VF Venture Foundry: A Sit-Down with Tana Hoffman, Entrepreneur in Residence
Earlier this month, we sat down with VF’s Venture Foundry Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR), Jean Pierre (JP) Aramouni. Today, we’re sharing insights from Tana Hoffman, Founder and CEO of ILLA, and another of the Foundry’s EIRs.
Check 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 a mentor. I’ve worked in the outdoor industry for my entire career, and I was always frustrated by the lack of women-specific support and resources. Outdoor adventures often involve a certain level of risk, and because of that risk, it’s not recommended to do these activities alone. I always wanted to go out with 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 lifelong friendships, elevate their outdoor experiences, and connect with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts all over the country.
Q: What life experiences drew you to create a brand geared towards women and outdoor adventure?
A: I’ve been working in the outdoor industry for over 20 years, including roles in retail, marketing, outdoor coaching and beyond. Throughout that journey, I was often the only woman in the room. As more women came up and became more supported in the outdoor industry, I took on the role of mentor for these women and helped them grow. When I think about what inspired ILLA, I have really spent my whole career researching this project, engaging with and learning from the women who make up our customer base.
Q: What is your biggest goal for ILLA?
A: My superpower has always been to be a ‘super connector’. I am always the “go-to” for recommendations for gear or events and am always connecting with individuals throughout my network. My goal is to scale this superpower to create a product that is accessible to the greater community of women in adventure sports and provide that level of personalization. Instead of the consumers having to do all the research themselves, I want to create a community that connects women to the right people, experiences, and opportunities at the right times to help them achieve their adventure goals.
Q: What drew you to the EIR program with VF Venture Foundry? What are you aiming to achieve through VF 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 really understood the need for this community. I’ve 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-up 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 faced as a woman trying to create this network and collective and why does the Foundry feel like the right place to overcome?
A: When I started my ecommerce website, Mountainist.com, people were asking me if there were even enough women interested in powersports to make this company viable. But, in fact when the pandemic hit, our sales soared! The whole industry saw an explosion of female participation.
In general, 2% of venture funds are awarded to women, and often women are pitching 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 are trying to engage and showcase your passion with others who may not fully comprehend your personal experience, making it harder to open the door for funding. The largest challenge has really been just explaining that not only is this a real customer opportunity, but a real problem we are solving for a lot of passionate women.
Working with VF has been a dream come true, because in some of my previous roles, I have been fortunate to work with several female VF athletes, including with Angel Collinson and Hana Beaman. I have seen firsthand the work VF is committed to in terms of sponsoring these female athletes and their outdoor passions. It is a great testament to the company’s commitment. Building this community and getting to work with the people who are really my people, makes this opportunity synergistic.
Q: What have been some of the biggest benefits of working with VF Venture Foundry?
A: I am trying to take advantage of as many research opportunities as I can.
I would not have been able to do this amount of research on my own. I have reached out to my network and done small-scale surveys, but this is the first time I’ve had access to such a breadth of research. Even when I think I know the answer, I usually find out something new or discover an angle I haven’t considered before.
Another great resource is the access to the VF team. I am paired with a Venture Catalyst; she is a mentor, a partner, a devil’s advocate, and a sounding board. There is also a broader network of Venture Catalysts and the other EIRs, who make up an informal advisory board of differing perspectives and backgrounds. Any question comes back with so many different answers and viewpoints, which I would never have access to without this network of people.