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Focus on FemTech: Hélène Guillaume on using AI to train smarter

Posted:
31 March, 2021

WILD.AI’s website opens with a single statement: ‘Your physiology = your advantage.’

CEO Hélène Guillaume spent much of her life feeling the opposite.

“I didn’t think it was cool to be a woman”, she recalls. “It seemed that men’s bodies were so much more efficient.” 

While training competitively as a rugby player, triathlete and ice swimmer, Hélène found that she couldn’t predict her body or performance in the same way as her male counterparts.

“I was training like I had a male body – following the same protocols and types of nutrition. Sometimes my body would perform really well and I’d feel amazing, on track. Other times I’d feel less motivated and less ready.

I knew my body was different, but in the circles I was in, assigned female bodies were dismissed as ‘moody’ and ‘complicated’. People made jokes about women in sport. There was no attention being given to this topic, and no way for me to understand the variations that came with my menstrual cycle.”

Hélène’s experience led her to found WILD.AI, a technology company helping those assigned female navigate these variations and optimise their training around their menstrual cycles.

WILD.AI is part of a newly emerging generation of startups collectively known as ‘FemTech’ – companies that address issues commonly faced by women currently going unchallenged and unaddressed.

In this series, founders of FemTech companies explore how they drew on their own experiences – as researchers and in their own lives – and those of others, to build products that challenge the status quo.

Here, Hélène shares how her company is supporting people to use their cycles to train smarter; how we can create technology that no-longer takes male bodies as the standard; and why a product focussed on periods is worth investing in for everyone.

“This body isn’t a bug - but a feature.”

Having studied Mathematics, Hélène began her career as a quant in a hedge fund before becoming a consultant to Fortune 500 companies in AI. 

“My background was in using algorithms to make smart investment decisions – I spent all my career drawing conclusions from data. 

However, outside of work I had all this data from my training and wasn’t able to do anything with it. All I had was this feeling and frustration that my body was different from the men I was training with.

But I also felt that my body works the way it does for a reason. I had a hunch that there must be a way for me to optimise my training for my menstrual cycle and my own needs. That this body isn’t a bug – but a feature.”

Passionate about sport and physical activity, Hélène recognised the ways she was being held back by the status quo – and that the same was happening to others globally.

“We’re often taught to think our issues should be ignored or not thought about rather than addressed – no matter what stage of our lives we’re at. If a girl is on her period during PE, she has to pretend that it’s not happening and be ashamed of it, rather than think critically about the way this could be affecting her. If you’re menopausal and have a hot flush, the gynaecologist tells you to open a window, rather than address the cause of the symptoms.

I wanted to build a company that was up for challenging this. 

Yes we are a tech company, but there’s also an empowerment message behind what we do. We have bodies capable of producing other humans. It’s a superpower – the most advanced deep tech companies in the world can’t do that. 

What we ask is: ‘How can we embrace that and our lives much better?’

“Users feel like they’ve been heard, and that people finally really care.”

With her mission firmly in her mind, Hélène joined the 8th cohort of Entrepreneur First London in 2017.

“I worked a bit on the company before I joined EF, but it was the programme that really kickstarted WILD.AI. Having the support of mentors, and a network of people on the same path of starting up, was really valuable in keeping on track. I’m so grateful I applied and got accepted.

Once I’d launched the company, I began building out a team, and was joined by Mike LaVigne, the co-founder of Clue (the company also credited with coining the term ‘FemTech’) and Dr Stacy Sims, the world reference in female physiology and sports. 

We began with an initial white paper research and data analysis and used that to create the WILD.AI app, providing recommendations based users’ life stage and specificities.

Whether you’re taking contraceptives, in menopause or perimenopause, have naturally recurring menstrual cycles – we take that information into the app and create recommendations to support their existing training.”

The app can support users to understand how their menstrual cycle affects their energy levels and training; adjust their diets to different stages in their cycle and to mitigate symptoms such as hormonal headaches; and understand what works best for them.

“The main feedback we’ve had from users is that they feel like they’ve been heard, and that people finally really care. This means a lot to me – when I started the app there was a real feeling that the world wasn’t looking at this problem. That’s changing.”

“We have huge potential in serving these markets and ensuring technology caters for everyone's needs.”

WILD.AI are now growing in two areas – firstly in expanding the B2C’s app and its capabilities, but secondly into the B2B sphere, and considering how their data and technology could have uses for other fitness products.

“We’re still developing in other areas – our next stages will be capturing those with conditions typically bundled into the phrase ‘menstruating pains’, but representing a huge variety of conditions – endometriosis, PCOS, ovulation pain – experienced by millions.

What’s also really exciting is how the knowledge that fuels our app could be serving other clients through our API, in particular with wearable technology.

Take for example the fitness tracker I wear – on a given day, it might tell me that I have a higher than usual heart rate. But that’s only a surface level observation. Armed with the right data about me and symptoms experienced by those who menstruate in general, this could actually inform you that I’m ovulating – and not about to get sick, as the software currently tells me. I can then use this to tailor my training and nutrition. 

We could do the same with a nutrition app too – if you menstruate, you have different nutritional requirements depending on where they’re at in their cycle, so if you follow a rigid diet that doesn’t change as your body does, you’re not optimising for your needs. We can support these apps to provide that tailored service.

Our API has huge potential in serving these markets and ensuring technology caters for everyone’s needs rather than taking male bodies as the standard.”

“A lot of people say what we do is niche. It’s not.”

With her work based on the topics of menstruation and internal reproductive systems, Hélène often has a challenge explaining to investors and clients alike that this is something everyone should care about. 

“For some people it’s super taboo – a lot of men are uncomfortable buying a box of Tampax for their girlfriend, so trying to get them to talk about the topic is hard. Some of the people we spoke to would say, ‘it’s not my topic, I don’t understand it’; it doesn’t apply to their body, so they don’t see why this is an area they would invest in.

However, you would invest in a company that specialises in researching a disease even if you’ve not been directly affected by it – because you recognise its importance. If you don’t menstruate you might not experience these issues yourself, but you can recognise how many people it affects. You should understand it and take it upon yourself to learn.

Another pushback we’ll often get is people saying ‘but it’s really niche.’ It’s not. We’re athletes, we’re active in their daily lives. Media might focus on men in sports, but it’s huge for women and non-binary people too. The same is true for FemTech as a whole – it’s not a ‘niche’ area of technology, it’s technology for half the population.

Calling our technology ‘FemTech’ makes sense in a world where men are the standard. You have sport, and you have women’s sport. You have health and you have women’s health. And you have tech and you have female tech – so if you have an app that’s not serving women, it’s not technology for everyone. FemTech helps us to fill this gap.

If we are “FemTech”, all those wearables and apps are “MenTech” currently. With our API, they can become “Tech”. 

But we do need to change that standard. I’m passionate about moving to a world where we’re inclusive about everyone’s needs, and we can all harness the power of our bodies.

It is part of my life mission to make everyone change their vision on what a ‘woman’ is.

Not a cute, fragile, little thing. But a kickass, life-biter, adventurer human.”

You can find out more about WILD.AI at wild.ai

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