women's body, health, yoga featured

When it comes to understanding the female body, we're stuck in the stone age | Lea Von Bidder

women's body, health, yoga

Article provided by Lea Von Bidder, co-founder and President Ava Science, Inc.

As a woman and the co-founder of a femtech company, I can tell you that one of the biggest challenges and opportunities is the gender data gap. 

We are behind where we should be when it comes to understanding women’s health.

Historically, women haven’t been equally represented in clinical trials. In some cases, even drugs aimed at women are tested on men. (One now-infamous study into the alcohol-related side-effects of “female-viagra,” featured 23 male subjects and only two women.)

This discrepancy has been due to the fear that female subjects might be pregnant, but also because the hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the menstrual cycle have been deemed “too complicated”—a variable that could confound results. It’s an absurd irony because those hormonal shifts are precisely what make us women—you know, the other 50 per cent of the population who would be using the drugs those studies were aimed at.

This bias isn’t just present in drug trials. Most of society’s decision making, from how seatbelts are designed to what we consider ambient room temperature, is determined with men as the primary test case, and women as the unmeasured variant.

On the surface, we don’t question that men and women are different. We have genetic discrepancies, a different hormonal make-up, and different average lifespans—yet research often fails to disaggregate data for sex and analyse it separately.

There’s a burgeoning movement to bring more awareness to women’s health issues, and it centers on breaking taboos around menstruation. In recent years, we’ve finally seen red liquid being poured onto a sanitary pad in advertising (in lieu of the clinical blue), stylish suppliers proudly promoting organic tampons, and a documentary about periods winning an Academy Award. At last, it’s okay to have a period and talk about it.

But that conversation is just the start of what it will take to demystify the female body. To me, menstruation is actually the least interesting part of the menstrual cycle, hormonally speaking. During the rest of the month, women undergo massive shifts in hormone levels with impacts throughout the body. But hardly anyone, from OBGYNs, to women’s health experts, to women themselves, is aware of these changes.

I believe that this knowledge should be fundamental for women and their healthcare providers. Where a woman happens to be in her menstrual cycle impacts her metabolism, sleep, athletic performance, response to certain medications, and, of course, whether she can get pregnant. Information with such broad and profound impacts should not be a mystery. And it doesn’t have to be.

When Pascal, Philipp, Peter and I founded Ava in 2014, it was with the mission to advance women’s reproductive health by bringing together artificial intelligence and clinical research. And I’m proud to share that we’ve just achieved a major milestone: Our clinical research has just been made public in a scientific paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research. 

The paper demonstrates that five physiological signals change throughout the menstrual cycle, and that by tracking these signals, we can identify the fertile window of a woman’s cycle in real time. Our flagship product, the Ava fertility tracker, is the only fertility-tracking method available that measures all five of these signs.

With these published findings, we’ve broadened scientific understanding of the menstrual cycle by shedding light on its most central component: the fertile window. It’s rare for a digital health company to conduct its own clinical research and even rarer to reveal the secret sauce behind its technology. But bottom line is only one of our goals; expanding knowledge is another. There’s so much more uncharted ground to cover—and it spans a woman’s reproductive life, from puberty to menopause. Ava is already putting research efforts into some of those unknowns.

At the same time, we’re working to encourage the public discussion around the gender bias in scientific research, so we can take women’s health out of the shadowy domain of mystery and into the spotlight.


Lea von Bidder featured

Inspirational Woman: Lea von Bidder | Co-Founder & CEO, Ava

Lea von Bidder

Lea von Bidder is Co-Founder; VP Marketing and President of Ava Science Inc.

The idea for the Ava bracelet came from Pascal Koenig, Philipp Tholen, Peter Stein and I (Lea) around five years ago when we were confronted with our own reproductive choices in the modern world. We almost immediately started consulting with several gynaecologists from around the world, mainly in Europe and the US, asking what is important for women’s reproductive health needs. When Pascal, Philipp, Peter and I founded Ava in 2014, it was with the mission to advance women’s reproductive health by bringing together artificial intelligence and clinical research. And I’m proud to share that we’ve just achieved a major milestone: Our clinical research has just been made public in a scientific paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research. The paper demonstrates that five physiological signals change throughout the menstrual cycle, and that by tracking these signals, we can identify the fertile window of a woman’s cycle in real time. Our flagship product, the Ava fertility tracker, is the only fertility-tracking method available that measures all five of these signs.

