Many couples who want to have children find it difficult to fulfill their dream. This problem is aggravated by the tendency to procreate at an increasingly advanced age. A Zurich start-up has developed a bracelet that can accurately determine fertile periods. How was this innovation, which achieved worldwide success, born?
This content was published on September 09, 2018 – 11:00
“It all started a little out of personal interests”, explains Pascal Koenig, CEO of the start-up Avaexternal link🇧🇷 “Five years ago, I was in a restaurant in Zurich with Peter Stein, with whom I already had a professional relationship. He wanted to be a father. It seemed strange to us that nowadays, in order to determine the fertile days, women still have to resort to the thermometer and the measurement of the basal temperature. We think it’s a rather rudimentary method, from the distant 20and century, and that surely there must be a better solution”.
Pascal and Peter meet in the following weeks with Lea Bidder and Philipp Tholen, former classmates. The four young people, two with degrees in economics from the University of St. Gallen and two engineers from the Zurich Polytechnic have already acquired more or less successful experiences with start-ups. Together, they decide to explore the terrain to develop a more reliable method based on the numerous physiological researches of the last decades.
“There are many studies that highlight a whole series of signs that announce the fertile period. It has been known for some time that body temperature increases, but there are also changes in pulse rate, respiratory rate, heat dispersion, sleep phases, etc. Some studies even reveal that women use social networks differently during this period”, says Pascal Koenig.
a matter of time
The four partners therefore developed a concept based on about ten physiological parameters and presented it to gynecologists. “We were excited, but at first they looked at us with a bit of skepticism. They asked us: but does this thing work? However, they encouraged us by saying that there was certainly huge potential, provided the operation was proven by clinical studies.
In Switzerland, as in many other countries, a third of couples find it difficult to fulfill their dream of having children. One in seven couples uses reproductive medicine. Often it’s just a matter of time, explains Ava’s CEO. With more accurate indicators of the fertile period, we could in many cases avoid unnecessary medical treatments. On the other hand, many women do not want to resort to hormonal methods of contraception and want to be able to determine the days at risk of pregnancy more reliably.
The idea of the four young inventors has therefore been subjected for more than a year to clinical studies carried out by a professor at the University Hospital in Zurich, specialized in the mathematical modeling of menstrual cycles. There are clear advantages over the good old fashioned method of basal body temperature or urine testing. Thus was born the start-up Ava which, with the help of the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) in Neuchâtel, developed the bracelet of the same name, capable of collecting data on nine natural parameters during sleep. the application of a smartphone.
From USA to China
In 2016, the bracelet is launched for the first time in the American market. “The Swiss market seemed very small to us. So we decided to test our product directly in the United States, where there is much greater potential in terms of customers, and where the affinity with technology is greater than in Europe. An affinity that we also find in Japan or China and that, of course, is useful for a company that sells technological products”, observes Pascal Koenig.
Ava opens a small subsidiary in Silicon Valley in charge of marketing, which is managed by Lea von Bidder. The success was immediate, and the following year the young woman was already on the list drawn up by the economic magazine Forbes of the 30 most important entrepreneurs under 30 years old. Of course, Ava is also attracting attention in Switzerland: in 2017 she won first place at the Swiss Startup Awardsexternal link🇧🇷 Last June, she obtained the Swiss Medtech Awardexternal linkand a few days ago it was again named the best start-up of the year 2018.
After the United States, where it still makes more than 70% of its revenues, Ava left last year to conquer the European market. And a few weeks ago it started operating in Hong Kong, from where it wants to expand into the Chinese market. “In the coming years, China is expected to become a very important market for us: the authorities have abolished the one-child policy, many couples are interested in having a second child, and women are having children at an increasingly advanced age, especially in the city.So many factors that are favorable to us.
a transnational company
In the space of two years of activity, the start-up has already gained the air of a small multinational: more than 50 employees work in the administrative and development headquarters in Zurich, around fifteen take care of marketing in San Francisco. , another fifteen program the applications in Belgrade, and ten provide customer support in Manila, Philippines. An impressive network, to which new jobs will be added in the coming months in China. The bracelets themselves, on the other hand, are produced in Spain by a Canadian company.
“That’s the beauty of this new digitized world. With the internet, videoconferencing and the like, it has become much easier to cooperate across borders and across different time zones. We noticed that many young people in Manila are culturally close to the United States, speak English well and can also communicate in Asian languages. In Belgrade, on the other hand, there are excellent university schools that train talented programmers and cost considerably less than those in Zurich or San Francisco”, explains Pascal Koenig.
However, Zurich is expected to remain the nerve center of the startup in the future as well. “Digitalization works great, but to develop new ideas and manage new projects quickly, we are often more efficient when we can come together in one physical space. Switzerland, with its research centers and federal polytechnics, also offers great skills to a company like ours, specialized in scientific data and medical-sanitary technology”, adds the head of Ava.
thank you messages
New projects the young entrepreneurs are already working on: they launched seven clinical studies to develop new applications for the wristband. “Many women continue to use the bracelet even when they are pregnant, because they appreciate being able to monitor their physiological values. We are convinced that, based on these values, we could early identify complications that affect around 10% of women during pregnancy, such as diabetes, pre-eclampsia or infections. That way we could avoid many hospitalizations”.
Already today, tens of thousands of women wear the bracelet. However, the time has not yet come for Pascal Koenig and his colleagues to sell their successful start-up and move to an island. “I know people who made that kind of choice and soon got bored. For our part, we are all excited to be able to work in such an innovative environment and ask ourselves every day what we can do to become 100 times bigger. In addition, we are lucky to work in an extremely rewarding sector, in which we immediately see the impact of our work: we receive daily messages from women who thank us for having contributed to the realization of their desire for a child”.
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