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Women’s health start-up Junofem develops innovative solution to address global problem

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11 November 2020

A device created by biotech company Junofem is providing a solution to help women address a common health problem with dignity and precision.

Junofem has created the femfitⓇ, a pelvic floor trainer that is a medical device designed by clinicians to meet the needs of women suffering with urinary incontinence. It is different from other gadgets on the market, offering real time biofeedback which shows users their pelvic floor and abdominal muscle allowing them to learn effective techniques. It is slim and flexible and can be worn comfortably during exercise, and the exercise programme integrated into the app is clinically validated. The femfitⓇ is also a tool for healthcare professionals allowing them to functionally assess how the entire muscle bed is functioning in different positions and they will have access to a clinical portal to allow them to remotely monitor patients and provide individual advice based on their progress.

The femfitⓇ is based on research from the Pelvic Floor Group at the University of Auckland. When it came time to commercialise the idea to make it an accessible solution for the general public, the group approached Jen Barnes to take the role of CEO. Jen is a trained scientist with 15 years of commercial experience and was known to the team from her time working at UniServices, the University of Auckland’s commercialisation company. She had since moved to Sydney, which is where she is still based.

Jen was always a scientist but she wasn’t always an entrepreneur. At college in Oregon she studied Molecular Microbiology and it was during graduate school that she fell in love with a Kiwi, which is how she ended up in New Zealand. An intended year long stay turned into 18, with two kids invented along the way. Her career moved from molecular biology to diagnostics and while working at Roche her people skills were noticed and channelled into business management. While working at UniServices, Jen took part in the Velocity entrepreneurship competition run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, becoming a finalist for her team’s diagnostics venture SpotCheck. Jen says “The Velocity programme was the first time I reframed the way I looked at myself and considered myself an entrepreneur. I have never considered myself a creative person and I believe entrepreneurs are generally very creative. Velocity helped me realise we all have different sides and strengths and there is no rule about creating a business. You just have  a vision backed by sound decisions, and the fortitude to build that vision. The skills she has gained have helped Jen lead the team at JunoFem to achieve an astonishing array of achievements, delivered at pace. Jen is really proud of her team. “We have achieved so many milestones in the last few months that are truly exciting. Our Auckland facility received ISO13485 accreditation, a big achievement to ensure quality and safety when manufacturing medical devices, the femfitⓇ was registered with Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) as a class I medical device allowing for sale in Australia (it is already WAND registered for New Zealand), and we ran a limited release beta launch and sold over 65 units across New Zealand and Australia.” They are planning to do a full launch in Australia and New Zealand in Q2 of 2021, initially focussing on clinical referral of the device.

Among their achievements, Jen’s pitch for femfitⓇ landed her third place out of 120 entries in the 2020 Australian event for She Loves Tech, the world’s largest start-up competition for women and technology. Her pitch highlighted that one in three women suffer from incontinence and contained a lot of myth busting. Incontinence is said to be expected after childbirth and as a part of aging, but the reality is that the average age is only 44 and many women who experience urinary incontinence have not had children. 

Ignorance and neglect of women’s health has come under scrutiny in recent years. Causes for inequality include systemic issues, such as research trials in the US not requiring inclusion of women until 1993. Hundreds of years of neglect take time to resolve, and there is still disparity. For example in the UK there is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women. Jen is encouraged by the changes she has seen lately in the openness in discussing women’s health issues online and feels it will make a significant difference. “It is one of the positives to come out of social media. Communities of women are forming that opening talk about menstruation, pregnancy loss, leaking bladders, and menopause. Traditionally these matters were taboo to talk about, but I love seeing the change in conversation. Women should not suffer in silence and accept the status quo. I am hopeful this change in conversation will translate to a change in funding and addressing women’s health needs.”

As well as a passion for women’s health, Jen is also a huge advocate for the commercialisation of research. Scientists can sometimes be sceptical of commercialisation, but Jen sees it as an important way to make solutions viable and to help many people, at scale. “When scientists, medical professionals and commercial teams appreciate each other’s skills, needs and wants, and point of view, magic happens and successful products are born.” She also warns “When you invent something it is easy to over-engineer it and provide features that don’t translate into a benefit for the end user. Scientific training, including my own, tends to create inventors who strive for 99.9% perfection. But ultimately, the market may only demand 90%. It is easy to lose sight of that and you must do the early work with end users to understand what is a must have versus a nice to have. Consumer research is a science in itself, and therefore commercial expertise early on is fundamental in any commercialisation strategy. The years and funds (and energy) spent to get the extra 9.9% can kill a product- because now someone else has beaten you to market, or the end user only wants to pay for features they want and not your added extras. ” 

“If researchers have an idea they think they want to commercialise a great book to read is The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. It is a great overview of how to create a solution and spoiler alert – you must talk to customers first!” 

