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“I joined Elvie, just in time to launch our breast pump in the UK. We launched the pump on the catwalk of London Fashion Week and got lots of positive publicity,” says Aoife Zakaras-Nally, Chief Commercial Officer of Elvie, the femtech company disrupting the women’s health space by developing, designing, and manufacturing connected technology for women.

Elvie was founded in 2013 by women’s health expert Tania Boler, who teamed up with hardware entrepreneur Alexander Asseily who had previously co-founded wearable tech company Jawbone. The London-based tech company started with a pelvic floor trainer with an accompanying training app. It has since diversified into breast pumps and now sells its products online and via distributors in Europe, China, and the US.

Zakaras-Nally joined as Marketing Director before becoming CCO, so she understands the challenges that a growing business faces to get the word out about its products: “We were a startup with very little money. I came from a business with much deeper pockets. So we needed to find ways to be really creative to get our name out there. The catwalk move meant we got a ton of press coverage both here and in the US.”

The catwalk launch helped boost Elvie to success when it launched in the US: “We launched in the US in February 2019 with 25,000 women on a waitlist to get our product,” says Zakaras-Nally. Elvie’s success helped it to secure a $42m fundraising deal in April of that year from investors including Octopus Ventures and Impact Ventures UK.

“Series A was really difficult to be completely honest because at that point femtech was just a non-entity, it didn’t exist [...] Tania’s quest basically was to normalise the conversation.”

Zakaras-Nally explains that Elvie’s team built on the success of the breast pump and insights from users to launch new products during 2020: “We launched Elvie Curve and Elvie Catch, and that was from the insight that women’s boobs were leaking on one side while they were pumping on the other. They have been very successful products for us. It allows us to get Elvie into the hands of women who maybe couldn’t have afforded our flagship product.” In 2021, the company launched its hands-free breast pump - the Elvie Stride - in the US. The US is a big focus for the company as it accounts for around half of the global market for breast pumps. In July 2021, Elvie raised £58m from investors including BGF and BlackRock to invest in further research and development and to support expansion in new and existing markets. In 2022, the company launched the Elvie Stride in Europe. “That’s opened us up to a wider segment of mums,” says Zakaras-Nally.

While Elvie has been growing in leaps and bounds and impressing investors, it has faced challenges in the past because of its focus on technology for women. “Series A was really difficult to be completely honest because at that point femtech was just a non-entity, it didn’t exist,” explains Zakaras-Nally. “We just had door after door shut on us. It was a niche industry, despite the fact that it’s 50% of the population. Investors really struggled to talk about female bodies.” Talking about Tania Boler’s role as founder, Zakaras-Nally explains that focusing on education and dialogue has always been important, particularly in the beginning. “Tania’s quest basically was to normalise the conversation,” says Zakaras-Nally.

The nature of the challenges the company faces have changed as it has grown. Zakaras-Nally says that the pandemic derailed plans for Elvie’s European expansion. Now supply issues are exerting pressure on the company: “Our products are incredibly complex. Some of the components in our pumps have nine-month lead times,” says Zakaras-Nally. She says that these sorts of challenges are part of being a startup. “It does make you incredibly resilient.”

When asked about what is next for Elvie, Zakaras-Nally explains that the company is quite secretive about its upcoming innovations but that it remains dedicated to creating technology that helps women. “We are looking to do more products within our existing focus, which is postpartum mum and baby - but also starting to go further into other parts of women’s lives... The hands-free pump has definitely been the product that put us on the map. But there will be more.”