Femtech startup Tuune is an easier pill to swallow
How a founder’s chronic pain inspired her to help women better understand—and make informed decisions—about their own bodies
Many entrepreneurs are driven to find solutions to a pain point—quite literally, in the case of urban designer-turned-founder Shardi Nahavandi. In the middle of a career change and graduate school for health tech management, Shardi began losing her appetite, her hair, and her focus. Dozens of doctors disagreed on the source of her chronic pain, misdiagnosing everything from bowel cancer to yoga injuries. Determined to regain her sense of self, Shardi enrolled in another masters program in endocrinology to better understand her body and see if she could determine the root cause herself. Thousands of research hours and thesis papers later, Shardi realized that she suffered from an imbalance of hormones.
Shardi’s problem is not unique. Of the one billion women worldwide using hormonal contraceptives, 52% will develop a side effect because of the lack of customization. Most medications are developed based on the hormone levels of male subjects, without factoring in or testing the unique needs of female bodies. Armed with her research on cortisol levels and her cofounder, Peter Fish— a precision medicine-focused doctor and scientist who previously worked on the Wellcome Sanger Institute's COSMIC project (the largest dataset on precision oncology)—Shardi started Tuune: a precision medicine startup that leverages AI and biological testing to match women with the contraception that actually works for their bodies. Tuune’s first product is a customized platform that allows users to choose their birth control rather than conforming to the industry-standard “one size fits all” mentality. Aggregating the data from a mail-in swab sample and an online health assessment, Tuune provides a detailed, holistic report of a user’s hormonal health. This information gets fed into the Tuune algorithm, which matches users to the right contraception for their physical and emotional needs. “We want to empower you so you understand why you’re experiencing the things you experience and what is the best possible solution,” says Shardi.
While she knew her product was groundbreaking, Shardi worried about convincing the male-dominated tech industry of the massive demand for her product. In need of a support system, the team turned to the Google for Startups Campus London Residency program for help navigating the healthtech landscape and connecting to other women founders, engineers, and leaders.
Throughout the six-month program, Shardi met with regulatory, technical, and life science advisors who advised her on Tuune’s intake forms process and outbound communications for potential users. “It was brilliant to be able to tap into the Google and Deepmind network for advice on how we built our technical infrastructure,” says Shardi. “We received invaluable advice from the wider Google network on how we build our technology to scale and also leverage AI for women’s health.” Reflecting on their time, Peter says that the program, “literally gave us access to some of the world's most innovative thinkers, this significantly ramped up our tech and allowed us to exceed expectations.” The behind-the-scenes algorithm used by Tuune was shaped by Shardi and Peter’s time at Google for Startups. “The level of decision-making that we can do with our algorithm far exceeds the power that a clinician can do in a short time frame,” says Shardi. “41% of GPs don’t do a proper risk assessment, we already are 100% better because we are including everything, every time.”
Since completing Google for Startups Residency, Shardi has hired 12 team members (PhDs, doctors, gynecologists, and biomedical engineers) to continue “fine-Tuune”ing the product. The team is using Google tools like Optimize and Tag Manager to test the best propositions for different audiences as hormones affect women in so many different ways. This data-led approach paired with qualitative interviews on Google Hangouts allows the team to really understand their customers on a weekly basis. With a focus on scientific research, the team is currently preparing for their clinical trial as part of receiving a prestigious Innovate UK grant, as well as sharing some early Tuune testimonials on YouTube.
One early user, Jo, discovered Tuune at a point when her current contraception was causing her intense anxiety and mood swings. “Using Tuune has been great,” said Jo. “It was easy to go through the health assessment and identify the symptoms I was having, even some I didn’t realise I was experiencing that were due to my pill. If anyone has any doubt about the current contraception they are on, or are curious about how it might be impacting them then they should definitely try Tuune. I had relatively low-key symptoms compared to some women and it helped me a ton, so I can’t imagine how much finding out more about different methods could positively impact others.”
Although Tuune is starting out with birth control, Shardi’s ultimate goal is to close the data gap in women’s health to help them make informed decisions about their own well-being: “I want to help women feel in control of their contraceptive choices and contribute to research so that we can better understand the female body.”