Female Disruptors: Priyanka Jain and Laine Bruzek of Evvy On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Priyanka Jain and Laine Bruzek.
Priyanka is the co-founder & CEO of Evvy. Before founding Evvy, Priyanka was Head of Product at pymetrics, a startup using behavioral science and AI to make talent matching more effective and fair. She hired & led a tech team of 70+ across product, data science & engineering from pre-revenue to 6 product lines and 100+ global enterprise clients. Priyanka is a spokesperson for the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up Campaign, Chair of the Acumen Fund’s Junior Council, and on the Innovation Board for the XPRIZE Foundation. She received her B.S. from Stanford University, where she was a Mayfield Fellow and President of Stanford Women in Business.
Laine Bruzek is co-founder & Chief Marketing Officer of Evvy. She’s a creative brand builder and designer, previously at Google Creative Lab and Tribeca Enterprises, where she spearheaded initiatives across branding, marketing, emerging tech, data privacy, and product strategy. Laine received her B.S. in Product Design Engineering and M.S. in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University, where she was a Mayfield Fellow.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Evvy was founded in January 2021 on the simple insight that there is so much we still don’t know about how to best care for women and people with vaginas — after all, we weren’t required to be in US clinical research until 1993.
Both of our north stars have always been: how can we better serve women where they’ve historically been overlooked, especially due to systemic bias and stigmatization?
Female health — and more specifically vaginal health — certainly checks that box.
Almost everyone with a vagina will deal with a UTI, yeast infection, BV, or another vaginal condition in their lifetime — and many of us recurrently. But cultural taboos around vaginal health mean that we often go through our care journey alone, and with deep embarrassment. Between the two of us, we’ve personally experienced recurrent infections for years, been misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed, and had our physical symptoms dismissed due to “stress.”
We built Evvy because It’s time that vaginal health, and women’s health as a whole, gets the investment it deserves on a systemic, clinical, and personal level.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
More than 30% of people with vaginas suffer from imbalances in the vaginal microbiome every year (read: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and UTIs). What’s more — the latest research has uncovered groundbreaking links between the vaginal microbiome and infertility, STIs, preterm birth, gynecologic cancers, and more.
But even though the vaginal microbiome is a critical biomarker, women and people with vaginas have never had access to that information about their own bodies — until now.
Our at-home vaginal microbiome test, called the Evvy Vaginal Health Test, gives anyone with a vagina answers on what’s going on in their vaginal microbiome, why it matters to their symptoms and health, and what they can do about it. Evvy is actually the first company to leverage metagenomic sequencing in vaginal health testing. Part of our unique approach is finally bringing the best technologies to women’s health!
Evvy empowers anyone to understand their levels of protective vs. disruptive bacteria, and how those microbes are associated with vaginal symptoms — as well as broader challenges like infertility, preterm birth, STI acquisition, and more.
The Evvy team includes scientists, designers, doctors, and entrepreneurs, including a group of leading OB/GYNs and vaginal microbiome researchers with decades of experience at organizations like UCSF, Stanford, Harvard, Cleveland Clinic, and more.
Our mission is to radically reinvent how we understand and treat the female body as a whole, and inspire everyone — doctors, educators, lawmakers, researchers, and patients — to close the gender health gap for good.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This isn’t a mistake but it’s been funny to share our vaginal health journeys with dozens of reporters and venture capitalists — many of them male! It’s one thing to talk about destigmatizing vaginal health, but we’re proud that we’ve found ways to actually put that in practice, and encouraged our community to share their stories too.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
We fiercely admire the women we’ve spoken to who have turned traumatic experiences in the healthcare system into the foundation for becoming their own advocates. They inspire us because they’re amazing detectives and educators and communicators — but most importantly they ALWAYS come back and share their knowledge with their family & friends or in forums like Facebook groups. They always leave the community more informed than they found it. So we’re inspired to build Evvy in the same way: build better tools, research, and education but never stop turning around to give it straight back to the community.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
In healthcare, all disruption needs to be heavily grounded in science and research. One of the biggest obstacles to women getting the vaginal healthcare they need is misinformation! The internet has tons of medically misguided advice on it, in addition to the constant beauty industry narrative that vaginas should look pristine and smell like flowers.
We’ve been using our platform to debunk a lot of common misconceptions in a fun, approachable way — and to offer medically-sound insight into and support for vaginal health. We’re being disruptive in how we convey the information, but not in the information itself!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Some of the best advice we ever got was “Make yourself easy to help.” If you go to someone and say, “Can I pick your brain for 30 minutes?” that’s putting all the work on them: they have to make time, set up a calendar event, take the call, follow up with you, etc.
For us, it has made a world of difference to do the disciplined work of identifying the concrete questions or asks we have, and reaching out with something more specific like “Hey, I’d love to be in touch with X person in your network, and I’ve included a ready-to-forward email below.” That way, others can help with a single button click! People naturally want to help if they can, and if you make it really easy it’s a win for everyone.
Second, write thank you notes. Entrepreneurship takes a village — it would be impossible to build anything from scratch without lots and lots of help along the way from mentors, investors, fellow founders, colleagues, and more. You’ll need help along the way and when people go out of their way to help you, make sure to say thank you! Even better if you hand-write the note.
Finally, remember to take care of yourself — which can sometimes get lost in the chaos of building something new. Prioritizing your mental health can be super tough as a founder but it’s extremely important!
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
For Evvy, the vaginal microbiome is just the beginning. The composition of the vaginal microbiome is responsible for common infections (like UTIs, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections) — but recent research has also shown that it’s associated with preterm birth, infertility, STI acquisition, and more.
As we look ahead, we’re planning to expand into other critical biomarkers, products, and services that can transform how we diagnose and treat conditions in the female body. And we’re incredibly excited to build an active community of people talking about vaginal health and other “taboo” female health topics along the way!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Disrupting means taking risks. In entrepreneurship, those risks often happen within a place or system where failure can have more intense negative consequences for women than their male counterparts — whether they’re social, political, physical, emotional, or financial. That said, we want women and people with vaginas to feel free to talk about their vaginal health and demand better research & care — and we’re willing to risk a lot to help make that happen!
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Everyone should read “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” by Caroline Criado Pérez! It’s about the gender research gap and how the world has been built on the assumption that men are the default:
“Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.”
Books, podcasts, and research that opened our eyes to the gender health gap are crucial to the founding story of Evvy, and we’re so grateful to authors and researchers like Pérez for laying out the issues so clearly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We want to start a movement based on the belief that talking about vaginal health isn’t embarrassing, gross, shameful, or something to be avoided! We’re all about destigmatizing vaginal health so we can find community with one another and learn from each other on how to lead healthier lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One quote that has really resonated lately is from Marie Daly, the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a PhD in chemistry (she discovered the relationship between cholesterol and clogged arteries!). She said: “Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”
We live by this at Evvy — you don’t need the perfect plan to start making real change in the world!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!