We’ve posted quite a few articles about the current climate of healthcare given the right-wing political agenda that seeks to limit women’s access to certain clinics (Planned Parenthood) and strip away their dignity of reproductive healthcare choices to suit the ideology of one party in particular. Healthcare should never be an ideological or partisan issue. It is something every human being should have access to regardless of income or status in society.
The talk of sex and STDs has long been a taboo subject in the United States, especially given the amount of religious conservative influence in state and federal government. But study after study shows limited people’s knowledge and access to comprehensive sexuality healthcare can lead to negative outcomes. Plus, the increase of online dating is predicted to up the likelihood of an STD 3x.
While the #resistance continues its activism work of ensuring our elected leaders represent our best interests when it comes to policy regarding healthcare, in the private sector, we are seeing some incredibly important and effective companies working to change the status quo in a way government doesn’t have the ability to. Companies like NURX are an effective telemedicine solution to the barriers women face when it comes to accessing birth control. And they aren’t the only ones.
MyLAB Box, a digital health innovator, is the nation’s first at-home screening kit for STDs. MyLAB Box is championing the motto “safe is sexy” and aims to get today’s generation less stressful and more private means to testing and seeking treatment. The company was founded by 2 female entrepreneurs, strategic marketing guru Lora Ivanova and product development guru Ursula Hessenflow, who also received a quarter of their original funding from other female investors. All myLAB Box kits use FDA-approved technology and are validated by fully licensed CLIA-certified myLAB Box lab affiliates with decades in testing for infectious diseases. All the tests have the same diagnostic accuracy as testing in a laboratory or a doctor’s office.
Testing kits range from $79 for a single test to $399 for a 10-panel screen. The company’s convenient, easy and private at-home STD testing products provide a timely solution for a nationwide health problem found to be at an all-time high according to the CDC, which reports STDs also impose a substantial economic burden estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system nearly $16 billion each year. Here are a couple of important stats:
- The CDC reports that nearly 1/2 of Americans will get an STD in their lives
- 1/3 of Americans living with a STI today, conventional testing methods simply do not seem to work
- Less than half of Americans 18-44 have tested for anything other than HIV
- STD testing and treatment is a $16B market in the US
With 110 million Americans carrying an STD, companies like myLAB Box are making it easier to have the conversation no one wants to have. So we figured if it is an important conversation to be had, we wanted to go straight to the source and chat with one of the founders about myLABbox and what everyone needs to know about it.
How did the idea for myLAB Box come about?
Lora Ivanova: We started myLAB Box in 2013. The inspiration for myLAB Box came one day when we were getting together for a drink and started talking about our bad dates and things we wished we had the power to change about the world. It was one of those things where we’re just two friends talking about something and then we start brainstorming ideas, like how great would it be if somebody did that.
How did you both meet and decide this was an area you both wanted to make a difference in?
Lora: Our meeting is an unlikely friendship. I actually cold-called her in a past life while she was at a different startup and I was working in technology sales. We did not end up working together at that time but stayed in touch, became friends and eventually business partners. We both passionately believe that having a value driven business is crucial for our fulfillment and jumped at the idea to create a solution that could really impact a massive problem at scale. Comes to show you really need to stay open as an entrepreneur as the best opportunity can really come from anywhere.
What you are offering is something new in the health space, why aren’t more companies or entrepreneurs doing what you are doing?
Lora: myLAB Box is not only innovative, it is also a bit of a taboo. It took a lot of courage from us personally to get involved in this space and persevere despite the skepticism we initially faced. Truth is for over 100 years various organizations in the space have tried to fix the problem and have failed. We also had the unique advantage of a fresh perspective. We approached the business not from a purely healthcare perspective but also as online marketers and consumers. It takes a lot of creativity and out of the box thinking to accomplish something like that and that is not a common skillset.
You are a female-founded company which received funding from female investors. How significant is this from a business/entrepreneur perspective?
Lora: We are excited that myLAB Box has received an above average funding from female investors to-date. It is really important for consumer brands to demonstrate diversity in every aspect of their organizations, include different voices and perspective. For a product in which close to 50% of the user base is female, having representation at every level of our business is crucial.
Right now across America healthcare debates are at an all time high due to the current political climate. Do you think this could be an opportune time for more entrepreneurs like yourselves to be the antidote to so much fear?
Lora: I think it’s more along the lines that the recent shake-up of our healthcare systems presents this great opportunity to really further the discussion on what consumers can do to take greater control of their health, while also deepening our resolve to grow our offering and develop a new hassle-free lab testing model. What we’re doing at myLAB Box is not just great business, but a much needed resource to curb a widespread epidemic in the US today.
Talk of STDs and sex is still so taboo in America in a lot of ways, especially seen at the school level where abstinence-only curriculum leads to higher rates of STDs and teen pregnancies. How is myLAB Box aiming to change this with your “Safe is Sexy” mantra?
Lora: According to a 2013 CDC survey of high school students, nearly half of 20 million Americans that get a new STD infection each year are teenagers and young adults aged 15 to 24. STD stats show, among those teenagers having teen sex, about one in four will contract an STD prior to adulthood. At myLAB Box, testing is available to those who are 16+, and we provide easy access and privacy, which is important for young adults as is the creation of healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
How does online dating play a part in an increased need for STD awareness?
Lora: Over the last few years we approached virtually every major and many smaller online dating companies with various partnership and integration opportunities (from hookup to marriage targeted). However, almost without exception they all declined to bring this up with their users as to not discourage them from using their platform. To quote one of the responses “We do not want people worrying about the risks of an STD when they are looking to hook up.” To which we responded, “This is the exact time they need to be thinking about this and talking to their potential partners”
Do you see a difference in the way women seek out health resources and info vs men? And did this factor into your target marketing in any way?
Lora: We are still evaluating different messaging and incentives for various user groups. In some of our earlier tests we found women responded particularly well to messaging focused on their quality of life and peace of mind. For men it seemed to be more about a sense of urgency. As our audience grows and evolves we are curious to also see how that may change. We are working on a radical shift of our perceptions and approach to testing so inevitably the way both genders treat their individual health will play a huge part.
How do you hope to break down the stigma and shame around sexual health with myLAB Box?
Lora: I believe the stigma instantly goes away when people realize, sexual health is ultimately just health. Just like you cannot separate your dental or vision health from your overall health, you cannot think of your sexual health as an isolated instance. You are either healthy or you are not. Also a big part will here is normalizing testing as a whole. The trends towards a quantified self are excellent in that regard and we just need more outlets and easier access to testing so it really becomes a no-brainer and integrated part of our lifestyle as a society.