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Helene Piquion (SK 1996), from market finance to foodtech

09 September 2019

After nearly 20 years of working with alternative funds and merchant banks, Helene Piquion has now moved over to London’s home-delivered ready-meals sector with her company, Ratatouïe. Her goal: to reconcile home-made and practical by developing, producing and delivering healthy, organic and fresh meals for the entire family. 

 

Your career has revolved around finance and catering, but these two industries couldn’t be more different. Tell us about that!

They’re very different, but they’ve always been my two passions. When I obtained my Master’s in Management in 1996, the prospects for business school graduates in France weren’t very appealing.  Thanks to SKEMA, I was lucky enough to do my third year at the University of Manchester and to graduate from there with a double Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance. So I decided to start my career in the City of London.

After working for 6 years in Sales and Client Relationship Management with different alternative funds and merchant banks like Goldman Sachs or Crédit Suisse, I wanted to move back to France. That’s where I started to fuel my second passion.

Once settled in the Lubéron, I started Helene’s Kitchen, providing in-home chef services, mainly to foreign tourists renting villas in the region. My skill in the art of customer care, my passion for my region’s cuisine and my bilingualism guaranteed the success of this venture.

Two years later I had to give it up for personal reasons and I returned to London, where I had the privilege of being able to step back into my position at Goldman Sachs. This time, I stayed for nearly 10 years, in Client Relationship Management at first, and then as Project Manager/Product Developer in Synthetic Prime Brokerage. Unfortunately, when I returned from maternity leave, the job on offer was no longer a good fit for my “new” family life as a single mother by choice.

 

That’s when your passion for cooking resurfaced…

Since Helene’s Kitchen, I’d never lost the desire to start another business. It’s while making purées for my daughter after a hard day at the office that I thought of the concept of home delivering meals for babies. I founded Ratatouïe in May 2017, preparing and delivering healthy, organic baby meals locally. But for the business to be viable, given the price per unit, I would’ve needed to make millions of them. And of course to make millions I would’ve needed to industrialise, which wasn’t at all what I was after: something healthy, balanced and home-made. Since it turns out that my customers were also wanting meals for the rest of their family, I pivoted towards a range of fresh, balanced meals for the whole family - nutritious meals with plenty of vegetables... that even the kids are happy to eat! My goal: to reconcile home-made and practical, to simplify healthy eating and to deliciously solve the eternal “what’s for dinner” question for many parents. The eco-friendly dimension of Ratatouïe is intrinsic to the project: our packaging is made from paper, wood, or from glass that’s eligible for the deposit-return scheme; our menus are seasonal and we source our organic ingredients from local producers.

Today, with more than 250 loyal customers and 15,000 meals made and delivered, it’s time to scale up and invest in the team and infrastructure to meet the growing demand. The pitch deck is finally ready and I’ve launched my financing campaign, which includes crowdfunding. Eventually, I want to make Ratatouïe into one-stop-shop for fresh, balanced meals, lunch boxes, and snacks for the whole family.  At the same time, I want to offer podcasts and editorial content focusing on taste education. This is important: we need to be able to explain to children (and their parents) the benefits of each food by putting ourselves at their level, allowing them to taste different flavours and textures, and teaching them to tell us what they like. I’m convinced that eating well is something that can be learned. It’s so important for our physical and mental health, our planet and the family.

What has moving abroad brought you?

On a personal level, living overseas has helped me to understand and accept others openly and positively. It’s so enriching.

On a professional level, huge prospects: you’re never held back from getting ahead, irrespective of your degree. Meritocracy tends to reign and success can be achieved by anyone willing to put in the (hard!) work for it.

For starting a business, this environment is not only more financially advantageous, but also more stimulating. If I hadn’t moved abroad I might not have felt capable of restarting my business. The “resilience” and curiosity that are inherent to expatriation probably help to make everything possible.

 

Have your studies at SKEMA also been a help in your career?

When I was at SKEMA in the 1990s, it was a huge plus to be in one of the rare schools to offer a majority of lessons in English. The agreements with foreign universities were also a great springboard for starting a career abroad. Finally, the access to SKEMA Ventures (a startup incubator open to alumni - ed.) is extraordinary. They helped me to create my pitch and develop my business plan, plus I was able to attend seminars - all free of charge. When you have a tight budget and little experience in raising capital, it’s really invaluable.

 

Follow the adventures of Ratatouïe!
www.ratatouie.co.uk  Support Helene's crowdfunding campaign (link pending)

 

Interview by Soraya Ben Aziza (lepetitjournal.com) for SKEMA Alumni

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