We have around 120 employees worldwide distributed among Zurich, San Francisco, Belgrade, Makati and Hong Kong. Around 80 of these sit in our Headquarters in Zurich and work in various departments such as Clinical Team, Data Science Team, Product Team, Marketing as well as Customer Success.

We are proud to count over 20,000 pregnancies worldwide and 50 new pregnancies a day among our users

The tracking of a woman's cycle, fertility, and pregnancy is just the start of many exciting possibilities. Ava continues to conduct clinical studies to improve its accuracy and increase its capabilities. Ava and the University Hospital of Zurich are conducting a new large cohort study with several sub-studies that will address topics such as irregular cycles and pregnancy complications. We are also working with several thought leaders to conduct studies in assisted reproduction and gestational hypertensive populations.

Our vision of wanting to be a long-term companion for women, providing data-driven and scientifically proven insights along all stages of their reproductive lives, as well as our mission, wanting to advance women’s reproductive health by bringing together artificial intelligence and clinical research, are our biggest drivers.

Please also have a look and feel free to use parts of my most recent opinion piece covering the topic of women’s health.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have a master's degree in global entrepreneurship from EM Lyon in France, Zhejiang University in China and Purdue Krannert University in the US. I completed my bachelor's degree at the University of St. Gallen and at HEC Montreal in Canada. During my studies, I worked in the Marketing Department of Procter & Gamble in Frankfurt and for a strategy consulting firm in Paris. I am also a co-founder of L’Inouï, a company that produces and distributes high-quality chocolate in Bangalore, India.

We founded Ava in Switzerland in 2014 and a year later I moved to San Francisco to open Ava’s US office as VP Marketing & President.

Commercial Photographer, Advertising Photographer, Lifestyle Photographer, Fashion Photographer, San Francisco, San Francisco California
Commercial Photographer, Advertising Photographer, Lifestyle Photographer, Fashion Photographer, Travel Photographer, Fitness Photographer, Video Director, San Francisco, San Francisco California, California, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, James Bueti Photography, Lifestyle, Fashion, James Bueti

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No never, but what I always knew was that I wanted to have an impact on important topics such as women’s rights, representation and health.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Founding your own start-up comes at a price and it’s inevitable that you work on something you’re passionate about and that you have a great team around you – always hire people that are smarter than yourself!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I will move into my new role as CEO of Ava in January 2020 and am very excited about this new challenge. You can find the press release in regards to this move here: https://3xwa2438796x1hj4o4m8vrk1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/06022019_PressRelease_Ava_Announces_Change_in_Leadership_Team.pdf

Also, have a look at this latest CNN Executive Talk to learn more about myself 😊

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Having a great co-founders team by my side who are all experts in different fields such as Data Science, Operations, General Management and Marketing, and we therefore complement each other very well. Also, being open to new challenges and ideas - just because you have chosen a path at some point, doesn’t mean you need to follow exactly that for the rest of your life. Things change and so should you.

I must also add – the support from family, friends and my husband.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome? What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

I believe the root cause of this starts when we are children. We need to stop thinking so gender biased and teaching this to our children. General sayings like, girls are better at languages, boys are better at maths etc, need to be revised so that we give our kids the opportunity to choose their own path even though it might not fit into our society.

Also, I don’t think that its only tech missing out on vital female input, it’s the same in many industries. We need to get much better with public childcare opportunities, maternity/paternity regulations, flexible working hours, also men being encouraged to work part-time, etc. The environment and circumstances we are still stuck in do not give us the possibility to thrive fully just yet.

Have a look at this LinkedIn post that touches nicely on the gender gap in Switzerland.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Get yourself a wolf-pack, everything is so much better and easier when fighting something together.

Make sure you attend as many conferences relevant to your industry as possible to network and put your name out there. My favourite conferences are: