The woman who invented the world’s first flushable pregnancy, Lia's Founder Bethany Edwards

Today I’m joined by the Founder and inventor of the world’s first flushable pregnancy test, Bethany Edwards.

Lia is an earth-friendly healthcare company on a mission to revolutionize reproductive health through the development of innovative products. The company's first product, which came to market just a couple of months ago, is the FDA cleared Lia pregnancy test – which is changing the historically wasteful product into a plastic-free, flushable, biodegradable form.

We’re covering some key insights into the timeline it takes to develop an idea like this that doesn’t exist in the world, spoiler alert: it’s a 6-9 year journey and the kind of money you actually need to fund the research and development piece.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Speaker2: Hi, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Speaker1: I am so excited to be here chatting with you, inventors, genius, slash all the things, I'm just so excited. Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us what your business is?

Speaker2: Sure, I am Bethany Edwards, and I am the co-founder and CEO of Lia Diagnostics, and we have the first FDA cleared one hundred percent biodegradable plastic free pregnancy tests. Game changing. And we're really. Yes, yes, we like to think of it as a game changer as well. We're really, really excited about the ability to be able to create sustainable products in women's health. And this is this is our first major forte into that. And we're really excited about the launch of the release of it.

Speaker1: Oh, gosh, I've been reading all the press and I'm just blown away. I'm super excited to to get in and understand, you know, all the things around R&D, research and development funding, how the launch has gone, what's next. But just a simple question to start. What is behind the name Leah?

Speaker2: I love this question. So it was very purposeful that we chose something that sounded different because it wasn't clinical. We wanted to be really welcoming. Leah, is there good news? And Greek? It's the last three letters and family in Spanish. It's short. It's memorable. I wanted it to sound like your aunt or your best friend or somebody you could really confide in. So very purposeful in the name prior to working on the research for. I spent about 10 years in advertising and marketing, so I have this kind of interesting creative turn. Technical founder and the brand piece has always been something that I've been really passionate about as well as, you know, the product innovation and the technical aspects in the material science innovation piece of it as well. So, yeah, I mean, the name was very purposeful and we just we really wanted it to be different than what was then what was out there. Being part of this is about starting a conversation that's more open and more honest in the pregnancy space and making sure that it was a name and bringing this human element to it was really important. And that's where the name comes from.

Speaker1: Genius. Did you actually come up with that yourself or did you work with a partner agency who kind of came back to you with ideas based on a brief?

Speaker2: No, came up with that myself.

Speaker1: Oh, look at you.

Speaker2: Yeah, yeah, and you're amazing. It was presented as Lya all the way back during my research while I was at university. So we came up with it then and presented it as we are all the way back then. From the very early days, the logo has much improved since whenever whenever I first presented it, we did have some help on getting the logo to the place that it's at now since there was an agency that was involved in that. But the color green was very purposeful. So obviously it has the ability to to present sustainability. But everybody else in the space, it's pink, purple and blue. You walk down the aisle and it's just those colors and a lot of, you know, happy babies on on some of the boxes. And even the packaging design has been very intentional, making it all green. We got a little expletive on it.

Speaker1: So, yeah, let's see it.

Speaker2: We're getting into this already. In the beginning, I wasn't I wasn't planning this already of

Speaker1: The love this for the YouTube vibe. For anyone listening, you should check this out on YouTube.

Speaker2: And this is all I see. It's just a little like expletive. It's all there. And then the only place that it says pregnancy test is on this little tear tab. I'm very discreet exactly when you tear the club off and it says you got this. I live here and then it's P C fluff and over ninety nine percent accurate, zero percent plastic, one hundred percent your business and really taking advantage of just kind of different colors, different messaging in the space. We feel it's just really important. And in really making a statement and opening up this dialogue in a very antiquated category that has continued to look one way, not only from the products themselves, they've been the same stiff plastic stick for over 30 years. So that means that if you're born in the 1980s, your mom's positive pregnancy test is absolutely still in a landfill somewhere. Yeah, I let that sink in just for a minute. Isn't it kind of a wild.

