NYC pitch competition for female inventors picks a winner

Three creators of a device to treat a painful medical condition that affects mostly older women were the winners of Invent-Her, a NYC-sponsored contest to boost female product innovators and their local manufacturing efforts. 

Pelvic organ prolapse, which is said to affect half of women over 50, is currently only treatable by surgery, or with a non-surgical device called a pessary that inhibits certain activities and requires a doctor’s visit to insert or remove.

“We were shocked that we’d never heard about prolapse before, given that it affects so many women,” said Kaitlin Maier, one of the inventors. “While fem tech is having a revolution these days, many of the products out there are geared towards younger women, and there’s not a lot of innovation being done for this older population.”

Maier and her team — which includes fellow engineers Ariana Sopher and Meegan Daigler and urogynecologist Paul Hanissian — wanted to create a better pessary that would return control to patients, allowing them to avoid surgery and manage the condition independently. 

“We were shocked that we’d never heard about prolapse before, given that it affects so many women.”

Over the next six months, their company Reia Health will receive $10,000 in support services for product prototyping, as well as studio space and access to investors.

“Our residency at Collab will help us refine our product and begin testing,” said Maier. “Further down the line we’ll be seeking FDA approval, and we’re excited to make use of Collab’s fabrication equipment to continue iterating on our design. It will help us develop an effective pessary that women can actually afford.”

Newest Invent-Her winner Kaitlin Maier of Reia Health with last year’s winner Ari Meleciano

Invent-Her is the brainchild of Adina Levin, founder of Collab, a Brooklyn-based creative collective and incubator, which is part of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)’s Futureworks Shops program, providing access to a collaborative network of advanced manufacturing spaces citywide. 

Shops is part of the broader $8 million Futureworks initiative that also includes a virtual incubator for hardware startups and a program providing access to advanced manufacturing technologies to traditional manufacturers.

Advanced manufacturing refers to the use of new, digital technologies such as 3D printing and robotic automation to develop goods and materials. This lucrative sector is growing, but women are still underrepresented. The City’s Futureworks program, and Collab’s Invent-Her competition, are working to change that. 

Based in a converted foundry building in Bushwick, Collab has helped launch more than ten companies with a combined valuation in excess of $400 million, creating more than 250 new jobs.

“Women are natural inventors, and Invent-Her is my response to the disproportionate number of men to women working at Collab,” Levin said. “My goal is to make sure women know that we’re here to connect them with the resources, tools, and brain trust needed to help them grow their ideas into thriving businesses. Reia’s work on a women’s health issue which is widespread, yet has gotten very little attention, is the essence of why I created Invent-Her in the first place.”

My goal is to make sure women know that we’re here to connect them with the resources, tools, and brain trust needed to help them grow their ideas into thriving businesses.

Vidula Joshi, Senior Project Manager at NYCEDC, noted that Invent-Her is “not your typical cutthroat pitch competition.” 

“The City’s Futureworks program actively supports minority- and women-owned hardware businesses, and events like Collab’s Invent-Her are critical to this mission,” Joshi said. “It’s a collaborative space where leading women founders can meet and learn from each other, and the runners-up will be supported through Futureworks in other ways. The success of Invent-Her proves that women can not only survive but thrive in traditionally male-dominated spaces.”

Invent-Her kicked off last year by awarding prizes to Ari Meleciano, creator of a camera that combined the digital and analog photography experience, and Chloe Varelidi, inventor of a low-cost modular playground designed for crisis zones and refugee camps.

For its second round, Invent-Her received 25 applications. Runners up included a low cost early detection tool for bedsores from medtech startup Rubitection; therapeutic accessories to relieve anxiety and depression from InCare; a customizable, sustainable water bottle from tech startup Rali; and personalized vegan skin care formulas from beYOUtytech.

To keep tabs on Collab and the next Invent-her cohort, check out the Invent-Her website. Learn more about NYCEDC’s Futureworks Shops initiative here.

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