StoriesStartups29 April 20195 min

Startups Breaking the Double Standard

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Over the past decade, as startups have crossed into nearly every conceivable industry, there have been some standout areas that have received less attention. Many women entrepreneurs have been remarking for years that women’s interests are consistently undervalued and ignored by VCs. That has finally begun to change. Whether it’s breast milk pumps (Willow), or period management (Thinx), products for women have been popping up all over the place. But getting attention, credibility and funding for women-focused SexTech product companies has remained challenging. This double standard needs to go. After all, sex robots focused on men have been featured at CES for years. So, whether it’s sex in particular, or just women’s products in general, it was with a great deal of excitement that we have seen some big progress in this area recently.

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Yes Way, Osé

For Lora Haddock, the inspiration for her startup, Lora DiCarlo, was intensely personal. After a mind-blowing orgasm at the age of 28, she began to think of how she could replicate the experience and help other women to do the same. But even approaching the subject from the most professional and scientific way possible, she found that there simply wasn’t nearly enough actual data on women’s sexuality and pleasure in any kind of way that could help her. Despite reams and reams of research of data on men, she had a difficult time finding raw insight on questions like blood flow, clitoral stimulation, and partner experiences.

Eventually, she was able to partner with Oregon State University’s engineering department to develop her signature top-of-the-line toy, the Osé, slated to be released later this year. She sees her product, her company, and her story as helping to break down barriers and challenge taboos surrounding women’s sexuality and women’s agency. From her background in the US Navy, she had the direct experience of the binary condition that women are usually either “a slut” or “a bitch,” where no matter what route you choose, there’s a way to be vilified as a woman. But her experience, and her company’s objectives, she hopes will show that holding true to your values and persisting will get you where you need to get in the long run.

Better Information for Better Sex

While some women entrepreneurs like Lora Haddock were working on creating products, others have been working in the digital media space for putting better information out there for women and their partners to help them achieve the kind of pleasure they know women deserve. By partnering with the Kinsey institute - named for the pioneering sexuality researcher of the 20th century - OMGYes has been producing instructional and informational videos and web-based media available over their site. Rather than the kind of simple, how-to videos more commonly associated with basic sex education, OMG Yes works with professional sexologists, filmmakers, engineers and educators to create engaging, insightful and - above all - useful video media on helping improve women’s sexual pleasure. These videos are designed both for women to watch themselves, and some to watch with their partners, the better to help everyone involved.

The founders of OMG Yes say that a lot of misinformation about women’s sexual pleasure has been spread especially through popular media. In Hollywood movies, sex is almost always portrayed as amazing and orgasmic with very little effort or attention, creating an impression that it doesn’t have to be worked at, and feelings of failure for women who could otherwise enjoy themselves much more. Rather than perpetuate the stigma and taboo of talking about women’s sexual pleasure, OMG Yes wants to deconstruct it and bring conscious happiness into the world.

Back to the Pump

Of course, women’s interest in products and services just for them doesn’t end at the bedroom door. Difficulties surrounding getting regular access to breast pumps or pumping locations have been much in the news recently, especially as it relates to workplace accommodation of this need. But against all of this, the technology surrounding breast pumping hadn’t changed in years, or even decades. Much of it still required large, clunky systems with cords and tubes and heavy carrying cases. But startups like Elvie have been designing state-of-the-art breast pumps that have been inverting all these questions, and putting modern women’s needs first. By starting their product design questions around the specific problems presented by existing products, Elvie was able to develop a new style of product that conveys to women that their real interests are valued. And it’s worked! Elvie has sold out its first run of pumps!

For far too long, women’s products and services have been seen as the also-ran in startup world. Whether caring for health needs, professional needs or sexual needs, women-focused companies were seen as somehow less serious. But it’s refreshing to see that changing, with companies like Lora DiCarlo and Elvie. At Start it @KBC, we’re committed to adding diversity to the ranks of Belgian entrepreneurs, and helping startups focused on women to take root and grow in our vibrant community. If you’re a woman who wants to bring her idea to life, get in touch with us today, and we’ll build something together!