At Ova Woman, we want all women to have access to their preferred birth control method. For some women this means getting an IUD, for others it means taking the pill daily. Some women prefer going hormone free for religious, health, or personal reasons. Using temperature and other bodily signs to chart fertility can be a great way to get know your body, but can also be daunting for some women. NaturalCycles supports women in going hormone free. “NaturalCycles is a tailored solution, using women's unique temperature readings to inform her when she has ovulated and when she is likely to ovulate in her next cycle, pinpointing when a women can and can’t get pregnant with 99.9% accuracy.”
We had the opportunity to interview the founder of NaturalCycles, Dr. Elina Berglund. Dr. Berglund is a particle physicist. Prior to her developing Natural Cycles, she worked at a world renowned research facility. We completely geeked out when we heard that she was part of the team that discovered the Higgs Boson (an elementary particle critical to several physics theories). After this historical moment, Dr. Berglund decided to take on a new challenge—designing a better non-hormonal contraceptive using big data.
What stories or conversations with women stand out to you as key motivators for starting NaturalCycles? How did you know that you were meeting a widespread need?
Well, I initially started NaturalCycles for my own needs. I had been on hormonal contraception for a long time and knew that I wanted to get pregnant in a few years. I wanted to give my body a break from hormones. In my search for natural alternatives, I found that there were no accurate, effective and easy-to-use methods available. With my background in particle physics at CERN, I knew I was able to create a statistical algorithm that can predict a woman’s ovulation day and fertility with high precision. I thus created NaturalCycles for my own usage and I had some other female colleagues at CERN pilot it. I realized that there are many women around the world in need of a product like NaturalCycles. So, I left my job at CERN to spend full-time on developing NaturalCycles. Today, we have more than 50,000 users, 2 clinical studies conducted (1 published), and more to come! I find the potential of expanding to markets where there is little access to contraception especially interesting for the future of NaturalCycles.
How did your training in particle physics prepare you to develop Natural Cycles?
Particle physics is all about Big Data and statistics. This requires skills in data analysis and advanced mathematical tools, which came in very handy when developing NaturalCycles.
What motivated you to switch to a non-hormonal birth control? What have been the benefits of switching?
I had tried the contraceptive pill as a teenager, but quickly went off it again as the mood swings and bad temper caused me to break up with my boyfriend. I then tried to find a natural method, but failed and eventually got a hormonal implant. I was rather happy with the implant and stayed on it for about 10 years. However, during this time, I became more and more aware of the side effects involved in hormonal birth control and that the most dangerous ones you do not experience until it is too late, such as breast cancer. As cancer runs in my family I thought it was time to switch.
Once I started using NaturalCycles I learned so much about my own body that I had no idea about before! I got so into my own fertility data that for the first time in years I was wide awake when the alarm clock rung because I was excited about measuring my temperature.
Entrepreneurs are often seen as risk takers. Do you consider yourself a risk taker? What is the biggest risk you’ve had to take in starting Natural Cycles?
Yes, I guess it was a big risk to start NaturalCycles. It was very scary to quit my job, which I loved, to sit at home for a year and only develop NaturalCycles, without colleagues or salary. I am, however, very happy today that I did dare to take this risk, to do something that I believed in and was passionate about.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are looking to make a difference in women’s health?
Research and be willing to make the jump. Trust yourself! If you are truly passionate about something, you will find a way.
In the next five years what innovation do you hope to see in women’s personal care/ health?
I truly believe that the whole quantified self-technology will boom in the next year and I hope that the result will be that health care will be more about prevention rather than treatment. This is especially important for pregnancy related care. If, for example, a miscarriage can be prevented, that could change a woman’s life! With NaturalCycles you can detect early signs of miscarriage due to a drop in hormones, which can be prevented by taking medication. We would like to improve and expand this service further in the future.