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From Ballerina to Scientist: Meet the CEO Behind a New Fertility Tracker

 

In late 2015, Ova organized a product review for a fertility app. One of our big takeaways from this review was that women had a hard time remembering to take their temperature every morning before getting out of bed. Around this same time, we learned about a new product, Priya, that allows women to monitor their body temperature without actually having to remember to orally take their temperature in the morning. The device is a small flexible ring that is worn inside the vagina. Temperature is continuously tracked and then sent to a women's smartphone via Bluetooth. We connected with Priya CEO Lauren Costantini to learn more.

What is Priya? How does it work?

Priya is a wearable sensor that continuously tracks a woman’s core body temperature. It detects the subtle changes that occur prior to ovulation, then sends an alert to a smartphone when a woman is most fertile. Priya is the most effortless, discrete, and precise way to know when it’s time to conceive

Who do you think will most benefit from Priya?

Prima-Temp’s first product allows women to pinpoint their most fertile window. The stories I receive from the countless women around the WORLD who have read about Priya and are trying to conceive motivate me and my team every day to bring this groundbreaking product to the women who need it most. Women who have been trying to get pregnant for years and cannot afford IVF, or women who are over 35 and know that every month counts, or women who just want to have control over this process called fertility…their stories inspire us each day.

How was Priya developed?

Prima-Temp was ‘born’ in 2010 by an emergency room physician and an engineering firm who were contemplating new ways to monitor and analyze temperature, ‘the forgotten vital sign.’ Phase IV Engineering, a firm based in Boulder, Colorado, had developed a temperature sensor for dairy cows that allowed the dairymen to identify when the cow was most fertile and proceed with the very expensive bull insemination process. The founders then extended this engineering into a human version of the sensor.

What stories or conversations with women stand out to you as key motivators for bringing Priya to life? 

I receive emails on a regular basis from women asking me when and where they can purchase our fertility sensor. Their stories are inspiring yet heartbreaking. One in particular stands out:

“I have used countless boxes of ovulation tests. I didn't feel that I was successful in identifying my most fertile window and your article hit close to home. This has been heartbreaking for my husband and I as we are trying to save enough money to see a fertility specialist here in CO in search of another, probably more expensive and invasive solution. I know it's a long shot, but your article gave me hope that there was something less expensive that would provide us with much more accurate and timely information to try on our own before we can afford to see a specialist.”

What motivated you to study neuroscience and how did your training in this field prepare you to lead the Priya team?

I started life as a ballerina, moved to musical theater and traveled around the country performing and competing. When I started to audition on Broadway, they kept telling me ‘you’re a great dancer and singer, but you’re too short’. So I went off and got my PhD in Neuroscience! Focusing on treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, my lab at Harvard Medical School discovered breakthrough treatments, but they languished on the pages of medical journals and never reached the patients that needed them most.

A move from academia to industry allowed me to translate these discoveries and successfully bring several products from bench to patients. But this was still not fast enough: I then launched my own consulting firm and worked with over 40 startups, moving several therapeutics in parallel into the hands of those in need. Now, as CEO of a consumer-facing medical device wearable sensor company, I’ve been fortunate to ‘learn the ropes’ of science, business, and fundraising through this broad background.

Would you be willing to share a formative experience that prepared you to lead a company?

One story that makes me smile to this day is when I convinced a fellow scientist to follow her passion – to leave science and start a salsa company! She met with me to network about jobs in science, and had a very somber tone while telling me about her chemistry qualifications. But when we began talking about her hobbies, she started telling me stories of how she was raised in Mexico and had ‘fingers stained with chilies at 8 years old’; how salsas and moles should be hand crafted with the greatest care and finest ingredients. Her whole body changed when she talked about her cooking, and I told her that she MUST follow that path. She has a husband and 2 small children, and she said ‘impossible!’. But she and I worked on a business plan, kitchens, connections, marketing, etc. and she now has one of the most successful salsa companies around. Most importantly, she has a completely different view of life and work (‘it’s not even work!’), and her energy is absolutely astounding.



In the next five years what innovation do you hope to see in women’s personal care/ health?

As outlined in my TEDx Talk, the ability of wearable sensors to collect that data that our bodies have been radiating since the beginning of humankind, and use the data to live happier, healthier, more energetic lives, is a passion for me. In addition, women ‘hold the purse strings’ in most households today, yet the proportions of clinically relevant (ie NOT just aesthetic) personal care and health products that can truly help women live healthier lives is extremely low. In addition, as women are taking on more demanding roles in the workforce (executives, etc), the levels of stress are increasing rapidly. Women’s bodies, from an evolutionary standpoint, are not built for this type of stress, thus we see a higher proportion of heart disease and stroke in women versus men. Our bodies are SO DIFFERENT than men’s bodies. Unfortunately there are little-to-no treatments or clinical studies that specifically discern between response rates in men versus women. I hope to see an increase in women-specific treatments for these disorders – a certain level of ‘personalized medicine’ that is gender specific.

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