Exercise bike entrepreneur claims she was fired in sexist coup

An entrepreneur who developed a high-tech exercise bike has launched legal proceedings against her own company for unfair dismissal after claiming she was ousted in a sexist coup.

Ratna Singh, founder of Integrated Health Partners, which sells Carol, “the world’s first AI exercise bike”, for £2,995, was dismissed as chief executive in October.

She has instructed a barrister, Michael Duggan QC, to pursue legal proceedings against the company, two of its directors and an external investor, alleging unfair dismissal on grounds of her gender and race, according to an employment tribunal claim filed last week.

A majority of directors voted in favour of Ms Singh’s removal as chief executive. She was the only woman and only person of colour on the seven-member board. 

The board includes American lawyer Gordon Caplan, the former co-chairman of Willkie Farr, who was sentenced last year to a month in prison over the US college admissions scandal.

Ms Singh has claimed that she was forced out of the business she launched in 2007 after being subjected to bullying and harassment. 

A spokesperson for the company said: “This is simply a board that has decided by majority to replace the CEO, not for personal reasons but purely for business reasons, of a small struggling start-up company that was not doing what the former CEO said it would be doing. It was time to change management. That happens every day in the corporate world. It had nothing to do with her race, nationality or gender.” Mr Caplan declined to comment. Two other directors did not respond to a request for comment.

IHP tells users they will achieve better fitness results from two intense 20-second sprints on Carol than from a 40-minute jog. It initially received nearly $2m of funding from external investors in 2018, and a second fundraising round secured another $5m for the bike’s development in 2019.

Ms Singh’s tenure as CEO ended in October after the board of directors raised concerns about the performance of the business, her ability to work with the board, the company’s cash reserves being spent too quickly, and her alleged failure to put in place appropriate performance targets. 

They were particularly critical of Ms Singh’s alleged failure to capitalise on a boom in demand for home-exercise equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen shares soar in Peloton, another fitness bike company.

Ms Singh has rejected these criticisms, instead claiming that she has been a victim of a campaign to remove her and take control of the company just as it was on the brink of achieving widespread commercial success. 

Her employment tribunal claim is particularly critical of certain emails and messages in which she was called “stupid”, “childish” and “naive”. 

Ms Singh also claimed that the 2019 commitment of $5m from investors was “drip fed” to her over the course of 2020, hindering her ability to develop the business as quickly as projected. 

Daniel Pollard, a partner at GQ Littler, the law firm representing IHP, said: “The claims are without merit and will be robustly defended. The company has acted lawfully at all times and looks forward to a full hearing where the company will present its response to these claims in full.”

Ms Singh, who is seeking compensation for injury to feelings and reinstatement as CEO, told the Financial Times that the events had been “gut-wrenchingly painful” for her and had hit her “like a tsunami”. 

She and her husband established IHP in 2007 with an initial focus on setting up healthcare centres across the UK. However, she pivoted towards developing a high-intensity exercise bike in 2012 after carrying out healthcare consulting work in the Middle East and observing the scale of the obesity problem in the region.

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