Interview by Nicole Dahlstrom @nicoledahlstrom
Estrella Jaramillo is the co-founder of B-wom, a digital coach for women's health. Originally from Spain, Estrella is now based in New York City and leads the U.S. business and is on a mission to break taboos around female intimate health. B-wom is raising awareness about the importance of knowing your body, caring about your intimate health and about building good habits to increase your wellbeing and sexual experience. When we asked her about the best part of her job, she said “Having the honor of saying the word “vagina” in front of a room full of men - usually investors - almost on a daily basis”.
Estrella, tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and how you became interested in FemTech.
I have a background in Translation and Interpreting and worked in communications and audiovisual media for some years. I’ve moved from Seville, to Cologne, to Berlin, to Madrid. Five years ago I realized I wanted to not only communicate or convey the words of others, but actually have a say and create improvements that will impact the lives of others. I started working with startups that focused on covering needs around pregnancy, maternity and early childhood.This is how I got in contact with the concerns of new moms and the health issues they go through after pregnancy, and I started becoming fascinated by the process of birth. I did almost a year of soul searching before I could even consider being an entrepreneur, as I had been raised and educated to become an employee…I thought about what I wanted to contribute to society, and what my underlying passions were, and decided to build a career around them. During this time I met my now cofounder and she was exploring the pelvic and intimate health gap in the healthcare system and market, and so we joined forces with our other two cofounders.
What is the inspiration behind B-Wom? You cofounded this company in Spain, what was the reception there, and what motivated you to introduce B-Wom to a new audience in the U.S.?
We identified a big gap in the system: women's health is not being addressed properly and is treated as a taboo. New moms don't get the support they need after birth, and there's plenty of misconceptions around the pelvic floor and the core, incontinence, sexual health, etc. We wanted to build a tool that would help women not only learn about their bodies, but also give personalized, actionable recommendations and habits, so that they could take care of themselves. The premise is that women should have the power to take control of their health and advocate for themselves.
We got a lot of early traction in Spain, and we are still growing there too, but we knew from the beginning that this was a global company. We are now present in more than 10 countries in Europe, Latin America and North America. The U.S. is a very interesting market for us, not just because of the size of the population, but because the nature of the healthcare system. It makes it very necessary for women to find alternative resources.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in sexual and intimate health? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
It's an interesting experience. It's made me become really aware of my own biases, and about how it made me feel strange to say words like pelvic floor, vagina, sexual health in front of men in the venture and corporate worlds. Now I’m perfectly comfortable, of course, and I even joke that saying the word vagina in front of a room full of men is my favorite part of my job. I find that the more comfortable I am the better I can create a safe space for others to show that they know about the problem and care.
Many men have witnessed these issues with their wives and they get them, but they just don't feel allowed to talk about them - I think we just need to pen the conversation and change the culture around it. The more space we create for women to express their concerns, the more comfortable society at large will become.
Healthcare is an industry that has traditionally been very heavily male dominated. I'm excited to get to see all the innovations happening in women's health now that more female entrepreneurs are addressing healthcare and an increasing number of female executives are taking over key roles at big insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.
You are based in New York City, what is the ecosystem like there for female focused health tech startups raising capital?
New York City has garnered us at B-wom more traction than Silicon Valley. When I first came to the US to launch B-wom, I spent 7-8 months between Los Angeles and San Francisco. During this time, a lot of opportunities kept coming up from the opposite coast… and so I decided to give it a try. I still travel to San Francisco every month for meetings and conferences, but the momentum that we've gained over here can't be compared. We have closed dozens of partnerships, have received more interest from investors, and get a lot more press attention in New York City than in Silicon Valley. Right now we are focused on fundraising, so getting visibility and exposure are crucial. However, it is not easy: raising money for a female founded and led company, focused exclusively on women's health needs, is not the easiest sale (yet).
Additionally, we are an originally Spanish company, so even though we are also incorporated in the U.S., some investors are concerned about that. I think we need a shift in mentality. We live in a "globalized world" where large amounts of capital and financial instruments are transacted every day, and yet smaller companies and entrepreneurs still face so many challenges to set up a company internationally and have access to the opportunities offered by certain geographic locations and environments. We need to create a solid infrastructure that allows entrepreneurs to operate faster and at a larger scale without going bankrupt.
Is the #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
There is a thriving ecosystem of female founders in the sextech and healthtech space. This ecosystem is playing a vital role in changing the dynamics in the tech and healthcare industry, and the perspective of female healthtech and sextech entrepreneurs. I believe we are only starting to see the effect of the work these groups are doing and I'm excited to see how far we go. I am part of Women of Sextech, a group that was born in NYC and that has helped all of the members gain both visibility with the media and legitimacy with investors.
In my opinion, corporations are the next big frontier. We need to create more opportunities for big corporations to interact and see the value of working with smaller startups, particularly in healthcare. We need more transparency, so that innovators can really understand the depth of the problems the healthcare industry is facing, thus being able to build even better solutions that can be integrated and adopted with ease.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech and FemTech?
I've had the privilege of sharing conversations with many amazing women creating change in the Femtech space. I really like the work that Ida Tin is doing with Clue. You know what, instead of looking up to a seasoned executive that has done amazing work in women's health technology, what I am fascinated by is the incredible women standing beside me fighting in the trenches to make a difference in Femtech: Polly from Unbound, Mia Davis from Tabú, Marta Plaza from Desire, Liz from Lioness… This is a movement, not just isolated businesses, and that's exactly what inspires me!
This interview was conducted by Nicole Dahlstrom, Women of Wearables Ambassador in San Francisco, USA. She has been providing marketing and project management services to non profits for the past six years. Passionate about women's health and fem tech, Nicole decided to leverage her network of established feminine health companies, industry professionals, and leaders in the women's health space to develop a network of support for founders of female health focused tech startups called FemTech Collective. Their mission is to shape the future of healthcare through technology that meets the needs of women. Connect with Nicole via Twitter: @nicoledahlstrom or LinkedIn: Nicole Dahlstrom