new natural ingredients, for food and beverages, manage different international teams and develop strategies of growth fuelled by innovation.

Looking back, I now realise that as my professional ambition was growing with new roles, responsibilities and higher salaries, that feeling of purpose that I described at the beginning, was fading away. I certainly learned about the technicalities of developing new natural food and beverage ingredients with an underlying profitability, but the genuine relationships that I had once been exposed to, the sense of caring, the feeling of contributing to something that also benefits others.... all this was eroding.

Instead, new lessons were on the horizon, and I learned about humiliation and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of abuse of power.

It was scientifically interesting to be exposed to those concepts, for the sake of developing an understanding of the world in all its colours, but not an enriching environment for further growth.


Something sparked a change…

Meanwhile, as this professional distress was developing, something beautiful was balancing it all. Luna, a Westie puppy, had joined the family and was embraced from the beginning as a member of the family.

With Luna, I started applying the same criteria that I would when choosing my own food (natural, organic, non-processed, free from artificial colours, flavours, etc.) but I soon realised that it was not possible or very hard to find.

I have in turn learned that our pets are mostly fed with low quality raw materials, some of which are forbidden in the human food chain. Such raw materials, in many cases providing no nutritional value, can even be harmful to our dogs if consumed with frequency.

With the knowledge that I had acquired during my career I could soon understand that the drivers behind animal nutrition are quite different from those of human nutrition, and the reason is simple. In the case of animal nutrition, the consumer is a silent one, one that never complains, one that doesn't push for new and healthier trends. There is no voice objecting against the "profit at all costs" growth strategy of the leading corporations in this industry.

For that same reason, the regulation around animal food is outdated and allows for marketing claims that are strongly misleading. As I once heard another dog owner say, "you almost need a science degree to decipher and make sense of a pet food label". This is very true.  

Nevertheless as we, pet owners, become more aware of our own nutrition, I believe we all also want to see those same healthy demands reflected in our pet's food.


And now to wrap it all up: LOONAWELL.

LOONAWELL brings it all together, but at an all new level of meaning and purpose. LOONAWELL is based on strong knowledge, and a careful though process behind every ingredient, every concept, every product. A transparent, healthy and nutritious choice for our dogs also providing happiness and peace of mind to dog owners.

It has been a great reward, after 2 years since the beginning of LOONAWELL, to have been selected as one of the eight incredible startups for @Google for startups GrowthAcademy : Women Founders Program. After all the hard work I put in, this was definitely a recognition and validation that LOONAWELL is on the right path in striving to make healthier dogs and happy lives.