Here at Vantage, we built our Female Founder Growth Series to play our role in addressing the gender funding gap by helping women-led businesses become ‘investor-ready’.
With only 2% of VC funding being awarded to female founders, major changes need to be implemented within the finance sector to facilitate real change.
But something we can do from the ground-up is to inspire more women to pursue their business dreams, and let them know that in a male dominated space - they can succeed.
One way of doing this is to showcase incredible female founders, and share their highs, lows, challenges, and successes.
Jude has set out to bring bladder issues into the mainstream and deliver unashamed, accessible, and downright better bladder care – tackling the treatment of incontinence.
Earlier this year, Peony secured a £2m investment for Jude in what became a record-breaking pre-seed funding round by a solo female founder in the UK.
We had the chance to sit down with Peony, to find out more about herself as a female founder, and her journey navigating the Consumer Healthcare industry.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself, and the overall mission of Jude.
“I'm from Hong Kong. I came here alone when I was 15 years old to further my education and study economics at Cambridge. I then joined many of my class’s graduates in doing M&A and Investment Banking. I worked in Oil & Gas M&A for two years.”
“Leaving banking, I wanted to find my passion and interest, I wanted to support entrepreneurs, and start an organisation that was mission-driven – but I didn’t yet know what that was.”
Peony pursued her desire of working with high-growth startups and joined Founders Factory as Head of Investments: “The stark difference between working in Oil & Gas M&A and where I am right now is largely a result of working on this accelerator.”
Peony explained how getting to see a range of different companies at various stages, in various sectors, spearheaded her passion for entrepreneurship.
“Being able to invest in and support over 60 companies was a definite privilege. My role as Head of Investment at Founders Factory allowed me to see all these different business models and industries, and I just fell in love with consumer healthcare”.
From her sparked interest in consumer healthcare, Peony recognised that this space was her route to making an impact, and directly lifting people’s quality of life through innovation.
Peony felt such fulfilment from the consumer healthcare sector that she decided to leave her role at Founders Factory, to join the women’s healthcare brand, Daye. As Head of Operations at Daye, Peony played a pivotal role in launching their pain-soothing, CBD-infused tampon.
Following this, when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the UK, Peony lent her business skills to mass distribution of protective equipment to frontline workers in care homes, COVID hubs, and retailers – and she was doing so independently.
“I was doing this all on my own, from setting up supply chains, doing sales, doing logistics, moving boxes myself, and treating my old home as a warehouse.”
Peony’s efforts resulted in an astonishing 6 million pieces of PPE being distributed across the nation at a time where it was alarmingly scarce. And as if through good karma, this venture is what inspired her own consumer healthcare business, focused on improving bladder-care.
“I observed first-hand that bladder issues happened in care homes, but they weren’t just suffered by the people living in care. They were also experienced by carers - people in their forties and fifties that are really full of life.”
It was Peony’s first-hand interaction with bladder issue sufferers, as well as her research, that exposed just how common – and how hidden – these problems are.
There are 2.3 billion people across the world that are suffering from bladder issues. This makes up a shocking 45% of the global population, yet it’s hugely untreated, and hardly ever talked about.
Peony founded Jude in 2021, in response to this striking gap in the market: “There weren’t any companies looking at bladder-care issues in a preventative, holistic way, and in a way that’s not seen as embarrassing.”
Peony pointed out that bladder issue products from menstrual care giants, such as Tena and Always, only offer reactive solutions and ‘quick-fixes’ to implement when the problem occurs. This contributes to the misconception that bladder issues are ‘untreatable’, and that men and women should ‘just get on with it’.
And so, Jude is on a mission to turn bladder weakness into real, effective, and de-stigmatised bladder care.
Q: What does the process of turning bladder weakness into bladder care look like? And how does Jude seek to reimagine traditional bladder issue treatments?
Peony recognised that this transition can only begin with facilitation of an open, frank discussion about incontinence. To get the ball rolling, and let bladder-issue sufferers know they’re not alone, Jude hosts several growing online communities.
Jude’s Facebook group, Jude and Friends, is currently home to over 1,300 highly engaged members. For example, Jude and Friends runs content campaigns around different Wellness challenges, encouraging members to share great ways that they’re taking control of their health – whether it be taking daily walks to ease anxiety, or home remedies for joint pain.
On this forum, you can also see members donating Jude’s products. Peony told us: “one of our volunteers drives up to her local Food Bank to donate Jude pads and liners to those in need of bladder care.”
Fuelled by the feel-good ethos of looking after yourself and looking out for others, Jude has rapidly grown a tight-knit community that plays a large role in their product development process.
Peony shared; “We get to know our members on a first and last name basis. We get to know their problems and understand who they are. From there, we co-create every single product line alongside our community.”
“We understand their confusion about the bladder issues they're experiencing”, Peony explained, which steers the distribution of Jude’s educational content, which looks to stamp out misconceptions and lessen confusion around bladder weakness.
The shift from out-of-sight bladder weakness to unashamed bladder care won’t happen overnight, but Jude’s progress so far indicates the power of people gathering in numbers and talking about it.
Q: How did you come to the decision that bladder worries needed to be addressed and brought into the mainstream?
Peony shared with us that this area of healthcare has failed systematically at several different levels.
“One is that it's been treated as normal by the industry for 50-60 years, with big players in the space never changing their position.”
This notion of normality, from complacent companies in the space, projects the belief that men and women suffering from bladder issues should accept this lifestyle, use reactive treatments, and generally keep quiet about it.
Jude’s approach differs by promoting the treatability of bladder issues through empowering conversation whilst offering preventative solutions - giving sufferers of leakage the confidence to address their bladder health and lead happier lives.