Speaker1: That's so wild, that's so

Speaker2: Yeah, so it's over like two million pounds of plastic. Oh, my God. Generated. Yes. Oh, just in the US from pregnancy test to two million pounds of plastic waste in the US from pregnancy test, which is enough to stretch from here to the International Space Station and back about seven times.

Speaker1: Yeah, lovely, that's pleasant. Good stuff. It's great for the planet. Yeah, great. I want to go back to where your entrepreneurial story actually began and what got you thinking about this and that light bulb moment of going in and disrupting this industry that hasn't had any innovation in the last 30 years.

Speaker2: Great question. You know, the very initial inspiration came from a quote from Richard Fry, who was speaking on behalf of the Industrial Design Societies for America. And he had this quote that basically said something like, we shouldn't be designing products to be recycled. We should be designing them in a way that they can be completely disposable. And this idea of just temporality and the ability to use new materials that allow products to go right back into nature or to be to actually be biodegradable. Right. So this idea of temporality in the fact that you single Single-Use diagnostics, like plastic pregnancy tests, are only used for a few minutes. But everything that they're made out of, plastics, glass, fibers, nitrocellulose, none of these things biodegrade. And so there's there's a tension point between the product lifecycle and the materials that are being used. And so that was the first very first insight piece. And it really, really struck me to design in that kind of context. And really then it becomes about selectively choosing materials then that can meet the criteria, peace around being able to be biodegradable. And the other big, big piece was recognizing that, again, there have been no innovation in this category for over 30 years and that there's an unmet need around privacy. Over ninety two percent of women value privacy when taking the pregnancy test, regardless of whether they're hopeful negatives or positives.

Speaker2: And so what could we do with new materials that would allow the product to be more environmentally friendly, but would additionally add and provide privacy values? And so that really got us into this idea of let's design with paper, not plastic. And if we can be really smart about the materials that we're choosing, that will allow us to design a test that is also flushable, which provides the additional level of privacy so that nobody is seeing these tests in the trash. We spoke with hundreds of women, one on one interviews and surveys. And, you know, the lengths that people sometimes go to to to dispose of these and dispose of them in private ways is is really, really interesting. And people talking about wrapping them in tin foil and disposing them in public dumpsters, like you name it. Right. And again, it's for a variety of reasons for people who are also struggling to get pregnant. And seeing a bunch of Omeje pregnancy test pile up in the trash is a heart wrenching reminder of that. And so to create something that provides this added benefit of privacy also allows more sustainability and is able to be plastic free, really gets into a unique, true new newness. And it's truly innovative in terms of in terms of the product.

Speaker1: Hmm, absolutely. Gosh, it's so cool, I'm I'm in awe of what you're doing for women and just for the category overall. I want to ask you, though, just to go one layer deeper. When you are having this, you you saw the quote. You were kind of having these thoughts, but what was the actual aha. Moment when you were like, it's going to be a pregnancy test? Like, that's what we're starting.

Speaker2: You cut out a little bit in that question that I think you were asking. What was the aha moment as it relates specifically to pregnancy tests? Is that was that sort of what you were asking? Yeah, yeah, so so was the understanding and inspiration around temporality and using the materials, the other really big piece is just the simple fact that I've always kind of felt that the relationship between a woman and her health was secret and private. And there shouldn't be any shame in that context, especially when it comes to reproductive health. So, you know, who hasn't hidden some of these in the trash before? And the ability to provide women with a solution there is just really empowering. So, I mean, the other piece of the why there was, look, I was really inspired by the material science piece of this and the ability to eliminate plastic, but also what it meant from on, from just female empowerment and a standpoint on making such a statement on such an object that elicits so much conversation. And it's such a unique intersection of women's health. And it's just it's a very powerful object. And that was a piece of this. It was also a really, really potent to be able to shake that up and make a statement and offer something different in the space and try to also provide a product that would allow people to not shy away from testing. Right. I mean, I think there's there's that, too. There's people who wait to take pregnancy tests or don't want to take them because of just the the shame of purchasing them, you know, the concerns around somebody finding them in the disposal process. And so the ability to really change that up and service is a solution that provides this kind of citizen empowerment back to women like you get to share, you know, share your news, share your joy, share your relief or keep it private. Right. I mean, I think that's that's a really powerful piece of this. And so we've really zeroed in on on pregnancy tests to be able to tackle that first.

