This blog post is part of an application for Toptal Scholarships for Women: Empowering Future Female Leaders to Change the World.
I am going to revolutionise women’s health tech industry.
I have always known that I am capable of doing great things. That is what my friends, family, teachers, and career counsellors have told me throughout the years. But I have always lacked a bigger goal, a vision, something grand to pursue, reach for. That is, until now.
I was taking a shower, trying to come up with a presentation topic for my storytelling course, when I had an epiphany and found my next purpose – I am going to revolutionise women’s health tech industry.
To do so, I need to tackle two main problems of health monitoring and contraceptives. You can read more about why I see these as problems below. To summarise, current methods are not technologically advanced, they rely on user’s manual input and are, thus, unreliable and inconvenient.
There is all this great technology available, so why are we not using it on a wider scale in the health industry? My plan is to create a technological device called Lucy that is placed inside the uterus where it monitors the vitals, such as hormones, pH-level or temperature, releases birth control according to the woman’s wishes, and provides a better, more accurate overview of a woman’s intimate health in general. 9 out of the 10 women I have pitched this initial concept to said that they would use a device like that for either contraception, conception, real-time pregnancy tests, or just to know exactly when their period is starting.
According to the World Bank, in 2017 we had 3.73 billion women. At least half of them are fertile and, as a result, could use my technological solution. Of course, the actual numbers depend largely on how accessible the product would be. I believe that we should all have more choice and control over our own bodies which is why my goal is to make this available to every woman on the planet, no matter their financial, social, or cultural background.
To make my idea a reality, I will need:
1. Like-minded people with complimentary skillsets
No man is an island which is why I need to find people who believe in this idea in order to make it a reality. I have already started with the process by pitching the concept around my social circle and widening my network by talking to people from other disciplinary areas, i.e. psychologists, cyber security experts. However, so far it has been on a small scale. Next, I would need to widen my perspective even further and talk to specialists from medicine, health tech, and other relevant industries.
2. Ties to medicine and the health technology industry
I have limited knowledge of the technological possibilities available to make my concept a reality. Therefore, I would have to dive deeper into medicine and health tech and find out what is currently possible. Then, my multidisciplinary team and I can start playing around with current technology, or develop something completely new in this area if what we need does not exist yet.
3. A strong business plan
Although improving the well-being of women is the main goal, I would really like to become an entrepreneur at one point in my life. I think this concept may provide me with an opportunity to do so. However, since I want to make Lucy available to everyone, there is a fine line to tread. I think Toptal can help me with figuring out the financial details of my project.
4. To develop an actual working device
Of course, the final goal is to have a working technological solution that can be pushed to market and be used by the general public. This requires market research, technology research, and product development, including prototyping, testing and customer creation. I must be ready to pivot based on technological possibilities, market situation, and feedback from the users.
5. A motivator to keep pushing me on moments I feel like giving up
Getting started is probably the most difficult of it all. I am sure that once this rock starts rolling, the inertia will keep me going. If it does not, though, I need people to motivate me to continue developing this concept. Otherwise, this may turn out to be just a petty final thesis picked up and turned into reality by someone else. And since I consider Lucy to be my baby, I would not enjoy giving up parental rights completely.
All in all, I have a general vision and I am determined to make Lucy a reality to help women all around the world have a more accurate overview of their intimate health and more control over their bodies. Support from Toptal would help me tremendously to start taking steps towards developing this technological solution. I value not only the monetary aspect, which is of course a great starting point, but perhaps even more the possibility of having a mentor guiding me through this process, so that I do not have to struggle on my own. I hope to embark upon this journey together with you!
The concept of Lucy
Menstrual cycle monitoring
Link to Lean Canvas: https://canvanizer.com/canvas/r0GJNTWbPdLzJ
In the United States alone, more than 70% of adults monitor their health indicators. Some of these adults are women and compared to men, women have one more thing to track — their menstrual cycle. I, personally, just mark down an X in a calendar for when my period starts, and then count about four weeks (give or take) to predict when the river flows red again. This way I can be prepared for it and know to pack tampons with me if my menstruation is supposed to start when away from home.
Some women, however, use digital applications for tracking their menstrual cycle. The reasons for doing so may include either trying to get pregnant (the ovulation lasts only for about 24 hours!) or trying to avoid pregnancy, and the aforementioned wish to know when to expect the next period. Tracking apps like Flo, Clue, or Eve require users to manually enter information about a variety of symptoms, such as body temperature, vaginal discharge, mood, food, sexual excitement and activity. To get a more accurate analysis and prediction, this information needs to be entered every day.
By entering the information manually, though, we risk introducing the selection bias. The first part of this is the flawed perception of the symptoms as belonging or not belonging to a condition. For example, a woman may mistake paleness as a sign of an approaching period instead of a lack of proper sleep.
Second, the user may actively disregard symptoms as unimportant despite being relevant for the accuracy of the application. For example, one may not see why sharing every little detail about their sexual intercourse with a digital application helps it predict their upcoming period better.
Additionally, having to allocate time to enter the information on a daily basis is a strain, and despite all the machine learning, predictions will still remain predictions, not a real-time status report of what is going on in a woman’s body. If the user has skipped on entering some of their vitals, for example, the app has less information to base its predictions on. As a result, the app-generated prognosis can be inaccurate and the user is up for a nasty surprise.
For women who use these applications to avoid pregnancy, it does not really help mentally either when the period is late and the app says that it was supposed to start a couple of days ago. I am sure that in these situations every sexually active woman, who does not want children yet, feels a bit paranoid about being pregnant.
