Fundraising Is Also Women’s Work

by Janica Alvarez


I didn’t grow up aspiring to be an entrepreneur. Instead, like many people, I saw a problem that needed to be solved–the unglamorous, inefficient task of pumping breast milk–and was tired of waiting for someone else to do it.

As a mother of three, I experienced firsthand the mixed messages working mothers receive when they return to work after giving birth. The breast is best! (assuming you’re able to breastfeed). Lean in! (but still provide breast milk lest you be accused of neglecting your child). Demand change, but don’t expect too much… (here’s a supply closet for you to pump in).

Naya was created for women like me who have a family but who want or need to remain in the workforce. For many of us, for periods short or long, that has meant having to grapple with a breast pump. Existing breastpumps are loud, complicated, and painful – making the awkward task of pumping at work (often in storage closets or single-stall bathrooms) even more awkward.

Put simply, Naya is a consumer health company bringing better health technology to women and children. With cutting-edge technology backed up by several patents, Naya’s first product offers a dramatically new, effective, and more pleasant approach to getting your precious breast milk from breast to baby. The Naya Breast Pump is a smarter, better pump that expresses more milk from mom and doesn’t make her feel like a cow. It’s faster and more comfortable than any other breast pump on the market today.

We raised a round of seed funding from a solid group of angel investors–who believed in our product and when we launched the pump in 2016, we sold out immediately. But when we hit the point where we needed to raise much greater capital – the kind you need to turn to the VC community for – we hit a wall. All of a sudden, I was told our product was “too niche”. Some male VCs wouldn’t even touch my product in our meetings. Others simply used our meetings as an opportunity to comment on my body, my age, or to ask who was watching my children.

As we actively examine and critique how we treat female entrepreneurs and the standards to which we hold VCs (96 percent of whom are male, by the way), I don’t think it’s enough to just ask that investors treat female entrepreneurs with a basic level of respect and human decency. As venture capitalists rush to fund the latest app that puts bunny ears on our faces or makes the world’s most expensive juice, they need to back up their Medium posts and public platitudes with cold, hard cash.

Until that day comes, we’re going to try something new – taking Naya Health to the people who live with this problem every day: mothers (and their supportive partners!) who understand why we deserve a better breast pump. Our second product, the Naya Smart Bottle makes it easier for parents to meet their baby’s nutritional needs, is on Kickstarter starting today. Details on how much we need to raise and what investors will receive can be found on the site. While the tech industry whips itself into a frenzy over funding rounds, ICOs and whatever the latest hot trend is, we’ll be raising money the old-fashioned way – through a community of women (and their partners) who truly understand what it means to do the work.

Janica Alvarez