"Bwom is a digital coach for women’s health and focused on prevention. What we want is to help women through their life changes, which sometimes show very light symptoms initially but that can become severe and very costly for the system." This is the pitch made by Helena Torras, the ever-smiling entrepreneur. She is always lively, happy, and gives off optimism. When she explains her project, in which she has total confidence, or when she talks about how she crosses Barcelona on her new electric scooter to arrive every day at the Pier01, Barcelona Tech City’s coworking space –which her board is part of- and that brings together many of Catalonia’s leading startups. "The Pier is like Barça’s stadium, every day here there a people visiting to see how it works, either companies or investors, and that generates opportunities and gives you visibility."
CEO of this mobile app founded in April 2015, Torras is working these days on a convertible note to open a new round of series A investment, which she hopes to close at the end of this year or the start of 2019. Qualified in ADE with an MBA from Esade, she is an executive partner at the PaoCapital investment firm, among other multiple posts, but right now she is involved in a project that began as an app to improve women’s pelvic floors.
You are the entrepreneur behind an app to help women develop their pelvic floors. That’s original.
Bwom is something more than that because we pivoted and evolved based on what our users told us. It is the good thing about startups, you begin with an idea but you adapt it to what the market demands from you, the users come first and they are who we take the most care of. It is true that we began with an application to train the pelvic floor, but in the past two and a half years we have made changes. We began getting a lot of users and they wrote to us, telling us that we had saved them and changed their lives, that they didn’t think that what was happening to them is normal. But it is normal, it is common, but they also talked to us about other things that are taboo or less frequent, which no one talks about or do not know how to. We thought that apart from a pelvic floor trainer, they needed a digital coach, someone to accompany them in their lives, to ask them what is wrong and how they are, to help them improve their health. We provide action or prevention plans but if the symptoms have become an illness, we do not get involved, and you have to see a doctor. We have 210,000 users in 10 countries and 60% have urinary incontinence and 53% feel pain during sexual relations. Only 2% have consulted a doctor.
"Some 60% of our users have urinary incontinence and 53% feel pain during sexual relations. Only 2% have consulted a doctor"
You mentioned one concept: "taboo". How important was this in developing an application like this?
We began by talking about the pelvic floor but later we changed the questions so that new users could identify with it more. That is how we presented ourselves and women came because it is a taboo issue. No one talks about it. In fact, we made some stickers that say "I'm doing my Kegels right now" and then some others when we created the plan for increasing sexual desire (after a study we carried out around the test we did with users, and in which we saw the majority didn’t know about their own bodies) that say "An orgasm a day keeps the doctor away". We wanted to make light of something very serious because in the end women do not know their bodies, they feel insecure and that crosses over into other parts of their lives, like their work. We say we empower women through health so that they feel strong in their bodies and they feel that they can take on the world.
And how did you convince investors to make this project happen?
Well, to make it happen... we are still doing that, we still have some way to go... The best thing is that we set up the company in April 2015 and in May, 11 women invested in the company. At that time we were a company without any men, with female investors, founded by women, headed and run by women. It was only 60,000 euros but it was what we needed to get things moving. Then we began to look for investors and now we have business angels from Barcelona and a head investor in Hansi Hansmann, one of the best business angels in Europe and a lead investor in Runtastic, which was sold to Adidas, and in MySugr, which was sold to Roche this summer, one of the biggest digital health operations in Europe. I hope we follow that example. What’s more, we also have the founders of Runtastic as investors, an American investor and we are now doing a convertible note that involves the founders of Doctoralia and the owner of a clinic in Barcelona.
There is a wide range of investors.
Yes, there is, but if you look carefully you will see that our investors bring a lot more. They are people who have invested because they believe in helping women and their health, they believe that change is needed and, besides that, they help us with contacts but also strategy and our vision.
What is Bwom’s role within the digital health sector?
More than anything we are in pre-health because we do not get involved with diagnosis; what we do is detect early symptoms. We carry out the survey on ordinary incontinence -by the gynecologist we have in our application- and we aim for it to be as rigorous and scientific as possible, which is why we have a medical advisor, doctor Eva Ferrer. This sector is a complicated place because we are not biotech nor typical ICT, we could say we are neither of those things or both of them. In the end, biotech will also need digital health, which is what aggregates the data and determines what the patient is like. We are currently talking to pharmaceutical companies and insurers, because women are providing us with lots of information. We do not share any data on an individual basis, that is banned, but in an aggregate form Bwom tells you what your population is like and we can segment things by city, time of life and map it all to detect trends and patterns.
