Dr. Amy Divaraniya
Founder and CEO
Location / Year Founded / Industry:
New York / 2017 / Women's Health
What Is OOVA:
Oova measures precise concentrations of a woman’s hormones with lab-grade accuracy, within seconds, in the comfort of her own home.
Why does it matter:
Oova is the only fertility test on the market that provides quantitative analytics and insight into LH and progesterone trends over time. Oova’s advanced nanotechnology—specifically, tiny beads that bind to your hormones—enables a much wider detection range, giving clinically accurate results that are otherwise only available through invasive blood draws at in-person clinical visits.
Why you should care:
Though its first product is focused on fertility, Oova included over 55 biomarkers in its patent to cover broader women's health, men's health, infant health, and chronic disease, allowing them to move into various other areas of health in the future.
When Dr. Amy Divaraniya decided she wanted to pursue parenthood naturally, she started doing everything right: peeing on ovulation predictor sticks every morning, taking her basal body temperature at 4.30 a.m. every day, and using a fertility tracking app. It took 18 months to conceive her son, but the worst part of going through the long journey and “collecting all that data,” she says, was that “I didn’t learn anything about my cycle. All I found out was that I had irregular cycles, and I knew that going into it. All of the tools I was using were hardwired for women who have that perfect 28 to 30-day cycle, and that wasn’t me.”
Her scientific training (she has a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences with a focus on genetics and genomics) had taught her how to ask the difficult questions—to be inquisitive and to “dig one or two or three layers deeper.” She realized the piece of information missing from her dataset was an actual understanding of what her hormones were doing. “I knew my hormones dictated what was happening with my reproductive cycle, but even with a Ph.D. in a space related to health, I was still at a complete loss when it came to fertility. We’re all taught how not to get pregnant, but no one talked about or taught us how to get pregnant. That’s really where the idea for OOVA was born.”
As healthcare rapidly expands beyond the hospital, personalized biomarker testing is crucial to understanding each woman’s unique fertility profile. With that, we are thrilled to back Dr. Amy Divaraniya’s vision to revolutionize remote at-home urine testing with OOVA’s next-generation biochemistry and AI, for which she raised a $1.2 million Seed round with investors including The Helm, BBG Ventures, and Company Ventures. Read more in our interview with Dr. Divaraniya below.
Tell us about the moment you decided to build OOVA.
One morning, I was sitting on my bathroom floor with three ovulation test strips in my hand and a magnifying glass, trying to see if there was a line on any of these strips. I saw my reflection in my shower door and I was completely dumbstruck by how this was my reality right now. I remember going into my lab—I was still in my Ph.D. at the time—where we had data scientists, engineers, and clinical researchers all under one roof, and my original co-founder, Jerome, happened to walk by my desk. He’s a mechanical engineer and I vented to him about how despite there being so much innovation and technology happening in the world, we weren’t applying any of that to women’s health. I told him what I had been going through the past 48 hours, on another level of frustration with trying to conceive.
He walked away from me really scared [laughs] but an hour later, he came back and he was like, “I think we can do something.” We spent the rest of the day in a conference room mapping out what is now OOVA. It was really that moment of realizing there wasn’t any innovation happening in the fertility space, everything was just a bandaid solution when we actually could move the needle.
Why has there been a lack of innovation in fertility specifically?
There’s the broad answer (that there’s been a lack of innovation in women’s health overall) but with fertility, IVF was a huge win for the community—it’s groundbreaking science, and the focus has been on making IVF more affordable rather than figuring out solutions for that middle tier of women, those who don’t want to go to IVF or who don’t actually need IVF. The cheap drugstore ovulation tests are not the solution.
Innovation in this space requires expertise in technology, software, data, and the medical usage of that information and how to apply it back to a woman. These pieces have to align for there to be true innovation. Because of my team’s training, and the way we ingrained with the medical community right out of the gate (we kept clinicians in the loop throughout our entire product development so that we could ensure the data would be useful to them), OOVA really is the first to include all of these aspects. And to be honest, we set really stringent, hard to obtain goals for ourselves to pursue, or we weren’t going to move forward. It was that diligence that really helped us make this come into reality.
For the people who aren’t in the weeds of trying to get pregnant, who might not understand the difference between some of the offerings out there for that middle tier, can you explain what is available, the shortcomings of each, and why Oova’s technology is so important?
