How Tania Boler's 'insertable' Elvie could pioneer women-first tech

The founder behind Elvie talks disruptive moments in women's lives
Photo by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ
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"Investors don't take women's wearable tech as seriously as they need to. But given that the consumer need is so big, I think it's going to hit them on the head at some point."

So says Tania Boler, the co-founder and CEO of Chiaro which makes the smart pelvic floor wearable Elvie. Boler is in the middle of a Series A investment round for her British women's health tech startup - which is going well - but she hasn't failed to notice that female focused products raise less money from well, men.

Read this: 18 women leading the way in wearable tech

"I hope there will be more and more startups working in this space," she explains, "because there are so many neglected areas of women's health. It is in no way a crowded space."

The changes no-one talks about

How Tania Boler's 'insertable' Elvie could pioneer women-first tech

After five years as the director of research and innovation at reproductive health charity Marie Stopes International, Boler joined forces with ex-Jawbone co-founder Alexander Asseily to form Chiaro in 2013. But it was having her first child that made her think about the relationship women have with their bodies.

"It was when I became a Mum myself five years ago I realised there's so many changes our bodies go through that nobody talks about," she says. "That's when I became interested in the whole area around women's wellness and the idea for Elvie."

In short, Elvie is a £149 connected pelvic floor exercise tracker (look out for an Elvie review on the site soon). You insert the waterproof device as you would a tampon to get real time feedback on how you're doing, and whether you're performing the muscle strengthening exercises i.e. Kegels correctly, via the companion app for iPhone and Android.

Chiaro's motion sensing algorithms are based on research by experts at Imperial College London and Oxford University. Apparently, 30% of women who do them are getting the movement wrong - pushing down rather than lifting. Plus there's personalised workouts with targets that aren't too intimidating and will improve your performance.

The time is now

How Tania Boler's 'insertable' Elvie could pioneer women-first tech

It's another example of a relatively niche but extremely useful wearable - or "insideable" as Boler suggests - but its appeal isn't limited to women who have just had kids. The exercises - combined with the biofeedback something like Elvie provides - can help improve core strength, relieve related back pain and enhance pleasure during sex as well as taking back control over incontinence issues after pregnancy or the menopause.

Women in their 70s email us about how much Elvie has changed their lives

"The thing is about pelvic floor exercises is that it's important to all women at all stages of life," says Chiaro's CEO. "A lot of women don't think about it until they're pregnant or have babies and we see a spike in our users at that point.

"But we have women in their 70s who email us about how much Elvie has changed their lives. We also have huge groups of women in their 20s who are super competitive and are doing a lot of social exercising together. They're either concerned about their bodies or doing it for sexual enhancement."

One exciting piece of feedback Boler has heard from early Elvie users is that the results can be felt almost immediately. According to the co-founder, studies tend to show that if you complete pelvic floor exercises you can prevent and treat related health issues in six to nine weeks. Elvie users are reporting "significant improvements" in just one or two weeks.

Devices for disruptive moments

How Tania Boler's 'insertable' Elvie could pioneer women-first tech

Boler and her London based team, which is expanding from 20 to 40 people, are already working on their second women's health device, due to launch in Q4 of 2017.

The CEO won't give us any details on what sort of tech to expect, only to say that the startup will take "what is traditionally seen as a medical device and turn it into a lifestyle product" i.e. what Chiaro has done with Elvie.

It will be a women's wellness device and, again, focus on "very disruptive moments in women's lives". Why? "Because I think those are the moments when they're going through a lot of change, where they are open to adopting new behaviour and new technology," she explains.

After starting in yoga and pilates studios and Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop, Elvie is now launching in John Lewis ("a trusted British brand") in the UK. US sales are also on the agenda for the next six to twelve months. The long term goal is much wider in scope, though:

"I think it's inevitable that by the end of the decade or in the next five years or so, there will be the first ever big, global women's consumer tech brand. It just needs to happen. So that's our ambition."

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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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