A Women’s Health Technology Case Study: Elvie
Digital health technologies are increasingly making it possible for women to manage their health and well-being on a more precise and personalized level than ever before. Despite women accounting for half the world population (while birthing all of it!) it is only in recent years that investment exclusively in support of women’s health has gained traction.
It’s been 7 years since the term FemTech was coined to describe an emergent category of products and services that use technology to improve women’s health. Today, the women’s health market is gearing up to see an unprecedented wave of innovation, especially via digital health apps and portable diagnostic tools. Investment in this market is ramping and quickly. Valued at approximately $200m in 2018, Frost & Sullivan, projects a $50 billion market by 2025.
Companies like Elvie are on a mission to improve women’s lives through smarter technology. The London-based startup is winning accolades and inspiring enthusiasm in the women’s health space with their launch of category-defining healthcare products, including the first silent, wearable breast pump and a smart pelvic floor exerciser.
“Our ambition is to be the first women’s health tech brand to break taboos and fill real gaps in the market,” Tania Boler, CEO and founder of Elvie, explains. “We’re committed to talking candidly about women’s bodies in order to turn negative experiences into positive ones through better technology.”
An internationally recognized women’s health expert, Boler’s passion is reinforced by a PhD in HIV Prevention and leadership positions with global NGOs and the United Nations.
“I thought I was quite the expert until I became pregnant and realized there are so many things that happen to our bodies, which are completely normal, but no one talks about,” Boler recalls. “As an entrepreneur, I saw an opportunity to start conversations about women’s health and diversify the tech ecosystem with innovative, transformational products.”
Boler’s break-out initial connected product focused on pelvic floor health, culminating in the launch of the award-winning Elvie Trainer, an app-connected Kegel training device designed to help women through all stages of life.
“We didn’t just innovate a new technology and create a new user experience,” Boler says. “We completely changed how people even talked about this health issue.”
ELVIE & JABIL
Boler and her team at Elvie did three things that continue to key their ongoing success:
1. Make the User the Center of Their Design
After the success of her first product, Boler set her sights on improving a traditional legacy women’s health product that, in her view most epitomized bad product design: The breast pump.
“This device hadn’t been innovated in decades,” Boler states. “It’s bulky, cumbersome, requires being plugged into a wall. It’s painful and noisy—women felt worse after using it.”
To modernize the antiquated design, Elvie approached the problem from a woman’s perspective and brought in engineers, scientists and product designers to craft the ideal product.
“Our philosophy is quite simple: Put women at the center of the design and innovate from there,” Boler says. “By putting the user first, we knew our solution would really speak to their frustrations and problems.”
Topping the list of design criteria was the need for the pump to be both quieter and more discreet; something that would enable women to get on with their busy lives without the disruptions inherent in the status quo ways of old-school pumps. To accomplish this, Elvie completely ignored existing products
and in particular, their reliance on a traditional rotary motor, which is both loud and bulky.
At this point, Elvie’s pursuit of its innovative user-experience informed design needed some out-of-the-box thinking. This led to the exploration of emerging technologies from different fields – something perfectly queued up for Jabil.
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2. Find Partners That Can Fill in Gaps of Expertise
Manufacturing partners can be an important resource to overcoming challenges and advancing the slow-moving and complex digital health industry, as they can contribute valuable experience and knowledge. That’s why it’s no surprise that 65% of decision-makers at healthcare device brands find manufacturing partners to be most important in bringing products to market, according to a 2018 Connected Health Technology Trends Survey.
Similar challenges led Elvie to Jabil.
“Working with a partner like Jabil was so important to us because their healthcare experts understood which emerging technologies from other fields could be readily applied,” Boler recalls. “Bringing them into the process early on was critical to our success.”
Jabil Healthcare has a unique point of view at the intersection of digital technologies, regulations, consumer behaviors and patient outcomes. This perspective proved invaluable in helping Elvie bring its breast pump to market. Elvie was able to leverage Jabil’s expertise in product ideation and device development to engineering, supply chain optimization and volume manufacturing.
“Since the connected health space is relatively new, we needed expertise in everything from hardware and firmware to software,” Boler shares. “Selecting Jabil as our best-in-class manufacturing partner was a no-brainer decision because they brought so much experience across so many different partners and product categories.”
Together, Elvie and Jabil Healthcare worked to enhance the pump’s motor functionality. With Jabil at Elvie’s side, Boler's company had a partner with years of experience assimilating different technologies into new combinations of capabilities. Jabil not only helped deliver Elvie the functionality of its original design – it did so with an eye toward clearing regulatory hurdles as well.
By addressing all product functionality under a regulatory umbrella, Jabil ensured that Elvie’s breast pump would meet all requirements needed for a consumer healthcare device in Europe as well as a Class II medical device in the United States.
When Elvie obtained FDA clearance much earlier than anticipated, Jabil quickly secured long-lead items despite supply constraints in the electronics industry. Facilitated by Jabil’s work cell model, a unified team of engineers, working alongside supply chain and procurement pros, defined alternative parts by utilizing Jabil’s long-standing relationships with leading component manufacturers and distribution partners to create an optimized, global supply chain of qualified parts.
“We have a dedicated team to ensure consistency and iron out problems in real-time. With Jabil, we have a 24/7 partner who’s there if, and when, we need them,” Boler says.
3. Plan for the Future
In a relatively short period of time, Elvie has turned two women’s healthcare product categories on their heads. The company is eager to maintain market momentum with the rapid-fire launch of additional connected devices into the digital healthcare space.
“To fulfill our mission, we need to keep innovation at the center of everything we do,” Boler says. “We also need Jabil by our side to guide us through R&D and manufacturing as they are an innovation-led company too.”
For Boler, it’s more than just innovating a new technology and user experience, she wants Elvie’s work to keep elevating conversations about women’s healthcare. “Changing how people talk about women’s health issues is crucial,” Boler emphasizes. “We need to have conversations about the future of women’s health so companies like Elvie and Jabil can partner on exciting opportunities to transform care and improve experiences.”
As Elvie looks to the future, the company is poised to enter 15 new markets in the next two years. Jabil is ramping production at a second location to provide greater manufacturing flexibility and capacity while seeking ways to leverage its global footprint of more than 100 facilities worldwide to support Elvie’s aggressive growth strategies.
“The most exciting thing about working in technology is that if you get it right, you can design something that really makes a difference in somebody’s life,” Boler concludes. “The uptake can be phenomenal and the impact immeasurable.”