Image: Simon King, Octopus Ventures and Tania Boler, Elvie. CPG Photography
The largest femtech investment yet seen has just taken place. What does this mean for Elvie, the company in question, for femtech worldwide and for UK hardware manufacturing?
For decades, healthcare products were designed with little attention paid to the physiological needs of women. Only recently has a sector emerged that tackles the problem – and the opportunity – in a way that’s not only innovative but is driving tech hardware forward in a similar fashion to stellar brands like Apple and Tesla. In the words of Elvie’s co-founder and CEO, Tania Boler, “women shouldn’t have to make do with shoddy design or pink spin-offs when there are self-driving cars in the world.”
Femtech is the umbrella-term for apps, services, and devices that use technology to improve women’s health, life standard and well-being. It applies to various types of software, diagnostics, products and services that focus on meeting women’s needs and solving their problems.
Both a rise and a fall have prepared the ground for Femtech’s advance: the rise of women’s empowerment and the fall of taboos surrounding subjects like urinary health (which affects up to 6 million people in the UK according to the NHS).
Riding this wave, Elvie’s mission is to bring women’s technology out of the dark ages. Its first product, a pelvic floor trainer with the aesthetic magnetism of any Apple product, has been a sell-out. Now its second product, a silent, wearable breast-pump, is taking a similar path, following its high profile launch in London Fashion Week last September.
We first met Tania, and co-founder Alexander Asseily in 2015, investing in 2016 following the launch of their first product, Elvie trainer. Tania’s background with the United Nations and Marie Stopes, a leading reproductive health charity, fitted brilliantly with Alex’s experience in consumer products and wearable technology. Alex had co-founded Jawbone and advised a number of companies and charities in the US and Europe, including Noomi, Lilium and Atomico.
When we first invested in Elvie, the team had shown that they could deliver beautiful products from design, through mass manufacture, to sales with their first product (Elvie Trainer) and that they had a second one (Elvie Pump) already conceived. Tania’s vision for the company – to produce a suite of beautiful and usable tech products focused on women’s health – identified a gap in the market. This was the kind of vision that, with hindsight, seems so obvious following the current macrotrend in female empowerment.
The combination of a cracking team with a powerful vision, a massive market and great initial traction meant making our investment decision was straightforward. However, this wouldn’t be the case for many other investors for one powerful reason: consumer tech hardware startups are notoriously difficult to pull off. With software startups, getting a minimum viable product (MVP) to market is relatively cheap and quick to do – it can be rapidly iterated and polished. But with hardware, it’s more a question of ‘build it and (hope that) they will come’. Elvie’s CPO, Jon O’Toole, spent almost nine months in China perfecting the manufacturing line for Elvie Trainer. But the belief in the need outweighed the challenges in bringing it to market. Pelvic floor health is not a widely understood problem, aside from being the most intimate of issues. However, the little-known truth is that one in ten women will have surgery for vaginal prolapse, while the urinary incontinence pad market is worth well over $8bn. Creating a desirable, innovative product that tackles issues of this scale has proved to be a winning formula. Now applied to breast pumps – the Elvie pump is wearable and silent – the hope is for even greater success.
We are incredibly excited to have supported Elvie’s series B fundraise following the launch of Elvie Pump. Elvie’s next product? Watch this space. But in the meantime, Elvie is leading by example a new generation of high tech, high-end consumer hardware manufacturing startups in the UK and Europe. In the meantime, ‘pink spinoffs’ are beginning to look embarrassingly out-dated.