Article by Leah Kodner about Welltwigs the app they developed to help women get pregnant provided by TwinCities.com.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infertility rate for women between the ages of 15-29 years old is 11 percent, and that figure jumps to 48 percent for women aged 40-44.
With many women waiting to have children until later in life, the market for simple, affordable, and reliable fertility monitors is growing. Murtaza Lakdawala experienced this problem within his family and was motivated to create a solution. He started Welltwigs, a company that helps women to monitor their periods of fertility more effectively and hopefully reduce the amount of time spent trying to become pregnant.
Q. What led to this point?
A. I am the father of two girls — one being three years old, while the other a few months of age. In trying to conceive our first child, we experienced less difficulty but had a fair share of frustrations when it came to our second daughter.
I am a biomedical engineer with eight years of experience in developing medical devices for various diseases; and also an expert in FDA compliance and vendor management for product development. As one of five Global Innovation Fellows, I was selected to address health care needs of women and children in Vietnam, out of a total of 49,000 employees at Medtronic.
Q. What is your business?
A. Welltwigs is a women’s health company that offers digital health solutions to enable women to take control of their health. Our focus is reproductive health, and we are developing a medical device that helps women get pregnant. We are a mobile platform that uses a combination of hardware sensors and algorithms to pinpoint a woman’s fertile time and help her get pregnant. Our product uses a combination of a mobile app accompanied by a Bluetooth-enabled modular medical device which is FDA Class 1. It easily enables users to measure their fertility hormones from urine to understand optimal periods of fertility and then follow up with pregnancy tests.
Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We have spent the last couple years figuring out a lot of startup-related business and technical problems. In our experience, the best resource has been a peer network of fellow entrepreneurs. These are startup founders who have been through what we are trying to solve and usually have figured out a shortcut way of resolving the matter.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. In 2012, my sister had trouble in trying to conceive a child. This became a difficult moment for the family and, being a biomedical engineer; I wanted to figure out a way to help her. After undergoing extensive research and understanding towards the situation at hand, I soon discovered that there were millions of women who struggled with fertility each year. Due to this common issue, Welltwigs was born by men who have a connection to women’s health and genuinely care for the women in their lives.
Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Today families are waiting until later in life to start having kids. As a result, one in five women is having trouble right now getting pregnant. At-home solutions exist, but they are extremely limited. You have an ovulation test; you have a thermometer, disposable test strips, pregnancy tests, ferning microscopes, websites that help you interpret your test. And then you have to enter the data into period trackers manually. Clearly, it’s overwhelming, and it’s a huge part of your life. Even after spending hundreds of dollars on such products without success, the result is lost time and feeling of frustration. Welltwigs is designed to take away all that hassle.
Q. Where did you pivot in your company’s journey? What significant obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. Based on scientific research, we had developed our solution to include two sensors: one for measuring basal body temperature and the second for measuring fertility hormones. We believe that a comprehensive solution is an answer. As is standard practice today, women are required to take their temperature every single day. It turns out that women hate taking temperatures everyday first thing in the morning and the data obtained was not as valuable as the data from the second sensor. How did we learn all this? From the users of a conception study, we ran this year. As (Silicon Valley entrepreneur) Steve Blank says, “No plan survives first contact with customers.” This turned our business plan upside down, but we learned that our second sensor which measures hormones was more valuable.
Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. My background in medical devices is the biggest skill set I bring to Welltwigs.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. There are three babies on the way because Welltwigs’ conception kit was successful in helping their moms become pregnant. One of them was trying to conceive for three years. Being able to help this moms-to-be fulfill their dreams is a responsibility we take very seriously and are immensely proud of.
Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?
A. For any startup to be successful, it has to perform strongly in multiple fronts including but not limited to product development, marketing, its people, fundraising and foremost have a product that women want. We understand our weakness in some of these fronts and are actively working to strengthen ourselves so we can fulfill our mission of helping women take control of their health.
Q. How are you funding your business — organically, angel or VC investments?
A. The company was started with the founders’ money, but now we are supported by angel investment.
Q. What would be a success for your business in the next 2-3 years?
A. In 2-3 years, we hope to have helped thousands of women on their path to pregnancy.
Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
A. An entrepreneur needs to be able to adapt while maintaining a singular focus on the mission quickly. You have to be great at a lot of things and if you are not, you have to surround yourself with people who are.
Q. What is your business model and how do you make money?
A. Our business model uses a combination of offerings for our customers. Our premium app is available for free from the iOS App Store today. The hardware kit which includes medical sensors and supply of consumables will be sold direct to consumer and will be available for sale in 2017. Our users own the data, which we do not sell.
Q. Why do you do what you do? What is your “why,” your purpose?
A. I come from one of the best mission-driven companies around today, Medtronic. My time there instilled in me a strong motivation to serve our patients. When we started Welltwigs, it was similarly driven by our determination to help women take control of their health. As men, we have a deep caring for the women in our lives.
Q. What haven’t we asked you that we should understand about your business?
A. How did we develop the science behind Welltwigs’ solution? The science behind our solution, including the need for hormone measurements and algorithms, were developed under the guidance of the head of reproductive health from the Mayo Clinic.
Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you? Did you get valuable feedback? Did you get connected to resources? Did you pivot because of the experience?
A. Yes, with 1 Million Cups we met some well-connected individuals in the Twin Cities, which eventually led to mentorship relationships. The attendees at 1 Million Cups are an entirely different set of people. These are not the same people that you come across at other startup events. So, in that way it was very diverse.
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