If you’re not actively trying to conceive right now, an at-home blood test can give you some insight, but it is a snapshot measurement of your various hormones. This snapshot can tell you if you are good a candidate for IVF (by testing your FSH and AMH levels on a given day), but it won’t necessarily answer the question of whether you will have trouble conceiving in the future. If you are just starting to try to conceive, ovulation test strips can be helpful if you have a regular cycle and want to gain insight into when your LH surge is happening before ovulation. But they’re not designed for women who have irregular cycles or any other abnormal behavior in their cycle. They are also very threshold-based: you get a binary result of positive or negative, and you’re left to interpret what those results mean.
Oova cares about answering this question: “Are my hormones behaving in a predictable way where I can time intercourse as needed, or are they already out of balance and I can mentally prepare myself that this is not going to be an easy journey?” This is where our time series data (getting quantitative hormone measurements every day for 15 days so you can monitor what that trend looks like) is really important.
The other important factor is understanding what your personal baseline levels are. If you look at the standards, they’re based off women who were in their early 20s, had 28-day cycles, and were in their peak fertile age. That’s not the woman who is trying to conceive today. We are much older. There’s a lot that has happened to our bodies that isn’t conducive to having the perfect 28-day cycle anymore, and we should not be held to that standard. That’s really where Oova shines.
Oova gives women lab-grade hormone results that are as accurate as a blood test in the comfort of their own home. How will this revolutionize at-home testing?
Everything you just mentioned, those were the four core pillars that Jerome and I drew on the whiteboard that day in the lab. It had to be personalized, it had to be quantitative, it had to be trusted by a doctor, and it had to be as accurate as possible. If Oova didn’t check each of those boxes, then we wouldn’t move forward with it, because there were already enough products on the market that were skimming the boundary of actually being revolutionary. We didn’t want to add to that noise. If we were going to pursue this, if I was going to devote my life to this, it had to be something that was going to change the status quo. So that’s what we set out to do, and that’s what we built.
The innovation we’ve created means you no longer have to go into the clinic to get routine blood draws, where there’s a lag time in getting results (6 to 12 hours), so you could very well have missed a fertile window. Instead, you can use Oova at home and your doctor receives the results in real-time, remotely. It’s really started to change the way that clinicians are treating their patients and it’s empowered women to ask the right questions when they go to their doctor—their fertility is no longer a black box. And that’s what our ultimate goal is: how does Oova empower you, someone not trained in medicine, to understand what’s happening with your body? We are really revolutionizing fertility care and monitoring.
That’s a great segue. Can you tell us why you decided to make Oova both direct-to-consumer and B2B2C (where clinicians offer Oova to their patients)?
I always knew this was going to be a direct-to-consumer company that provided a woman with clinical level data in the privacy of her own home, but then the pandemic hit and we found that fertility clinics were being forced to close their doors because fertility treatments were viewed as elective procedures. So couples and women who had been waiting months to years to get into the clinic and schedule their procedures are now being told their treatments were being postponed indefinitely. That’s the worst piece of news you give to a woman who is trying to grow her family. Right away, we started receiving a lot of inbound interest from clinicians to utilize our platform so they could do remote hormone monitoring.
The reason they knew about us is because of all of the engagement I had had with clinicians over the past three years of development to make sure our product was going to add value to their practice. We were really rigorous about our testing, our validating, making sure we have the right people evaluating our tests—we wanted to get their buy-in. So now the pandemic hits and they want to continue to monitor their patients, even if they can’t treat them. That opened up a huge opportunity for us. We quickly pivoted our business model. We created a HIPAA-compliant dashboard that the clinicians could log into, enabling clinicians to get their patient’s results when the woman scans the Oova test at home.
If I was going to pursue this, if I was going to devote my life to this, it had to be something that was going to change the status quo.
This has really changed the way that clinicians are able to treat their patients because never before have they been able to get real-time hormone data over time. The only way to get that data prior to Oova was to have a patient come in for daily blood draws. We’re in over 80 clinics across the country, including a large hospital network that’s actually building a program around Oova and offering it to all of their patients interested in getting pregnant. So it’s really starting to move the needle on the standard for women’s health and fertility care.
There are dozens of hormone testing products on the market that don’t actually do what they claim. How can women sift through that noise?
