‘I would say Ive never been to a place with such a concentration of intelligence… I think I might still work on Irish time.’
Born out of a PCH hackathon in September 2014, Ayda Technologies, named for 19th century mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace, has created a wearable fertility monitor which can be worn during sleep. The Irish hardware startup stands out for its products ease of use: revolutionary in its simplicity, Ayda requires no thermometers, no time restraints, no need to pee on a stick.
We spoke to co-founder Aoife Crowley, who along with engineer and hardware entrepreneur James Foody and three new team members has decamped to Silicon Valley, as part of the PCHs Highway 1 accelerator programme for hardware startups.
So whats it actually like in Silicon Valley?
Its really intense. Were here from February until June this year, though wed like to stick around in the US afterwards. Were registered as an Irish company in Cork, and still being paid through that, but for now were on whats called the B1 visa.
How does the programme work?
It gives you office space, investment and mentors. Were trying to work on the things that it would take longer to do back in Dublinwith hardware especially, it can be slower developing a product, but here they have the facilities to prototype faster. The other thing is that hardware can be perceived as higher risk. There are lots of brilliant accelerators in Dublin but theyre mostly focused on software. Hardware works at a different pace, and there are definitely more risks you need to mitigate. But even by going through this accelerator, that can lower the risks associated with our product.
Whats it like working with PCH and Highway 1? Its interesting that youre at an Irish-owned accelerator, but based in SF.
There are lots of Irish people around out here! PCHs whole focus is supply chain, which has been great for us we came here with all this experience in rapid prototyping, but with none in design for manufacture. Its a very different thing designing something thats going to be made again and again and sold to people.
What are the biggest differences, and advantages?
Having the mentors means a lot. Each person on the team has been assigned a different mentor with a different speciality: Ive spoken to people whove worked on big name fitness trackers, a guy who sold companies to AOL previously. And in general, in SF Im finding people are a bit more receptive to the potential of hardware startups. People can have slightly more conservative attitudes towards them at home. Drop is a great example of an Irish-led hardware startup that went to America, gained experience then came back to Ireland to use it successfully.
Is it weird talking to VCs about menstrual cycles?
No, not weird. But theres a certain amount of education to the process, for both men and women. A lot of what were talking about is glossed over during sex ed in schools. Cervical discharge hardly ever gets spoken about, so Ill explain that people use that to measure fertility and people will say they thought there was something wrong with them. And then with men, sometimes Ill explain the product to them, and you can see in their eyes that they know the pain of that experience and have seen their wives or girlfriends going through it. As a man facing that, you can end up feeling powerless.
Its really interesting to have a product for this purpose in a time when IVF is so successful, but inaccessible to so many.
Its a biological issue thats increasingly common. Were warned all our lives to be careful about contraception, to take control of it, take the pill, use emergency contraception, to wait till were older to have children. And then what people dont realise when they get to thirty five is that their chances of conception could be half what they were when they were twenty five.
Im guessing Ayda is aimed more at the fertility crowd than those whod use it as a form of contraception?
People talk about using it for that, but its definitely aimed at people who are trying to conceive. Its a huge market thats somewhat underservedtheres the option to pee on sticks in the middle of the night, and very little else. You can think of it as a spectrum, from the really invasive medical procedures, IVF, down to alternative therapies, and none of them are easy.
Ayda is in a really interesting market that can only get bigger in response to the prohibitive costs of healthcare, especially in America. Youre helping to pave the way for a middle ground of health monitoring.
Yes, the way the healthcare system is set up in America theres a lot of responsibility placed upon the individual. The onus is on them to monitor their health, because once you get into actual health care and treatment its so expensive. I think theres a really interesting interplay between individual healthcare and work. Trackers are increasingly given to people in the workplace, and businesses are offered a better deal on health insurance based on the wellness of their employees.
Have other health trackers, products like the Apple Watch or the Fitbit, tackled fertility monitoring yet?
Not yet. Our metric is basal body temperature, which needs a really minute, really specific device to track it. And with a device that serves another purpose, say like a wristwatch, theres just going to be too much noise for it to be able to get a proper reading. So for now, its just us.
And how do you like Silicon Valley?
I would say Ive never been to a place with such a concentration of intelligence. It makes you more dynamic. Like time works very differently here people will talk about having burned through a morning, or act as though spending some time talking to you is a gift Its not something Im used to. I think I might still work on Irish time.