A second pain point that held Peony’s focus on this niche is the striking link between bladder issues and mental health disorders, with 50% of sufferers reporting anxiety or depression.
“People with bladder worries wake up close to 10 times a night. If you ask them how many times they’re doing it, they’ll usually admit to two or three times, but studies show that seven times a night is the average we see - and that is experienced by around 600-700 million people, globally.”
A third motivator for Peony exploring this space is that, despite incontinence being difficult to imagine for those that don’t experience it, “the severity of bladder issues is not correlated with age. Instead, it's correlated with the number of years left untreated.”
Spreading the message that bladder health doesn’t simply deteriorate when you’re elderly is important, and begs the question - why aren’t we looking at bladder issues the same way we look at other areas of our health?
Another later-stage hurdle arises when sufferers of bladder issues seek treatment from medical professionals. Peony introduced us to the clinical iceberg evident in bladder health treatment, encapsulating the shortcomings of bladder issue treatment for the minority of sufferers that actually seek help.
Q: With 14 million people experiencing bladder issues in the UK alone, why do you think it remains such a stigmatised, ‘behind closed doors’ topic?
To uncover just how deep-rooted stigma around bladder leakage is, Peony invited us to think about the historic use of the word ‘incontinence’.
Dating back to Shakespeare’s literature, the word 'incontinence' was not only used to describe the control of your bladder, but also a loss of control and deterioration of your mind:
“Negative connotations surrounding the word are entrenched in our society, resulting in a double stigma.”
Peony made the point that not much progress has been made in removing these negative associations. She highlighted that, even today, we only need to walk through the aisles of Boots to see prestigious labelling around luxury haircare, skincare, and so on – when suddenly we arrive at the ‘incontinence’ and ‘dependant living’ section.
Immediately, sufferers of bladder issues are made to feel as if they're on the path to losing their dependence and needing round-the-clock care.
That’s enough to steer anybody away from tending to their bladder health!
“The reality is that a huge number of post-partum women experience bladder leakage. And whilst this isn’t technically incontinence, accessing any treatment whatsoever is resisted due to the negative labelling of the word.”
Peony shared an angle for Jude’s fight against the ‘leakage taboo’ that seeks to break the association between bladder problems and age: “We're showcasing the fact that elite athletes represent the highest density in the population that suffer from bladder issues and incontinence, because of frequent high-intensity workouts.”
All in all, society sees something ‘unacceptable’ in bodily fluids, Peony argued, “whether it be periods, discharge, or anything else, it’s unfortunately associated with hygiene and the inability to maintain control. And I think we can do a lot better than that.”
Q: How do you plan on utilising your record-breaking £2m investment, and what are the next steps for Jude?
Peony pointed out that Jude’s existing product line, which deals mainly with leakage and incontinence issues for women, only scratches the surface of neglected bladder issues as a whole.
“We’ve identified an underserved ‘below the waist, above the knees’ market – from an $11bn 'urge and leaks' market, to a $49bn prostate health market, Jude is here to unveil these less-talked-about health issues and provide treatment through product innovation."
Look out for Jude’s expansion within men’s healthcare, under their second trademarked brand - Mr Jude!
Q: Have you recognised any difficulties that you think might be attributed to being a female founder in a male-dominated space? And what do you think is the biggest challenge that female founders face, if any?
“First, I think we need to unpack the term ‘female founder’”, Peony considered.
She went on to explain that, when we look at this term, we typically associate it with younger, inexperienced women who perhaps aren’t in a position of power, trying to achieve something against all odds.
Difficulties and problems can arise for women in business when they carry a disadvantaged perception of their journey and expectations, just because they’re female.
Peony’s story is proof that with experience and resilience, women in entrepreneurship can re-label themselves simply as founders, detaching the gender distinction and achieving everything that’s possible for their male counterparts.
“I am actually in a position of power because I have a very unique role to do something that everyone else cannot do.”
“I think what has helped me is that I just kept on doing. I'm kept on raising the funds I wanted to raise, creating the products I wanted to create, and now Jude has served more than 7000 bladders within just six months of trading. We have high repeat rates, high retention and deep customer love.”
Peony’s advice to all women pursuing a business venture is to reclaim your power and know that, though you might be classed as a female founder, your entrepreneurial drive can take you toe-to-toe with any founder out there.
Q: Have you benefitted from any entrepreneurial networks or growth programmes on your business journey?
Having seen first-hand the value offered by accelerators from her experience at Founders Factory, Peony is involved in several entrepreneurial networks and communities. Namely, the Voyagers Group – an impact-focused community with specialist groups in health-tech and climate-tech, working to solve some of today's biggest challenges.
“I’m also part of three female founder D2C groups which have been great for uplifting one another, but also for having fun together. Building a business is difficult, but it’s also really fun! I like to focus on that side too.”
Understanding the difficulties that come with immersing yourself in a new culture, Peony also set up her own community, enabling Chinese entrepreneurs in London to connect with each other and share their experiences.
Addressing the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship can not only help to close the female funding gap, but also combat unconscious biases that women face in the pursuit of their business goals.
After pinpointing the wants and needs of both female founders and VC investors, our Female Founder Growth Series features six weekly workshops designed to give female entrepreneurs the tools to shine in front of investors, and maximise their chances of securing funding.
Applications for the Autumn Cohort of this programme close tomorrow - Friday 12th August!
The Female Founder Growth Series will be taking place in London from 14th September - 19th October. It’s totally free of charge, and won’t dilute your equity.
Were you inspired by Peony’s story? Click here to submit your application. (It takes less than a minute!)
We're excited to share that Peony will be offering our Autumn Cohort her first-hand guidance and insight in our first FFGS workshop - 'Navigating the World of Fundraising'.