(Image courtesy of Lilu)
Three-year-old startup Lilu is finally ready to roll out its flagship product, the hands-free pumping bra with automated breast massage.
The company, which Adriana Vazquez started while finishing her master’s thesis at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the last few years hiring some team members, raising money and perfecting the mechanics behind its massage pumping feature.
Lilu was one of Technical.ly’s 2019 realLIST companies, and when we checked in last month, Vazquez said the company was on the verge of being able to ship pre-ordered products. The team now says it finally has enough inventory to ship regular orders.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster to get to this point,” she told Technical.ly this week.
Vazquez has a software and product development background but hadn’t worked with the manufacturing side of a business until Lilu. She began building a team with cofounder and CTO Sujay Suresh Kumar after the pair met at a lab at Penn.
Vasquez said there were multiple women around her — professors, friends, colleagues— who were having children and expressing that the breastfeeding process was much harder than they anticipated.
“Over and over I would hear how difficult breast feeding was, how unprepared they felt, how guilty they felt,” she said. “I was really surprised at the state of technology around it. We want to assure women that the problem isn’t their bodies, it’s the technology.”
The Lilu product mimics the hand motions recommended by lactation experts, and allows for hands-free pumping “while still receiving the benefits of breast compression,” the company says. It can be worn alone or clipped to a nursing bra.
The team surpassed its $30,000 goal on Kickstarter this past spring and recently shipped the 130 or so bras that were ordered through that site. Regular orders are now available through Lilu’s site.
Over the years, it’s raked in funding and won some serious competitions:
- Elite San Francisco accelerator Y Combinator gave the team a remote spot in their fellowship program, which offers guidance and mentorship to young startups for three months.
- The National Science Foundation provided the team with a coveted $50,000 grant to develop their technology.
- The company was among Dreamit Health’s fall 2016 companies, being one of the two companies in the cohort staying in Philly for the program.
- The Penn Wharton Innovation Fund kicked in $10,000 to back the design process.
- The team took home $50,000 at Penn’s iDesign competition.
Vasquez said the five-person Lilu team is split between Philly, New York, the West Coast and sometimes China. They’re constantly talking over Slack and Zoom and aim to meet in person every few weeks.
“It’s been really good for us,” Vasquez said. “We’ve learned to be really efficient.”
As the team prepares to regularly take orders and ship its product, Vasquez said there’s still a lot to learn, although a lot of the hard work has already been put in. The team has a good relationship with its manufacturer, but there will still be a learning curve as they scale up production.
“The reality is that we’ve seen other hardware companies go on backorder,” she said. “But that’s a good problem to have.”
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