Biotech & Health

Jude is building a bladder health champion

Comment

Jude founder Peony Li
Image Credits: Jude

Bladder health isn’t the sexiest subject in the world, so it probably won’t surprise you there are so few startups focused on the area. Only one, actually, according to Jude founder Peony Li — who’s just closed a $4.24 million seed round for her London-based bladder health startup to expand into the U.S. But that huge attention gap is what makes the opportunity so enticing, with a big real-world problem that’s wildly underserved up for grabs plus the chance to have a positive impact on so many people’s quality of life. 

The startup says there are 2.3 billion people experiencing some form of bladder problem, whether it’s an overactive bladder, leaking or incontinence, or recurring urinary infections. Both men and women can suffer from bladder issues. However, Jude’s initial focus is on women’s health, as Li says she wants to establish the business as a category leader in a space that’s been overlooked and even unloved and certainly hasn’t had this kind of full-focus attention before. “It’s easier for women to talk about health issues — especially this issue in particular,” she suggests. Tackling male-specific bladder issues, such as those linked to prostate health, falls later on the roadmap. 

“There are no competitors out there — it’s a complete white space,” she tells TechCrunch. “What that means for us is we’re all learning about bladder care. We’re all learning about what customers really want. It has been a space that’s completely untapped and we have time to do it.”

It’s true that earlier waves of women’s health startups have tended to focus on issues affecting younger women. Such as period tracking and care, or contraception and fertility. Even the early mover U.K. startup Elvie, which began with a focus on pelvic floor exercises — an activity that can help with bladder issues — put its emphasis on supporting postpartum women, rather than centering middle-aged women as Jude is, given its total embrace of bladder health. (Elvie, meanwhile, has since doubled down on new mothers by building out a range of breast pumps.)

Li, who is Jude’s sole founder, doesn’t fall into its core target demographic herself — being younger. But she had a personal interest in bladder health having suffered recurring urinary tract infections as a teenager and young adult. She found traditional healthcare routes unhelpful at that time and says it took her own effort and research (“lots of googling”) to, eventually, land on a solution. But she was left with a lasting impression of how poorly traditional care pathways served people with bladder problems. So the seed of the idea for Jude was planted.

It took a little longer for Li to get going with the business. Her early career was spent working in investment banking before moving to Founders Factory for a couple of years, including as its head of investments. Then she joined Daye, a period care women’s health company, as its head of ops. But when COVID-19 hit, Li also got involved in supplying medical-grade PPE — an experience she says brought her into contact with lots of “vibrant and confident” middle-aged women who had set up their own businesses.

“I was quite inspired,” she recounts. “And I thought every minute, probably, there’s a startup spinning out for Gen Z and Millennials and there’s so little attention . . . to this not heard, quite underserved, not seen demographic. And when I do a little bit more research, I found actually bladder issues really impact this demographic the most.”

It’s still early days for Jude, which launched in the U.K. in January last year and has reached some 18,000 customers so far. The service is also still developing as the team works to expand the range of support it can offer. But flush with fresh funding, and with its U.S. launch looming, it’s expecting growth to step up from here on in.

For now it’s selling a bladder strength supplement that doesn’t require a prescription since it contains only natural ingredients (the main ingredients are pumpkin seed extract and soy germ extract). Jude’s marketing cites three third-party studies to support a claim on its website that says the product is “proven to reduce leaks by 79%.” It is also in the process of applying for a medical license in the U.K. attached to the claims it makes for its supplement as a way to boost its ability to defend a product based on natural ingredients.

“We will be patenting the claims that we can make,” she explains, saying once the license is obtained, it will be able to distinguish its supplement from others being sold on the U.K. market that contain pumpkin seed extract and/or soy germ extract by being able to state on the packaging that the product has undergone validity studies to prove bladder strengthening efficacy and that it contains pharmaceutical-grade ingredients (so customers can be sure the supplement contains the stated concentration and purity of ingredients). Li says she’s hopeful Jude will obtain that license by next summer. “The exercise here is deepening the defensibility whilst investing more in the formula to do more studies behind it,” she notes.

