Internationally Renowned Women’s Health Expert and Elvie Founder Talks Breaking Taboos in Tech, Healthcare & Women’s Bodies

When it comes to innovation in tech, the term “Femtech” (aka, female-focused health products) has become a buzzword with the exponential growth of companies and brands being launched by women, for women, and even funded by women in some cases.

With the Femtech sector globally bringing in around $820 million by the end of 2019, according to Techcrunch, it is estimated to bring in a whopping $3 billion by 2030. However, there are still barriers to funding that need to be broken down.

Additionally, there are numerous barriers still existing socially, culturally and politically when it comes to women’s health in general. Be it stigma around menstruation, political divisiveness over reproductive health, and racial disparities in regard to childbirth, we have a long way to go. Which is why innovation is key to finding unique solutions that can help bypass the barriers, and deliver these solutions direct to the consumer.

One founder who understands this very well is Tania Boler, an internationally recognized women’s health expert who has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations, and is also the founder of a company called Elvie. Born out of an understanding that women experience unique health-related issues, Elvie combines research and innovation to create extraordinary products that improve women’s lives. Elvie is the leading FemTech brand committed to pioneering smarter technology for women with its award-winning Elvie Trainer (pelvic floor strength trainer) and Elvie Pump (world’s first silent wearable breast pump).

We spoke with Tania about how her extensive background has informed her entrepreneurial success, and how she hopes Elvie will continue to be a leader in the Femtech space while continuing to break barriers and smash stigma in women’s health.

You founded Evie in 2013, and since then it has become a leading brand for women’s health. Why do you think it has resonated so well among women?

Since starting Elvie, I’ve seen progress across a number of spaces – tech innovation, health perceptions, and in individuals taking control of their own bodies. I’ve always wanted to be part of the conversation around changing the way women think about their health, and we’ve definitely seen more of an openness to education and learning more about “taboo topics.” I think women were always ready to move forward, they just needed brands, thought-leaders, and platforms to help lay the groundwork and uncover exactly what they should be learning when it comes to their bodies.

As an internationally renowned women’s health expert, what were some of the most striking things you witnessed working with the UN and global NGOs in regard to women’s health?

During my time working abroad and at UNESCO, I gained unique insights into motherhood and how the mother’s journey was vital in a child’s life. With this passion for driving change in society, especially around neglected and taboo issues facing women during motherhood, I began my work at Marie Stopes in 2008. We provided women in under-serviced communities (an astonishing amount!), with quality sexual and reproductive health services, including birth by choice, where often that option doesn’t exist. 

As a sexual health researcher, I’ve always been interested in the sexual side; however, through my work, I learned the shocking statistics relating to incontinence (1 in 3 women) and prolapse (half of all women over the age of 50). I started conversations with researchers and physiotherapists to see what they could do to make a change. Eventually, I realized that the field really lacked in technological innovation and most of what was on the market at the time for women was simply ineffective. Although I worked in many countries and across many different fields, above all else, having a baby sparked the biggest change for me as a woman. 

The Evie wearable silent breast pump has become a favorite among many breastfeeding mothers. Why do you think it has taken so long for a product like this to hit the market?

We know that women’s health has historically been overlooked in the tech space, and this speaks to the overall male-centricity of the industry and the cultural norms which have forbidden women to talk openly about their bodies. And although this trend has been rapidly changing, with Elvie being part of that fundamental shift, there are so many issues of womanhood that can be improved through technology like Elvie Pump. Our breast pump was developed and designed to taking pumping out of the dark ages, and we were really excited to truly change mothers’ lives. 

Can you talk to us about the femtech space and why it is growing so fast?

When I started five years ago, the term ‘femtech.’ didn’t even exist. But in the past five years, we’ve seen the convergence of three trends: we’re all talking more openly about our bodies; innovations in sensor technology have meant that real-time body monitoring is now possible; and finally, our perceptions of health and wellness have dramatically changed from one of ‘doctor-patient’ to individuals taking control of themselves. Paralleled with the term ‘femtech’ – which as a category name is extremely useful, as it allows companies and female founders to have more collective power – there’s been a boom in this space.

