"I knew this was the future, and if I didn't do it, someone else would."

My favorite book is: You Are The Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter - Joe Dispenza My favorite food is: Omakase, so much so that I gave myself mercury poisoning once!

Lauren Foundos

Revolutionizing the fitness industry with immersive experiences

TAKING A LEAP. Sports and fitness have always kept Lauren Foundos grounded. Growing up in Long Island, her Albanian parents (her father emigrated to the US before she was born) weren't overly encouraging of her sporting aspirations, preferring her to focus on school. Undeterred, she enjoyed success as a two-time all-American field hockey player, playing in the Junior Olympics and later Division I field hockey at the University of Maryland. "My parents never told me they were proud of that, but I knew they would secretly tell their friends!"

After graduating from the University of Maryland, fitness continued to play a vital role in Lauren's life. Following in the footsteps of her two older brothers, with whom she had always enjoyed a friendly competitive relationship, she worked on Wall Street, where exercise helped her regain her sense of self amidst the long hours and hectic lifestyle. "I started to work out before meeting my clients for dinners and things like that. Eventually, I gathered a crew of people to work out with me, which became my form of entertainment."

After a successful decade-long stint on Wall Street, Lauren was looking to invest in a company she felt passionately about ("I had no intention of starting a company") and began exploring fitness companies. At the time, a Peloton studio had opened next to her apartment in New York City. "I thought, wow, this concept of streaming fitness classes is such an awesome idea; we should do this in giant gym chains like YMCA."

After becoming fixated on the idea, Lauren quit her job. With no experience in the startup, fitness or technology world, she began immersing herself in the community, seeking mentors who could help make her idea a reality because "I knew this was the future, and if I didn't do it, someone else would." Initially self-funding, she hired technical experts to build the technology that she could demonstrate to investors.

BUILDING THE FUTURE OF FITNESS. In 2015, Lauren launched FORTË ('strong' in Albanian), a B2B, white-label, interactive video streaming platform for gyms, boutique studios, influencers, and sports leagues. They build their partners' websites and apps that look like their own and integrate into their ecosystem. Their platform enables them to offer live and on-demand content and has two-way video, live leaderboards, wearable integrations, social features, music licensing options, and more.

After spending years developing proprietary streaming hardware and software that is fully automated, they now stream thousands of classes worldwide with no human operators so the brands can focus on what they do best. The company powers top brands like UFC Gym, the YMCA, Curves, World Gym, Under Armour World Headquarters, the NFL Players Association, 305 Fitness, The Edge, and many others.

For all its difficulties, Lauren says the pandemic in 2020 was a period of massive growth for FORTË, with previously reluctant gyms adopting the technology to future-proof their business. She credits groups such as Gaingels and female-focused investors including The W Fund, Golden Seeds, How Women Invest, and Mindshift Capital for lifting up her company during its infancy, while SeventySix Capital, a fund that doesn’t necessarily focus on marginalized communities, has also been instrumental to FORTË’s success.

Lauren admits her experience raising capital as a woman and member of the LGBTQIA+ community compared to her years in finance isn't wholly positive. "On Wall Street, I never felt ostracized because of my gender or sexuality; I was respected because I worked hard and made a lot of money. Compare that to some investor meetings, where on one occasion, the first question asked was if I was willing to step down!"

Lauren's aim with FORTË is to get the 80% of people in the US who don’t have a gym membership to start moving. “I believe that streaming is the ideal entry point for them as it creates a new opportunity to participate that’s less intimidating. Working out is medicine and I strive to make everyone seek that hour out of their day where they get to do it!”

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Presented with Pride Here is the first collection of one hundred incredible and inspiring LGBTQIA+ venture-backed entrepreneurs featured in this year's Gaingels 100.