One doesn’t have to be a doctor or medical professional to imagine that one of the biggest hurdles to addressing health issues or physical difficulties is getting people to talk about them, particularly when they’re of a variety that may cause shame in those suffering from something that is natural or, at the very least, outside of their control. Personally, I have no qualms about saying that this issue is near and dear to my heart!
To that end, I spoke with Loewen Cavill, the CEO of AuraBlue, based in Cambridge, MA. She and her team are seeking to address an issue facing women going through menopause — namely, the changes in body temperature that make sleep next to impossible — with wearable tech to automatically adjust room and mattress temperature. It’s an issue not often discussed, and one she seems to have set her considerable determination upon improving, if not eradicating.
Mary Juetten: When did you start?
Loewen Cavill: The idea for AuraBlue was born out of a hardware hackathon in Hong Kong in January 2019, where I met my cofounder Claire Traweek. When we got back to MIT, we initially paused the project to focus on our degrees, but continual outreach from women experiencing this problem convinced us of its urgency and ultimately inspired us to resume technical development upon graduation. We are based in Cambridge due to the proximity to our network at MIT and Harvard. Additionally, Cambridge and Boston are leaders in the healthcare space, so we have access to great mentors and resources.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Cavill: Three out of four women will experience sleep disruptions due to hot flashes for an average of 7.4 years. Hot flashes will wake them at all hours of the night, often leaving them with just a couple hours of sleep. These perpetual sleep disruptions affect their health, their productivity, their mood, their relationships, and much more. Women we have spoken to have had to quit their jobs due to the sleep deprivation from night time hot flashes. Menopause has been completely ignored and left behind by technology for far too long. We are bringing sleep back to women everywhere with our novel prediction and response technology.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Cavill: Our customers are women experiencing moderate to severe hot flashes. These women are typically between 45 and 55 years old. Thus far we have primarily been using Facebook and Google ads to reach our target user but the majority of our users have been referred to us by their peers who have used our product before. We have been blessed to have the enthusiastic commitment and support of the women for whom we are building this product. Their continual support, feedback and testing has been the primary force shaping our product into what it is today.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Cavill: I grew up spending my summers and holidays on my family’s cattle farm in Oklahoma. We would wake up at the crack of dawn to feed the cows and chase down grasshoppers for our lunch’s bait. Here I could see, feel, and taste the value and satisfaction of hard work. Being able to taste the fruits of my labor from an early age instilled a work ethic that cemented my “one-ten” nickname, as I was known to put in 110% of effort into everything I did.
My relentless curiosity led me to nervously beg the high school teacher if I could borrow a math textbook for the summer. He laughed, assuming this unknown little girl would never open it, but he gave it to me anyway. That summer my parents had to implement a “no more than two hours of math” policy that I would consistently break, hiding in the bathroom to work through problem after problem. From that point on I was my own math teacher. I assigned my own homework, graded my own quizzes and with no one around to explain abstract concepts like radians, I taught myself those too. I learned that overcoming daunting challenges myself can be exceedingly frustrating yet incredibly rewarding.
Founding a technology startup requires an abundance of hard work and a comfort, or even a desire, to approach problems daily that you have no clue how to solve and often seem impossible. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to jump into a range of engineering roles pre-AuraBlue all of which I had not the slightest understanding of before I joined. These jobs ranged from materials, data scientist, manufacturing at a nuclear fusion startup, mechanical engineering, and even levitation controls at the Hyperloop. The distinct experiences left me with the ability to understand, jump in and lead any engineering efforts that need resources. As an engineer, I knew I had a knowledge gap around what the mechanics of business were that made a company successful, leading me to join Bessemer Venture Partners and Dorm Room Fund as an investor were I was able to work with and study hundreds of companies an experience truly pivotal in shaping me as a entrepreneur.
Juetten: Did being a female have any impact on your decision to launch and during your startup?
Cavill: Definitely. Like most people I had very little understanding of what menopause was, as it’s not a topic brought up in conversation or public dialogue. It was not until my aunt was hospitalized after spending thousands of dollars on unregulated menopausal solutions that I started to realize that, wow, something is not right here. I began talking to my aunt’s friends, and then friends of friends, and then wound up speaking with hundreds of women about their experience with menopause. After hearing again and again how sleep loss from nighttime hot flashes has completely flipped so many women’s lives upside down, I had to do something. Enabling women to stay on their career path and perform their best at the final part of their career climb is the single most important thing I can do to promote women in leadership. For my mom, my aunts, neighbors, friends, sisters, and the little girls in search of role models I feel a duty to change the reality we are left to face today.
Juetten: Any challenges that you found are particular to female founders?
Cavill: Self-confidence. For several reasons women discount their capabilities and limit their vision of what is possible for them to achieve. You can only become what you believe you can become and how much work you put into realizing that belief. At every step along the way you will face people – men, women and yourself – who will doubt your capabilities because of your gender. You will hear a hundred ways you should redirect your ship but at the end of the day you are the expert of your business and all feedback should be listened to but not necessarily acted on. You must have a steadfast vision of what you can achieve to withstand the storms that come with building a business.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Cavill: We have primarily been bootstrapping our business via our personal savings, non-dilutive MIT accelerators (DeltaV and Sandbox), and a mentor of AuraBlue. Right now we are focusing heads down on developing the technology in our product but will likely raise later in the year.
Juetten: Any tips for early-stage founders?
Cavill: Do not be afraid to jump in and take risks. I’ve seen many women wait until they are overqualified to take on a job. With starting a company you will never know all the answers in advance but you will be able to figure it out. Surround yourself with the right people and do not be afraid to ask questions. Work smart and work hard. You can work harder than anyone but if it is on the wrong things then it’s all in vain.
Juetten: What’s your next milestone and any long-term vision for your company?
Cavill: Our next step is completing our user testing and moving into manufacturing. Our mid-term vision for the company is to use our prediction technology and our data surrounding the menopause experience to address all aspects of the menopause experience. Thinking long-term, we plan to expand past menopause and lead the charge in female predictive health and wellness, holistically speaking. It’s our belief that in previous decades the largest bottleneck to predictive care was a lack of data and specifically structured data. In today’s age, that bottleneck has dissipated and the new challenge is leveraging the mountains of data we now possess. What we do today in regards to menopause is just the tip of the iceberg.
Thanks to Loewen for discussing her team’s mission with me as we continue our focus on female founders. We’re all better for those who are willing to tackle the tough issues and her persistence will benefit a sizable portion of the population. #onwards.