Further reading: 
Life-changing device helps women manage their pelvic floor health
UniServices spin-out Junofem internationally recognised in global start-up competition

Jen Barnes
Jen Barnes

social media

11 November 2020

A device created by biotech company Junofem is providing a solution to help women address a common health problem with dignity and precision.

Junofem has created the femfitⓇ, a pelvic floor trainer that is a medical device designed by clinicians to meet the needs of women suffering with urinary incontinence. It is different from other gadgets on the market, offering real time biofeedback which shows users their pelvic floor and abdominal muscle allowing them to learn effective techniques. It is slim and flexible and can be worn comfortably during exercise, and the exercise programme integrated into the app is clinically validated. The femfitⓇ is also a tool for healthcare professionals allowing them to functionally assess how the entire muscle bed is functioning in different positions and they will have access to a clinical portal to allow them to remotely monitor patients and provide individual advice based on their progress.

The femfitⓇ is based on research from the Pelvic Floor Group at the University of Auckland. When it came time to commercialise the idea to make it an accessible solution for the general public, the group approached Jen Barnes to take the role of CEO. Jen is a trained scientist with 15 years of commercial experience and was known to the team from her time working at UniServices, the University of Auckland’s commercialisation company. She had since moved to Sydney, which is where she is still based.

Jen was always a scientist but she wasn’t always an entrepreneur. At college in Oregon she studied Molecular Microbiology and it was during graduate school that she fell in love with a Kiwi, which is how she ended up in New Zealand. An intended year long stay turned into 18, with two kids invented along the way. Her career moved from molecular biology to diagnostics and while working at Roche her people skills were noticed and channelled into business management. While working at UniServices, Jen took part in the Velocity entrepreneurship competition run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, becoming a finalist for her team’s diagnostics venture SpotCheck. Jen says “The Velocity programme was the first time I reframed the way I looked at myself and considered myself an entrepreneur. I have never considered myself a creative person and I believe entrepreneurs are generally very creative. Velocity helped me realise we all have different sides and strengths and there is no rule about creating a business. You just have a vision backed by sound decisions, and the fortitude to build that vision. The skills she has gained have helped Jen lead the team at JunoFem to achieve an astonishing array of achievements, delivered at pace. Jen is really proud of her team. “We have achieved so many milestones in the last few months that are truly exciting. Our Auckland facility received ISO13485 accreditation, a big achievement to ensure quality and safety when manufacturing medical devices, the femfitⓇ was registered with Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) as a class I medical device allowing for sale in Australia (it is already WAND registered for New Zealand), and we ran a limited release beta launch and sold over 65 units across New Zealand and Australia.” They are planning to do a full launch in Australia and New Zealand in Q2 of 2021, initially focussing on clinical referral of the device.

Among their achievements, Jen’s pitch for femfitⓇ landed her third place out of 120 entries in the 2020 Australian event for She Loves Tech, the world’s largest start-up competition for women and technology. Her pitch highlighted that one in three women suffer from incontinence and contained a lot of myth busting. Incontinence is said to be expected after childbirth and as a part of aging, but the reality is that the average age is only 44 and many women who experience urinary incontinence have not had children.

Ignorance and neglect of women’s health has come under scrutiny in recent years. Causes for inequality include systemic issues, such as research trials in the US not requiring inclusion of women until 1993. Hundreds of years of neglect take time to resolve, and there is still disparity. For example in the UK there is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women. Jen is encouraged by the changes she has seen lately in the openness in discussing women’s health issues online and feels it will make a significant difference. “It is one of the positives to come out of social media. Communities of women are forming that opening talk about menstruation, pregnancy loss, leaking bladders, and menopause. Traditionally these matters were taboo to talk about, but I love seeing the change in conversation. Women should not suffer in silence and accept the status quo. I am hopeful this change in conversation will translate to a change in funding and addressing women’s health needs.”

As well as a passion for women’s health, Jen is also a huge advocate for the commercialisation of research. Scientists can sometimes be sceptical of commercialisation, but Jen sees it as an important way to make solutions viable and to help many people, at scale. “When scientists, medical professionals and commercial teams appreciate each other’s skills, needs and wants, and point of view, magic happens and successful products are born.” She also warns “When you invent something it is easy to over-engineer it and provide features that don’t translate into a benefit for the end user. Scientific training, including my own, tends to create inventors who strive for 99.9% perfection. But ultimately, the market may only demand 90%. It is easy to lose sight of that and you must do the early work with end users to understand what is a must have versus a nice to have. Consumer research is a science in itself, and therefore commercial expertise early on is fundamental in any commercialisation strategy. The years and funds (and energy) spent to get the extra 9.9% can kill a product- because now someone else has beaten you to market, or the end user only wants to pay for features they want and not your added extras. ”

“If researchers have an idea they think they want to commercialise a great book to read is The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. It is a great overview of how to create a solution and spoiler alert – you must talk to customers first!”

Further reading:
Life-changing device helps women manage their pelvic floor health
UniServices spin-out Junofem internationally recognised in global start-up competition


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