The next generation of femtech companies are looking beyond reproductive health to create a parallel healthcare industry tailored to women, and it’s a really exciting time to explore the opportunities in mainstream medicine’s gender gap.  

When launching Elvie, did you ever experience setbacks or negative comments from potential investors or people who saw you working on this? If so, how did that spur you to keep going?

One of the earliest hurdles was while raising funds for Elvie Trainer, and I would shy away from using the word “vagina.”  On one occasion, I was fifteen minutes into a pitch when I realized the investor had been playing around with Elvie Trainer but had no idea what it was! Of course, they didn’t invest. This meeting taught me to always be upfront and not skirt around the issue. Now I always do the “vagina” test with possible investors – what is their reaction once I say the “V” word? It’s a fun test and if the reaction isn’t good, then it’s a sign it won’t work between us.

For Elvie Pump, our greatest challenge was building the technology that could solve the breastfeeding problems women had been enduring for far too long! We also knew that we would have to convince investors that it was time to create a better solution for women than what’s been available to them so far. We did this by hiring world-class female designers who understood women’s needs and created a beautiful product that then spoke for itself.

The Elvie pelvic floor strength trainer is an award-winning product. Can you explain what it does, and why so many customers love it?

Pelvic floor strength plays an important role in core stability, bladder control, and intimate well-being. Most women don’t know that they can build pelvic floor strength, and that’s the first thing we’re trying to do – help women understand and teach them the importance of strengthening “down there”. Women love our trainer because the guesswork is eliminated – you no longer have to worry about not seeing the muscles you’re trying to train.

The Elvie Trainer app tracks all of that information in real-time with biofeedback, a mind-body technique often used by health care professionals for pelvic floor rehabilitation – making it fun and simple to see progress. We’ve received such amazing feedback from women who love the Elvie Trainer because they actually enjoy using it and see the results in as little as 4 weeks.

There seems to be a culture of ignoring women’s pain in the medical field. How is femtech and specifically Elvie becoming a source of support and empowerment for women?

I’ve always been passionate about women’s health. After pregnancy, I realized a lot of issues that women face are often swept under the rug – one of which was how neglected pelvic floor health is and its weakness after giving birth. I never planned to start a tech company, but I soon realized that there was a massive need for innovative (and empathetic) technology to support women. I was also inspired to help bring this conversation to the forefront and get women talking about their bodies and needs in an open, honest way.

Part of our mission is to focus on changing perceptions around women’s health and reducing unnecessary health problems, thus empowering and supporting them throughout every life stage. We’ll continue to do this by putting women first – what are her needs and how can we help solve real solutions?

What are some of the taboos around women’s bodies and health you are working to dismantle?

There are so many taboos that surround women’s bodies and health! Across many regions, women’s power in terms of her femininity and sexuality has often been viewed as something that needs to be controlled. Talking about vaginas and intimate health has always been taboo in most societies for generations, and when it comes to “women’s issues” we’re brought up to ignore these things. But, how can we make products that make lives easier if no one talks about these issues? If we don’t talk about them, we can’t create the technological innovations that dismantle them. 

Our work at Elvie encourages discussion around women’s health, shift people’s views, and educate both women and men on important – often intimate – topics. We see this as a great opportunity to drive real change in the culture at large, so that one day, talking about women’s health will be like discussing a broken leg. 

What’s next for Elvie in terms of new products? 

We recently launched two new additions to the breastfeeding range, Elvie Curve and Elvie Catch. Both of these products help mothers pump and express milk more efficiently and comfortably, giving them the extra support needed throughout each phase of the breastfeeding journey. Elvie Curve is a wearable, silicone breast pump that uses natural suction to gently express and collect milk while offering relief, even for milk-filled breasts. The wireless pump also fits neatly inside a bra to enable busy moms the freedom to pump up to 4 oz. while on-the-go. Elvie Catch is a set of two discreet, slip-proof reusable milk collection cups that protect against leaks. They also prevent waste by holding up to 1 oz. of breastmilk per cup. Unlike most breast shells or nipple pads, we designed Elvie Catch to sit securely in a bra to fuel confidence.

You can learn more about Elvie’s products by visiting the website HERE.