Speaker1: Got it. And so. When you've kind of landed on pregnancy tests, how do you actually start developing that product, like who is the first person you turn to outside of? Well, I guess, you know, there's a lot of research on the Internet in this kind of thing. But like what is actually the next step to inventing this product that totally doesn't exist and seems like a really huge challenge to tackle.

Speaker2: Yeah, and it was a challenge to tackle. First of all, I think also I was so inspired by wanting to do it and make it a reality. This idea of being able to take an idea and make it a tangible reality was just such a powerful driver. I think in general, curiosity is a really powerful motivating tool. And so some of it was just the sheer joy. We really want to solve this and we want to make this a reality that pushed it along and kept it going. Know there were plenty of things that we didn't know, but it was about searching for that information and connecting the dots in different ways. So honestly, there was a lot of academic journals that I read not having been a material scientist prior to working on this, I had to gain all of that knowledge and kind of gain it really quickly. And so a lot of it involved learning by doing and reading a lot, along with a lot of academic journals in the space, you know, was inspired originally also by like George Whitesides and what he was doing with paper microfluidics and reading patents and knowing that if we were going to truly deliver on a product that was water disposable and biodegradable, that we would have to work within a really small subset of materials.

Speaker2: So it would either need to be plant based, mineral based or protein based. And those things would would be what would need to be part of the solution. Otherwise, you're not going to meet some of those other criteria pieces in terms of making it biodegradable. And water is, first of all. So a lot of reading and then I often talk sometimes when people ask me a little bit about this on. I think the entrepreneurship journey is a little I think it a little bit like this video game that I used to play in room as a kid Called Quest, and you had to go around and talk to a person and they would give you advice or they would give you a little like trinkets that you would then use to solve another problem and you'd work your way through the gate into this thing. And it was a lot of that, especially in the early days.

Speaker1: Follow the breadcrumbs.

Speaker2: Yeah, yeah. We we went around and entered into every business plan and pitch competition that we could find, and I was able to cobble together enough winnings and money from that to put it all back into product development work. And I knew to increase your network. Right. And we got into the dream and accelerated program and that person in contact with people. And then we contacted somebody who made a piece of equipment that we knew was kind of relevant and that got us to a chemist. And like, you know, it's it's weird and serendipitous a little bit when you look back at it. But I think it all stemmed from just the strong, strong desire to make this a reality and knowing that we had early proof of concept work, too. Right. I mean, we knew that the antibodies could work on this substrate. We knew that there was enough early proof of concept work there, that they kind of showed progress enough to kind of continue to push through it. But there was a lot of unique development work and trying to then take it from like a looks like model, works like model and put them together. But that was that was a lot more challenging than maybe the maybe we even realized the early days and then, you know. Lots of learning from there. I mean, for sure.

Speaker1: That's so interesting, I have a few questions following on from a few things you've said. First of all, what year are we talking here? Like, is this back in twenty fifteen when you actually kind of created the.

Speaker2: Yeah, yeah.

Speaker1: It's a long time ago, like six years we're talking.

Speaker2: Yeah. And it was at that point it was like I mean literally think like sketch on a piece of paper like kind of kind of thing like.

Speaker1: Yeah it's a concept. It's an idea.