When women are looking into hormone testing for themselves, they are already in a pretty vulnerable position. It is easy to fall prey to the marketing jargon a lot of companies use to attract consumers. I cannot stress enough for women to ask questions and challenge the claims these companies make. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. If the company can do what they’re stating, they should have the data, the credibility, and the confidence to show you the proof. As a consumer, women must ask these questions because it will challenge the market to build quality products. If consumers don’t question it, there is no incentive for a company to actually prove their claims.
What was your fundraising process like? Any learnings you can share for other founders?
I’m a first-time founder so I didn’t really know what to expect. I learned very quickly that some investors didn’t get it, and after a few meetings I became very quick to decipher which investors believed that this was a problem we were solving versus those that didn’t. I didn’t feel like it was worth anyone’s time for me to convince someone that this was a problem that needed to be solved, so I would walk away from those meetings. I think that’s something founders should be very comfortable doing. If you’re devoting your life to your concept and your idea, be strong enough to not have to sell your idea so heavily to an investor to convince them it’s a problem to be solved. Instead, you should be convincing an investor that your solution is the best because they already believe in the problem.
There was one investor I went into really deep in diligence with, and I was like, “You’re either agreeing to our terms today or you’re walking away because this is not worth anyone’s time.” And during our last call, he asked me, “Do you really think women want to pee on a stick every morning?” And I was like, I don’t even know how to answer that question because women are already doing that. What I’m providing them is a way to pee on a stick without throwing data away. At that point I realized a lot of investors want to dip their toe into women’s health because it has become a little buzzy, but they don’t necessarily have the knowledge for it. It’s hard being a female founder trying to change women’s health in a very male-dominated space. It’s incredibly hard.
When you say male-dominated, can you give us a quick snapshot of what that experience was like for you?
I’ll start on the investor side first, where the main partner making the decision to invest more often than not is a male. So you have an associate that’s typically a female trying to vouch for your company; they’re the ones pitching your company to the partner meetings—trying to make a case to a room full of men that women’s health is meaningful, fertility is meaningful, and that this is a huge market. But no one can pitch your company as well as you can. Typically, if there is even one male partner not in favor or in agreement with what the associate is saying, the rest of the room goes with them. I haven’t seen a lot of examples of male investors going against the grain to make a case, and the ones that have, have invested in us.
On the clinical side, we offer such a unique value proposition—the type of data we’re collecting just hasn’t been available before—so our conversion for getting a clinic onboard is almost 75 percent. Once they see the platform, and they realize we’re actually legit, we’re not just some sales pitch or some pretty brand, they get it. So it’s a little different on the healthcare side because we’re not selling a pretty picture, we’re selling data and information and insights. And numbers always win.
What is your plan for this round of funding? What will it be used for?
Up until July, we spent our money solely on research and development of the product to make sure that the technology actually worked the way that we intended it to. This round of funding is all going to marketing and raising brand awareness, including doing some key hires for our marketing team. Our technology team is already staffed, but we only have one person handling all of our communications, marketing, brand, everything. We haven’t spent much money on social or advertising; it’s all been organic growth so far. So it’s really to build out that section of the business.
Where do you see Oova in five years?
I think a lot of people lump Oova into a fertility company, and we’re so much more than that. We have always envisioned revolutionizing at-home testing and diagnostics, and the technology we’ve developed is really meant to scale into other biomarkers. Within the next year we’ll be expanding into the peri-menopause space, and very soon after that we’ll be expanding into men’s health, while address other areas of women’s health, and even move into infant health and chronic disease as well. We plan to have quantitative diagnostics across all those areas and we’re empowering women to be their own advocate. Everyone says, “Advocate for yourself,” but it’s hard to do that when the only foundation you have is Google searches and articles you pulled from the internet. We’re giving you objective numbers and reports that you can actually stand on and be like, “All right. This is what my hormone data is saying, explain this to me.” It’s giving you that agency to be able to stand up for what you feel is right and give you some self-credibility to the symptoms you’re experiencing. Women often brush a lot under the rug, we’re always like, “Oh, we’ll deal with it later. That pain doesn’t matter. I’ll power through.” But there’s a reason you’re experiencing these things. It’s your body’s way of telling you something is off. And now we’re able to give you some information to actually explain why that’s happening.