Which brings me to my next topic…
Link to Lean Canvas: https://canvanizer.com/canvas/rFvH88L9pJ9Lp
Birth control has remained more or less the same throughout the years. In general, it relies on either abstinence, some kind of a barrier (male and female condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap) or hormones (pills, injections, implants). Each of these has its pros and cons, but let’s take a closer look at some of them.
The pill is one of the most effective birth control methods. The probability of an unwanted pregnancy is less than 1% given that the pill is taken properly. Sometimes, however, having a busy schedule makes sticking to the routine of taking the pill tedious and difficult. It is easy to forget and, therefore, cause an error, in this case, a high risk of an unwanted pregnancy. For girls that enjoy partying and alcohol, it is also important to know that the pill is less reliable when vomited out before it has had time to have effect.
Implants and IUDs (intrauterine contraceptive devices aka spirals) solve the problem with forgetting because they sit in a woman’s body for years and do their job silently. However, apart from copper IUDs (which can cause cramps and stronger irregular periods — yuck!), they are still hormonal methods, and extra hormones do funny stuff to our bodies. For some women, they result in weight gain or skin problems. For others, reduced sex drive which is the opposite of why one would supposedly want to use them! And do not get me started on blood clots or bone loss.
However, the fact that birth control exists in such intrusive inserted-into-a-body form confirms that not all people are against having medical devices inside their bodies for a well-founded reason.
To be honest, I still have not found the right contraceptive for me. My partner does not enjoy sex with condoms. I either dry up like a prune or despise sex in general when my hormonal household is affected by birth control. I love using tampons, but tampons do not get along well with IUDs. I do not trust spermicides and I also dislike the idea of having copper in my uterus. If we are not supposed to be drinking water from copper pipes, why should I want it inside my most intimate body part? And, thus, I am left with no options that I consider highly suitable for me. I wish there was a way to just turn on the contraceptive like a tiny vacuum cleaner in my uterus whenever I am physically together with my long-term partner.
Unwanted pregnancy still seems to be a taboo. If birth control lets a woman down, she does the walk of shame to a pharmacy. Not the nearest one, where everybody knows her face, but preferably one where no one has seen her before. While wearing sunglasses that cover half of her face. Therefore, it would be good if there was not a need to leave the house to get a pregnancy test.
Pregnancy tests are not very technologically advanced either. It is either peeing on a stick or having a needle stuck in hand for a blood test. It is high time to change that.
All this got me thinking. What if there was a way to improve the accuracy of these period tracking applications? What if me and all the other women could have a real-time status report on what is going on with our bodies? What if we did not have to worry about forgetting to take the birth control or extra hormones affecting us?
As a result, I came up with the concept of a new intrauterine contraceptive and automatic data gathering technology — in short, Lucy. Lucy is a woman’s best friend by enabling her to get a better, more accurate overview of her intimate health. The design is inspired by current intrauterine contraceptives also known as spirals. Lucy is a tiny medical device that is placed inside the uterus where it monitors the vitals, such as the pH-level, temperature, and moisture, and releases birth control depending on the woman’s wishes. It is a silent observer who does not influence anything without explicit permission from the user.
By measuring all the relevant vitals at the source without the user’s selective interference, Lucy solves the selection bias. The information is displayed via an application to the user who can, as a result, get an accurate up-to-date overview of their health. It can even notify the user when they are actually ovulating. All without any effort on the user’s side.
Lucy prevents unwanted pregnancy by releasing birth control automatically and, therefore, relieves the user from having to remember to take their birth control regularly. One difference from current spirals would be the possibility to turn the contraceptive on and off using the app’s interface, providing the user with flexibility and more control over their own body.
Many questions still remain. How shall we make this secure? How will Lucy be powered? How do we switch the birth control on and off? How could Lucy be as unobtrusive as possible? I cannot wait to tackle these!
I am constantly curious. I consider unasked questions to be missed opportunities of gaining new knowledge. As a result, I often bother my lecturers and friends with endless enquiries about topics new to me. I am also never afraid to speak my mind or to start a discussion if I do not agree with my companions. I am able to think on my feet and improvise even in unknown situations —confidence is the key.
While my formal education consists of a lot of information and interaction technology (BSc in Informatics, currently obtaining a MSc in Human-Computer Interaction) with a touch of innovation and entrepreneurship, I have never confined myself to just these areas. Outside university I have also learned about project management, marketing and public relations, not to mention the abundance of hobbies, such as music, dancing, sports, and theatre.
Over the years I have developed considerable leadership skills by orchestrating multiple projects, such as the events by Microsoft Student Partners or the Geeks on Wheels tour in 2016. Geeks on Wheels is a non-profit initiative that is oriented towards bringing IT closer to school children in rural areas of Estonia. As a tour organiser I was responsible for supervising my team’s work, negotiating with the schools, and ensuring the well-being of my team. Being involved in this challenge taught me a lot about project management, team dynamics, how to be a good leader, and how being surrounded by passionate people helps me become a more diverse and improved version of myself.
I would like to prove myself to the world by creating something great. There are many strong male influencers in STEM fields, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk… I want to show the world that women are just as good. I want to enable small girls to look up at powerful women in STEM and know that they, too, can do this, that this is not only a domain for men. I think there are too few female role models in this area. My goal is to inspire more women to choose whatever it is they wish to do, be it technology, science, teaching, social work, farming, or just being a housewife. There are no limits besides one’s imagination.
I am ready to leave my mark on the world!
Note: I did not get the scholarship.