Speaker2: Exactly. I had this like terrible looks like a prototype that I would go around and do you know, pitches with or whatever. Right. But it was very much idea and stage. We had early proven concept work, but it was kind of a sketch on a piece of paper. Later, later I realized that, you know, it typically takes med devices six to nine years to go from concept to commercialization. That's very, very typical. And so we trending kind of right on the in retrospect in and so there's the initial kind of concept work, then there's the initial development work. Then there's having the regulatory aspect and getting it through the FDA. And then there's manufacturing design for manufacturing. And how do you scale that? So there's all these kind of like very distinct chunks along the way. That and when you're making when you're making a product that's never existed before. So our intellectual property is really strong because nobody makes diagnostic tests like this. But that also means nobody makes diagnostic tests. So that means we have to create it. And that meant like every aspect of it, that meant designing a cost of developing and designing a custom way to dispense the chemistry onto our substrate because all existing methods of doing that. Are designed to work on plastic so they don't work on art. That then developing this this code and it required you to myself, my co-founder, mixing random things together in our kitchens, like stirring them around and baking things in our oven so people don't often think about that. It wasn't like just making a shampoo or something. Right. Like there's there's great things that you can do there with new formulations, but you can plug it into existing manufacturing chains and existing supply chains. With what we've done here, none of the supply chain is really the same except for some of the chemistry and none of these manufacturing process processes existed to involved custom equipment. I would do the early prototypes. We really cranking them out with like hand in bossiest that. I had originally bought my wedding invitations. Right. So you can think about that like.

Speaker1: That's very scrappy, very sloppy.

Speaker2: It's a long tail of development you got like your basic research and your applied research and then like kind of cutting over that chasm of into commercialization.

Speaker1: Do you think if you had of, like, known that it was going to be six years, in hindsight, would you have done it?

Speaker2: I would have done things a lot differently. I will say that I would have raised money differently. But at the same time, you know, I think about this a lot at the same time, like. I was a first time entrepreneur man with an idea in a relatively complex idea, I don't know if we would have been able to go out day one and raise five million dollars because we didn't have a track record. So we had to do it in small bits and and prove ourselves along the way. But that continually made that harder because you're splitting time between doing development work and raising money and building the marketing or marketing assets have all really primarily been built in-house photography, the packaging design you design. Right. So so a lot of different moving pieces. But yeah, I mean, had I known that day one, we would have we would have planned a little bit differently. I think I think there's early optimism in in thinking that things are going to move fast. And when you're creating stuff from scratch like this, it's just there's there's a lot to do. And, you know, I also think if I would have told some of some of the very early investors like Hastin take six years, like, is that excited? I'm not sure. So it's. It's definitely lessons learned on it, but I don't know if even having gotten that information in the beginning, we could have planned a little bit differently, I think, for sure. But I don't know if we would have been able to necessarily solve all of those things, because I'm not sure we would have really had all of the resources from day one.

Speaker1: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I just have two more questions kind of linked to this early phase before we sort of jump in towards more recent years and working into the marketing part of this talk, the first question is, when you were going to these pitch competitions with this, you know, out their idea, this sketch on a piece of paper, was it overwhelmingly positive and easy to get people on board? Or were people like, what the hell is this? This is not possible. What was the reaction and sentiment of the idea?

Speaker2: Yeah, I think a lot of people could understand it pretty easily. And having had some of the marketing background, I also think I was able to find a way to talk about it in a very simplistic way, which I do think is important. So to be able to be like are the flushable biodegradable pregnancy tests. Right? Like just like snappy quick. Like people are like, oh, flushable. OK, I get it. Why why does that not exist? Right. So I do think people were able to, for the most part, wrap their heads around the concept pretty quickly. The thing that we would sometimes run into is, well, why does somebody want that? Right. And so that that would be when you would kind of explain some of the privacy stuff as as rationale for for the flushable element or I mean, to be honest, too, I think one of my pitches in the early days started with like a montage of video or photos from people finding pregnancy tests in the trash. Right. So this i