How Ovira founder Alice Williams defeated self-doubt and secured $1.5 million for her tech tackling period pain


Ovira founder and chief Alice Williams. Source: supplied.

Femtech startup and Startmate graduate Ovira has secured $1.5 million in funding from Blackbird Ventures, for its product designed to put an end to period pain.

Ovira founder and chief Alice Williams launched the product after, when researching pain remedies to help with her own endometriosis, she came across electrotherapy.

The device sends low-level pulses of electric vibration to block pain signals to the brain.

Ovira was part of the latest cohort to go through Startmate, the accelerator program backed by Blackbird.

Now, just nine months later, Williams has sent out test units, received feedback, iterated and reiterated, launched the product, shipped her first order, and secured $1.5 million in funding from none other than Blackbird itself.

Already, she’s used some of that funding to hire two full-time employees, and plans to make a push into the US market.

A turning point

When it came to raising capital, Williams tells SmartCompany going through the Startmate program put her in “a privileged position”.

“We had a lot of exposure to investors … [you’re] put in situations you’re not used to — having to sell your big vision and having answer lots of hard questions,” she explains.

“You get to know the whole of your business very quickly, and what investors are probably nervous about — but also what they love and what their eyes light up at.”

Still, she’s not sure that being part of the cohort put her on Blackbird’s radar. In fact, she says she didn’t even meet Rick Baker, the partner who led the investment, while she was in the program.

Williams recalls the startups’ retreat at the beginning of the Startmate program, and a presentation they were given on what Blackbird looks for in a company.

“They come across 1,000 companies a year and only something like eight get investment … you have to be a billion-dollar company for them to be able to get a return,” she says.

“I remember sitting there thinking: ‘I’m not even going to bother with Blackbird. There’s no way I’m going to be one of those companies’.”

That was the mindset the founder maintained, pretty much throughout the accelerator, she admits.

“There were so many other issues that went on during Startmate that made me feel like my business isn’t investment-worthy,” she says.

Finally, however, Williams hit a turning point, and stopped putting herself — and Ovira — down.

“I’m the only one that knows what my business is, where I’m going, and what we want to achieve.

Everyone else can have their opinions and their views, but no one knows my business as well as I do,” she says.

“There was this really pivotal moment … it’s like I suddenly had this armour around me. Anyone could say anything and it wasn’t going to affect my views.”

Williams also confesses that when she spoke to SmartCompany about being part of Startmate, back in July, she didn’t really understand why anyone would want to interview her, or write an article on her or her business. Needless to say, that’s all changed now.

“Now, everyone should be doing an article on Ovira!”

Advocates abound

Now she’s got a product in the market and dollars in the bank, Williams is focusing on growth.

“Let’s get this into the hands of as many women as possible.”

She’s even already done a ‘soft launch’ into the US, because “ultimately, they will be our biggest market”.

To get that product to women, Williams is focusing on the story behind it, and building a conversation around a topic that’s still taboo.

“Period pain has been something that has been so historically ignored, and there is so much emotional isolation and pain around it,” she says.

“Women haven’t had the opportunity in a lot of cultures, even western cultures, to be able to talk openly about periods.”

Williams intends for the brand to represent more than the product, and to become “something women can associate with, and that will allow them to have a platform to talk openly about these topics.”

And already, it seems to be working.

“We’re going to go super hard on word-of-mouth — we’ve found brand advocates have been a really great channel,” the founder explains.

“Usually, it’s something that women would be charging to promote — they’ve got up to 300,000 people following them. But, they’re happy to do it for free.”

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