Have you thought about the possibility of doing collaborative studies with research institutes or bodies?
Totally. We have just done a study with UCLA to validate the application, and the idea is to form alliances with medical institutions so that we can validate these patterns. We are not doctors, but we do gather the data and the idea is for there to be scientific criteria to validate these data and define these patterns as real so that we can use them. That should help to change health: the population used to be a pyramid, but now it is inverted and if we do not do something, and we become healthier when we are older, it will become unsustainable for the whole of society, both for the pubic and private health systems. Therefore, there has to be a change in how we focus health because we go to the doctor when we are ill but we need to put in the resources before that, when we are still healthy and that begins with women because they take 80% of the family decisions on health. If we can get women to change, it will spread to the rest of society and that is the change we want.
"Bwom tells you a lot about what your population is like and it can be segmented by city, time of life and mapped to detect trends and patterns"
You do other things other than Bwom, for example, being a mentor for Conector, Wayra or Menorca Millenials.
The truth is that because of Bwom I can increasingly devote less time to mentoring and I try to make sure we are very focused on what we are doing right now. Before, I could perhaps spread myself wider, but when you are running a startup project, you don’t have time for much else. It is true that I act as an independent advisor for a fund and I am involved in lots of women’s projects to boost female leadership, as my investing side is also a little neglected.
Do you put a lot of time into your role as an activist for female leadership?
I am in the Grup7, on the advisory council of the Chamber of Commerce, in the 50/50 association headed by Anna Mercadé and in the Barcelona Tech City I am also on the board. We want to boost the female presence in the technology sector, I want there to be the same opportunities for women. I do not believe we are all the same, it is something I completely rule out, but within the differences we we do have, we can access different opportunities and contribute different things. I think this variety is good for all of us because the way women lead is different than how men do it, and at a time when there are lots of changes in society, the millenials are also contributing a different way of thinking about things. I think leadership has to be far more meritocratic, and not simply based on turning up at work, because in the end what matters to you are results. We need to put both men and women in leadership positions so they can contribute their different visions of how things should be done to change society, to help balance our lives better, not just mothers, but all of us have to find a better balance: whether it is going for a few beers with friends or looking after children or parents. It is about all of us having the option to live the life we want, to have a career without having to give up our professional or personal ambitions. We can have both things. As I always say: I want it all, and perhaps I won’t achieve 100% but if I get 80%, I’ll be happy.
From that point of view, how do you see the ecosystem of female entrepreneurs in Catalonia?
It is getting better, but it’s obviously not 50/50 because it is a process. We are not 50/50 as entrepreneurs, nor 50/50 on the boards of large corporations, nor 50/50 among top executives... everything is a process. Yet, what is true is that there are increasingly more female entrepreneurs, what is needed is for them to have more visibility, because we always see the same three or four and it is about seeing that others exist, too. The other day I was asked for the name of a female entrepreneur and I said, “I won’t pass one on to you, I’ll pass you 20!" Some will triumph and others won’t but what it’s about is not stigmatizing anyone because we can all fail and we have to demystify why a female entrepreneur is not leading a certain project. I would like to cite First Round Capital because it did a study on the 10 factors that made their companies profitable in the first 10 years and number one was that the firms with founders of different genders were 63% more profitable. Diversity brings wealth.
"I don’t think men and women are equal, I totally rule that out, but we can access different opportunities and contribute different things"
What have you given up in order to become an entrepreneur?
You have to give some things up... obviously you have less free time, you work weekends and nights, you are always tired because your life turns into Tetris. But I don’t want to give up having a professional life, which for me is leading an entrepreneurial project; I don’t want to give up being a mother, nor being a partner to my husband; I don’t want to give up being a friend and I don’t want to give up socio-professional networking. I don’t want to give up anything! I don’t want to give up that non-remunerated part, which is being in associations with the mission of achieving female leadership. I don’t want to take off my different hats, I want to keep all of them, and it’s true that it means I am running back and forth all day long, that I get home late, but I compensate by putting limits on my life: every week I devote time to my family and that is untouchable... because there is always something to do. As an entrepreneur you have zero stability, you give up what you would earn in a private company because the salary is not the same, but at the same time you are doing something you believe in, that you know will have an impact and that allows you to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face. I keep it all day long because I love what I am doing, and I know it will have an impact and that it will be profitable for my investors, because we are not an NGO, we are a company whose ultimate aim is to make a profit.