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Entrepreneurs uncovered: Tania Boler

How Elvie is changing the way people think about women’s technology

Tania Boler talks about the challenge of bringing Elvie Trainer, the award-winning smart Kegel exerciser, to market and her passion for technology to improve women’s lives.

A chance remark by her Pilates instructor prompted Tania Boler to research the importance of pelvic-floor exercises during and after pregnancy. This ultimately led to her quitting her job at a global health charity to develop and launch Elvie Trainer, a connected pelvic-floor device. Here she talks about the challenges of pitching a women’s product to male investors and starting a business during her second pregnancy.

Tell us about your background. 

I was Director of Research and Innovation at a global reproductive health charity, so I was always working around evidence and public health. A lot of the work I used to do was focusing on taboo issues in women’s health, looking at things like sex education, HIV prevention and access to contraception.

Yours wasn’t necessarily an entrepreneurial background. How did you end up starting your own business? 

It’s all about finding a problem that you want to solve, and a solution that you think can make an impact on the world. I already considered myself to be a bit of a women’s health expert – I had a PhD and had written a couple of books. Then I got pregnant and realised how little I really knew.

One day, my Pilates instructor said to me, “Tania, the most important thing you can do is look after your pelvic floor.” I literally didn’t know what this was before that. 

So I started researching it and realised it’s a huge issue for women. One in three have pelvic floor problems, and while there’s technology for prevention and treatment, it was only available at hospitals. So it seemed like a very simple idea – take this hospital device and turn it into something that women could use at home.

And that’s Elvie Trainer? Tell us about it.

Elvie Trainer helps women with pelvic floor exercises – Kegel exercises. There’s a pod a woman inserts inside her body that links to a smartphone app. When a woman contracts her pelvic floor, a gem in the app moves up and down – the stronger you squeeze, the higher the gem lifts. To me, it just felt like a no-brainer. Let’s make this fun – let’s gamify it. Women are competitive, they want to see what their scores are. They want to see themselves improve.

How difficult was it pitching a product to, presumably, a roomful of men? 

It was really hard to get male investors to understand that this was even a real issue for women. We had so many awkward situations where they would bring in a female colleague and ask, “Is this a real issue? Is this something that women face?” 

We managed to deal with it by constantly going back to the data and the science. By showing the statistics, it takes it out of the personal realm.

Did your pregnancy affect your business plans?

At the beginning, I was quite nervous about telling investors I was pitching to that I was pregnant. When one of my big investors came on board, I remember having to tell him and being nervous about his reaction. But he just turned around and said, “Tania, this is going to be a great PR story.”

After I had my daughter, who was my second child, I was still having to go out, raise money and build a team. Sometimes I would be pitching to investors on a call, but my daughter would be there, so I’d need to breast feed while trying to hide the noise of the slurping and the burping, and just keep going.

But ultimately, I became braver as I realised that when I’m talking to investors, they need to accept that I’m a woman and that I’m a mother, and that’s part of the story. 

What do you see as the future for Elvie? 

Elvie was very much a passion project where I saw a problem that needed to be solved. I threw myself at it, built a great team and we’re all on a mission to help women and women’s health.

Once we’d launched the first product, everybody asked, “What’s your second product?” I hadn’t worked that out at the beginning, but once we were in this space, I realised there are so many opportunities. 

If you look at the issues that women have to deal with, simply by virtue of being a woman – menstruation, fertility, pregnancy, post-natal, menopause – they’re all areas overlooked by technology, partly because a lot of technology companies are led by men. They’re not going to be the first to recognise what some of these issues are in women’s health. 

Once we’d launched Elvie Trainer, without even meaning to, we also realised it would change the way people think about women’s technology. People often think it’s going to be pink or be a piece of jewellery, and consumer electronics have very much been designed at that superficial level. But what we realised is that women have a desire for great technology and great design. So that’s very much the future and that’s a big space.

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