The at-home pregnancy test was a huge innovation in women’s health, but it hasn’t changed much in quite some time. That might lead you to believe that its current form is flawless–well, far from it. As any woman who has used one knows, the stick-shaped device that clues women into one of the most important details of their lives has a few shortcomings: It’s hard to keep private, requires a sharpshooter’s aim, and eventually winds up in a landfill.
That all may be about to change.
Lia Diagnostics is a startup based in Philadelphia that is redesigning the pregnancy test. Slated to go on sale in 2016 or 2017, Lia’s pregnancy test is made out of paper, so it’s foldable and flushable, ensuring privacy in a way that the old-school tests can’t. Even better, it can be packaged discreetly in an envelope and shipped to customers, bypassing the teenage dude at the Walgreen’s checkout.
“When we looked at the pregnancy test, we found that here had been very little innovation in 30 years,” says Bethany Edwards, CEO of Lia Diagnostics and one of four of the company’s cofounders. “The product design was basically exactly the same.”
So Edwards and her team set out to reimagine the pregnancy test with privacy, sustainability, and usability in mind.
Rather than being born in some public bathroom stall, Lia Diagnostics originated in the Integrated Product Design program at the University of Pennsylvania, where Edwards went with cofounders Anna Couturier and Frances DiMare. Sarah Rottenberg, a fourth cofounder, is a UPenn lecturer who helps run the Integrated Product Design program at the school.
For their final project at UPenn, Edwards and her partners started from a sustainability angle: What products out there have a form factor that long outlives the use of the product itself? The team quickly homed in on single-use medical devices as being among the most wasteful. From there, it didn’t take long to settle on the pregnancy test. Could advances in material science be used to reimagine the pregnancy test and create something more discreet and less wasteful? The answer, as it turned out, was yes.
“These companies have been focused on ways to increase their margins by charging consumers more,” says Edwards of the traditional players dominating the market for pregnancy tests. “They’re adding expensive digital components that offer optical readers that will read the results for you–and they’re adding to a higher price point.”
From Edwards’s standpoint, jamming digital technology into the traditional wand-shaped device isn’t what the pregnancy test needs to move forward into the 21st century. Not only is it wasteful and expensive, but it fails to address the pregnancy tests’ biggest pain points from a woman’s perspective: privacy and usability. In addition to making its test compact and flushable, Lia is also expanding the target area to make it easier to get a reading.
Lia Diagnostics just wrapped up a three-month program in the DreamIt Ventures startup incubator and is now looking for outside funding. Edwards says they’re open to crowdfunding, but would need to figure out the best way to execute a campaign–crowdfunding is tough in the summer and few people are interested in pre-ordering a pregnancy test. Right now, a 2017 public release looks likely, but landing some funding would help expedite research and development, as well as the process of getting FDA approval.
Edwards and her team have already generated a great deal of buzz, despite being in the very early stages. Last month, the company won $15,000 in an innovation competition from the U.S. Small Business Administration. They’ve even been contacted by large pregnancy test manufacturers, a fact that Edwards finds both flattering and concerning: A bigger company with more resources could easily steal this idea and run with it more quickly than a tiny startup that’s still looking for angel investors.
Lia’s pregnancy test–a product that has yet to be formally named–is currently in the beta testing phase as the team wraps up research and development and courts investors.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t been done,'” says Edwards. “That’s great, because it means that we’re onto something.”