In addition to selling its own brand supplement, Jude’s e-shop has a range of absorbent pants, liners and pads for purchase. Plus it offers a support hotline with free advice from trained specialists — such as help with retraining problematic bladder habits. “Anyone can call up our hotline and discuss a bladder care plan,” says Li. “With that bladder care plan our specialists will be able to advise minor lifestyle changes, peeing habits, etc. We also have a pelvic floor exercise plan, which means we can discuss how they have been doing the pelvic floor exercises, do we need weekly reminders for them to do their pelvic floor exercises more. We also have a community that does weekly exercise together — we have 4,000 women there.”

More support services are planned and on the way, as Jude works to build out its digital proposition. Notably it will also be launching a digital consultation service, likely early next year — which will let customers respond to an online questionnaire that is then submitted to partner e-pharmacies to prescribe appropriate treatment.

Li also doesn’t rule out adding more in-house urologists and doctors in the future as another layer of reassurance for customers. She notes that it currently has a medical board and a number of in-house GPs but says it may look to deepen the medical expertise and resources it makes available to customers.

“I do believe, with this area of bladder health, you need something in the middle — between, you know, invasive, intolerable medication and surgery and just [wearing diapers or pads] and we want to fit that gap,” she says, adding: “For our supplements, we do recommend it because it’s low side effects, is very efficacious and lots of women have really good results with it.”

“What really makes [our approach] scalable — I believe, in the future — would be a whole system around people coming to Jude for different services and different products that they can subscribe to and be a part of, and as a part of all that onboarding we will collect a lot of customer data, being able to further tailor [what we offer] and make it more efficacious.”

Being the first startup to really obsess about bladder health means Jude has, necessarily, been experimenting to figure out what works best for people experiencing various urinary issues. So it actively involves customers in product development — an approach Li likens to how the community-focused beauty brand Glossier built up its user base.

“Although I have suffered from bladder issues, I’m not in that [middle-aged] demographic, so it’s extremely important we have thousands of these women telling us when our brand is getting too far, when our brand is actually giving a useful, optimistic outlook for our customers,” she says. “And so we vote on packaging . . . on what’s the next product iteration that we need to do? So, for instance, we’re launching our vegan supplement next week — and that has been the biggest ever request by the community. They also wanted beige underwear, for instance. So a lot of that product creation is coming from our customers and from our community.”

Jude’s seed round is led by Eka VC and Joyance, with follow-on investment from June Angelides at Samos VC and Dr. Fiona Pathiraja of Crista Galli Ventures joining as a new investor. It has also received a grant from Innovate UK.

The seed funding follows a £2 million pre-seed round in March last year, which was led by Samos and also had 12 female angel investors participating, along with Access VC, Reckitt’s innovation fund; Stephen Bourke, founder of Echo Pharmacy; and David Rowan, founder of Voyagers and founding editor-in-chief of Wired UK. 

On the growth front, Li is projecting that Jude will be able grow U.K. usage 4x over the next 12 months. She’s also bullish it can manage a strong start in the U.S. — where it’ll begin by selling its supplements via retail outlets at the end of this year and then expanding to offer direct-to-consumer sales in early 2024 — saying, overall, she’s hopeful the startup will be reaching around 100,000 customers next year.

As well as working hard to reach many more women, and growing its understanding of bladder health issues as it pulls in more data, the aim is for Jude to support advanced research, such as in areas like nutrition and bladder health. Li suggests this data for research track could be of particular interest to health insurance companies. 

“We believe there is a really good product market fit for us to go to market with insurance companies — to really reach at scale the customers for us,” she suggests. 

This report was updated to clarify a remark made by Li; Jude does already have some GPs on staff to support customers but she tell us it may look to further expand the medical resources it can offer.

Teal unwraps $8.8M to build out a telehealth platform for women — starting with cervical cancer screening

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

19 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

21 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android