Making Use of Menstruation
In our series ‘Innovations Made in Berlin’, we present startups making a difference in their fields. Today, theblood.
Menstruation is no longer a taboo topic, and the founders behind The smart period blood GmbH have no problem talking about their vision of providing women with easy health screening solutions derived from menstrual blood.
Co-founder and COO Miriam Santer explains how her startup is developing a home testing kit for women.
This series is called “Innovations made in Berlin”. What is your innovation? When did it originate, and where? Can you describe the place, and who was involved?
Isabelle [Guenou, CEO] and I met in Berlin during our Master’s degree five years ago. We studied Marketing Communication and during an ideation class Isabelle came up with the idea of nutritional tampons. Over time we developed the idea into screening a woman’s health condition with menstrual blood, an approach that is very much undiscovered, and so research is underfunded. We have both been struggling with female healthcare issues and really understand the pain our users often go through. As a former athlete, Isabelle is eager to not only bring a working product to market but to make a real change within the female healthcare system. Born and raised in Berlin, it was always clear for us that this is also our starting point for the development of our company.
“A product that people will profit from in many different phases of their lives.”
What do you sell and why should someone buy it?
We sell at-home test kits for menstrual blood and individualized nutritional supplements. We want to bring a product to market that people will profit from in many different phases of their lives. There are many stages in a woman’s life in which the use of our testkit could be important. Teenagers, athletes, women with a focus on health and well-being, women with skin or hair problems, diverse hormonal issues (contraception, weight gaining, endometriosis or PCOS), fertility issues, transgender identities, perimenopause and much more. We are establishing a database for all of these cases of a kind that has never existed before, and with the resulting combined and increased knowledge on female health we can give people who menstruate exactly what they need. This will be remarkable for a lot of users and we’re sure that product recommendations will be high.
So currently we are focusing on three user groups: Standard users, the Cycle Group, and the Biohackers. While the basic user group is curious to test their own blood, the Cycle group includes people that struggle with hormonal fluctuations and other symptoms. These are often people with a higher pain point and a lot of interest in their hormonal values like estrogen, cortisol but also AMH – a marker showing your ovarian reserve. The Biohacker group strives for self-optimization. Within this product section we measure the most biomarkers to increase personal performance and improve personal health and cycle issues. People who do lots of sports and live a health-conscious life are in this group.
How did you find funding for theblood?
In September 2021 we got in the Grace Accelerator for female entrepreneurship, which pushed us forward a lot.We got free office space and built a network of founders and investors around us. Since last fall we have been supported by the Berlin Startup Stipend, a fund from the Berliner senate and the EU that comes with intensive coaching and mentoring sessions. Since the Program with the Berlin Innovation Agency will soon be over, we have just started our first fundraising round, looking for Business Angels who do convertible loans. So far we are very optimistic that we’ll close the round in the next two months. Our network and early connections to VCs and bigger funds is helping us define fundraising strategy for the long run.
What advice that you got at an early stage helped you the most while starting and growing your business in Berlin?
Listen to feedback but don’t always take it too seriously! Especially in the beginning you’ll have lots of conversations, with lots of different feedback. Even though it’s interesting to see other opinions coming from a variety of people, it can get you distracted. It’s best to keep focused on what you want to achieve and where you see the company in the next few years, while you have a couple of close advisors leading you on your way.
“With female health, menstruation and fertility, users are actually likely to share experiences online.”
How did you manage to establish contacts to potential clients?
When we started to test our product we first reached out to close friends and family. It’s something I can recommend because it doesn’t cost much to acquire these people and still they are willing to sit down with you and give intensive feedback on every little detail. The next step for us was to communicate on social media and build a community around the brand. With female health, menstruation and fertility, users are actually likely to share experiences online and connect with others. And soon you really understand your users.
What do you want to achieve in the next six months?
Currently we are validating our analysis method of menstrual blood in our partner laboratory and are going into our next big product testing in June 2022. We will close our financing round, and once we have established a certified method for standardized testing we will enter the German market, hopefully at the end of the year. As soon as we have launched our product through the online shop we will enlarge our sales channels into retail as well, and then expand to other European countries.
How do you find the right people to work with?
We have been posting job descriptions on Linkedin and Baito and got the word out in personal conversations in our network. We screen applications and get to know candidates who could be a good fit. It’s even more important to us that the person fits into the team than fulfilling all the qualifications or requirements in the ad. At the moment we’re a team of six people, from very diverse backgrounds, and we can cover most topics that are urgent at the moment. Nevertheless, we are looking for a CPO in the long run, with more specific skills in product development, technical aspects, and project management all together.
What is right now the biggest challenge for theblood?
Time is a very limited source and at the moment we are very product focused and doing the fundraising at the same time. Luckily, we are two founders and can divide most tasks among us. Other than that, it’s a challenge for us to focus on one specific user group because we see so many relevant cases for our product.
What is your reason why Berlin is the place to be?
Firstly, Berlin is very open minded and with our product we do get a lot of polarized opinions. Even though menstruation is not a taboo topic anymore, we’re still confronted with stigmas and biases. For a disruptive company like theblood it’s easier to find early adopters and first users in an environment that is open to innovations and especially open to delicate topics. On the other side, we have both been in Berlin for a very long time and also want this to be the home of our company.
What have you personally learned so far on this journey?
Over the intense last year, we have gained lots of experience in product development, financing, and company building. Overall, we’ve worked on personal stability and leadership skills, found out about our personal drivers and how we can use them for the best outcome as a team. We have both grown into our roles, learned to be confident and empowered.
Thank you, Miriam.
In the next few months we will be showcasing more Innovations Made in Berlin.
Interview: Olaf Bryan Wielk, ideenmanufaktur
Header image: © theblood