For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond.
Being a woman in tech isn't always easy, but being a woman designing tech for women? That's pretty darn impressive. Lea von Bidder, co-founder of Ava, a fertility-tracking bracelet, has managed to do just that. Her company, which uses a smart bracelet to collect and track data on nine different physiological parameters, has completely changed how fertility and technology can intersect.
The Ava bracelet has given women the power to not only track their fertility cycles, but to actually understand them. Though aimed predominately at women who are trying to get pregnant, it can also help women who are not trying to get pregnant, going through menopause, or those who just want to understand their bodies more. It does this with much more accurate statistics than many other fertility trackers. Despite there being six days per month when it's possible to conceive, most fertility trackers only alert you to two potential days to get pregnant. Ava gives you five.
Though fertility wasn't her initial passion, von Bidder's early career led her to realize that she wanted to use her day job to improve women's lives. With a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of St. Gallen and HEC Montréal, and a master’s degree in global entrepreneurship from EM Lyon in France, Zhejiang University in China, and Purdue University in the USA, her resume is undeniably remarkable. But while working as the co-founder of L’inouï, a premium chocolate production and retail chain in Bangalore, India, von Bidder discovered that she wanted to weave doing good with running a business, while also catering to women's unique needs.
"Right after I graduated from my master's (here in the U.S.), I moved to Bangalore, India, to start my chocolate production and retail chain," von Bidder tells Bustle. "Two things were really important to me there. On the one hand, I got much more interested in tech in Bangalore. Bangalore is a tech hub, and I started to learn how to code and became increasingly interested in the space. On the other hand — and probably much more importantly — I started to care even more deeply about women's empowerment. While this has always been a matter very close to my heart, Bangalore really made me realize how far we still have to go."
Seeing the way that menstruation impacts so many women's lives, especially across different cultures, was an influential moment. "Our company was a fairly traditional Indian company where women couldn’t participate in certain things because they were menstruating," she says. "And there were other examples too that just sparked this idea to make life easier for women, have open conversations about women’s topics, and finally advance women’s health. When I got back to Switzerland, I met my co-founders who were working on a solution in that space, and I thought, 'This is exactly what I want to do!'"
Like many women, it took von Bidder some time to develop the self-confidence to strive in tech — and in entrepreneurship. "I think similar to many women, the confidence didn’t always come naturally to me," she says. "I had to learn that I was in the right place."
When Ava was founded, von Bidder was the only woman out of the four co-founders. "One of the most valuable things to me was to build up a network of other female founders," von Bidder says. "It is critical you can share your ideas, your struggles and your challenges with other women (or men) who understand what you are going through." Finding the confidence to really believe that you belong in your field and not being afraid to reach out when you need it can help you develop a strong foundation, especially in tricky fields dominated by men, where women can struggle to find their feet.
In addition to being one of the co-founders, von Bidder works as the president of Ava Science and the VP of marketing. "I feel extremely lucky to work in this wonderful industry," she says.
Although starting your own company and watching it flourish is exciting, it's the impact that Ava has on real women that really makes it all worth it. "We now have around 15 women getting pregnant with Ava every day," von Bidder says. "That is clearly the most exciting part of my job."
Identifying a problem and making a solution that helps real people is what tech should be all about, and that's what von Bidder has been able to do with Ava. But even more so, Ava opens up a new door at the intersection between technology and reproductive health, and for many women who will utilize this technology, it's incredibly valuable to know that a woman herself is at the helm.
Learn more about Bustle's 2017 Upstart Awards here.