Elina Vale has dedicated her career thus far to women’s empowerment; from her work at Paris-based nonprofit Women In Tech to her most recent venture launching Essence, a period-tracking app with a twist. Vale had noticed a gap in the health and wellbeing tech space – while there are many apps designed to help people reach fitness goals, meditate or organize their schedules, there didn’t seem to be any period-tracking apps that could help people also manage their physical and mental health. Essence is designed to optimize users’ productivity by tracking and making recommendations based on the distinct phases of the menstrual cycle. Today, Vale is dividing her time between Paris and San Francisco – all while growing a platform focused on a more holistic approach to women’s health.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
Essence is so much more than a period-tracking app. It not only tracks your periods, but also helps you leverage them by helping manage your diet, work schedule, social activities, and fitness with a deeper understanding of your hormonal cycle.
Many companies offer mental health and well-being programs, but these are often gender-neutral, or created for the “average person,” which unfortunately in the eyes of science and society is a man. Essence acknowledges the biological differences between the sexes and helps women and people with menstrual cycles work with their cycles – not against them.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
In addition to running the Essence app, I have had the honor of serving the Women in Tech community as the global program director. I’m proud to have helped facilitate and build programs for women in 93 countries. This experience has helped me understand the common challenges faced by women all over the world and how to overcome them — together.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Observing pharmaceutical companies and research institutes continue to deprioritize women’s health reminds me that discrimination against the femtech industry is very real. Women’s health is chronically under-researched and underfunded. We saw an example of this during the coronavirus pandemic: research on COVID-19 was not properly conducted on women of reproductive age, so we didn’t even know how the disease or vaccines could affect the menstrual cycle. This discrimination and ignorance motivates me to fight for more capital for femtech companies that bring women’s health to the forefront and to continue my work in destigmatizing menstrual health.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Essence is a truly global company, and with that comes several challenges associated with relocation. Living and working between Estonia, Germany, France and the USA means adapting to various time zones, following each country’s bureaucratic rules, and overcoming cultural differences. But all of these challenges have made our company stronger and reaffirmed what I already know to be true: that menstrual health is a global topic, relevant to women all over the world. That’s why we’re designing Essence to transcend cultural and geographical differences.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Don’t compare yourself to other entrepreneurs. When you read success stories in business magazines, it’s easy to imagine that doing business is easy for them, so you start feeling like there’s something wrong with you if you’re not getting it right quickly. But in reality everyone has difficulties. It’s the same with Instagram filters and fashion magazines; they push the concept of an ideal body type, and it may seem effortless to look a certain way, but the truth is that there’s often lots of Photoshop involved, or other unknown factors that can influence what we see online. At the end of the day the most important factor is determination not to give up, and that’s not always visible in success stories or carefully manicured social media profiles.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, describes difficulty as part of the game, without which there is no achievement, and this perspective has helped me a lot. Duckworth quit her job at McKinsey to teach mathematics and research the topic of talent versus persistence. She found grit to be a common factor among the high-achievers she studied. Her work suggests that grit is unrelated to IQ but is closely related to conscientiousness. This has stuck with me.
What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?
“Flowers” by Miley Cyrus has the power to replace therapy on some days.
Who is your most important role model?
Ayumi Moore Aoki, founder and president of the Women in Tech movement, endlessly inspires me. I watched her found Women in Tech as the mother of a toddler, proving that women can do anything. With her mentorship and support we brought Women in Tech to my home country and I’ve learned so much from her during my journey as an entrepreneur. ◼