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Elvie, a London-based tech company that develops health devices for new and expectant mothers, announced it has raised $42 million in Series B funding. IPGL, the investment holdings firm run by British philanthropist Michael Spencer, as well as Octopus Ventures and Impact Ventures, led the round.
“The breast pump epitomizes everything that’s wrong with health technology for women,” says Tania Boler, cofounder. Unlike loud and bulky traditional pumps that usually consist of tubes, plugs and fragmented parts, the Elvie Pump is simple, silent and wireless. It also connects to a smartphone app that allows women to control the device remotely and track her volume of milk output.
“No one talks about the changes that happen to the pregnant body so there hasn’t been any innovation,” says Boler. “The new mom has also been neglected.”
With health degrees from both Oxford and Stanford Universities, Boler also completed a PhD in sexual reproductive health. She spent her career researching the prevention of HIV and teenage pregnancy in Africa and developed a sexual education curriculum for the United Nations. But when she became pregnant with her first child, even the globally recognized health expert was shocked by her lack of options, especially when it came to buying a breast pump. “As a mom, why do we put up with something that looks like a throwback from 1980s?” says Boler.
Alexander Asseily, cofounder and former CEO of wearable tech company Jawbone, contributed his knack for design. “We started with a blank piece of paper and said if we were to create the perfect breast pump, it would have to be discreet, quiet and wearable,” says Boler. As a result, Elvie products resemble a sleek fitness wristband rather than a vintage Commodore 1000.
Other startups focused on wearable pumps include the Willow and Freemie. With the new funding, Elvie plans to scale up R&D for new mothers as well as differentiate itself from competitors by launching more products that help women at various life stages, from menstruation to menopause.
It also plans to invest in building a team in the U.S., its target market. Boler forayed into the American market last February after learning that pumps are recognized as an essential health product under the Affordable Care Act. The Elvie Pump sold out within five minutes in its U.S. market debut. She adds that overall, Elvie has grown 120% in the last 12 months.
Raising Breast Milk Money And Kegel Cash
Breastfeeding is a full-time job that can be time-consuming and downright exhausting and painful. According to a global UNICEF report, 95% of women give breastmilk to their babies at some point after birth. Despite it being a common practice for women around the world (and the best economic means to promote health, development and immunity for newborn infants), innovation to support nursing mothers has seen little to no development since 1981, when the first hospital-grade electrical breast pump was designed.
Before inventing the Elvie breast pump, Elvie’s first product was actually the Elvie Trainer, a wearable device that is inserted into the vagina like a tampon. It connects to an app that guides users through five-minute Kegel workouts and trains women to rebuild their pelvic floor after giving birth. Boler learned about the importance of repairing her pelvic floor, core and transverse abdominal muscles not from her obstetrician/gynecologist, but from her fitness instructor. “I have a PhD in health and was shocked to learn this,” she says. It inspired her to want to build products that are effective and user friendly.
When Boler set out raise a seed round of $1.4 million in 2013, she had to convince teams of mostly male investors that health tech for new and expectant mothers had not only been long overlooked, but could also be extremely lucrative. But explaining the purpose of the Elvie Trainer made many male investors flushed and uncomfortable. They mistakenly only associated kegel exercises with sexual function and pleasure instead of an exercise that supports the human’s uterus, bladder and small intestine.
“Five years ago people thought we were crazy,” recalls Boler. “But when people tell you that you just have to focus and prove them wrong.” When Goop, the e-commerce platform founded by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, featured the Elvie Trainer, it sold out within minutes. Within its first six months in business, Elvie pulled in $1 million in sales and reached profitability by 2014. Elvie then raised a series A of $6.5 million in 2017, which allowed it to foray into the breast pump market. Currently its breast pump has a waitlist of tens of thousands of women, according to Boler.
She says that as a result of the early traction, raising the series B was much easier this time around. “We started the fundraise in early February so it really shows how the appetite for femtech has changed.”
Boler says reiterating some key statistics has helped during its latest fundraise, including the fact that in the U.S. alone, 80% of women breastfeed but many must stop earlier than recommended due to a lack of support from the community, employers and health care providers; as well as the fact that one in three women suffer from pelvic floor problems after giving birth. And of course, her pitch deck contains the kind reminder that women do make up half the population. “It’s such a no brainer that there needs to be an all-female tech brand and that’s our ambition,” says Boler.
It’s also her goal to disrupt not just the innovation but also the conversation that surrounds breastfeeding, periods and other women’s health issues, many of which are painted as taboo. Elvie’s first attempt at sparking a dialogue took place during London Fashion Week last September, when model Valeria Garcia walked the runway during Marta Jakubowski’s show and opened her blazer to reveal she was pumping milk under her bra as the grand finale.
“There’s the viral aspect,” says Boler. “If women find something with great design and great functionality, they’ll support it because new moms have been dissatisfied with solutions for so long.”
April 2, 2019 at 07:18AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs