MEET: Jenna Ryan, CEO of Uqora, San Diego, California
THE CHALLENGE: InnovateHER is an annual cross-cutting prize competition sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to open opportunities for entrepreneurs throughout the United States to showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, can be commercialized, and fill a need in the marketplace.
THE PRIZE: $40,000 for first place award
THE SOLUTION: Uqora is a women’s health company built around a pink lemonade with ingredients that have been shown to decrease the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), reducing the need for antibiotics.
IN HER OWN WORDS…
HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE SBA INNOVATEHER CHALLENGE?
San Diego’s InnovateHER competition was hosted by Hera Labs, an accelerator for female founders based in the Sorrento Valley neighborhood in San Diego. Hera Labs does an incredible job of fostering community and bringing founders together. I had heard about the pitch competition through the grapevine and fortunately decided to apply last minute!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE UQORA AND ITS ORIGINS?
My personal experience with UTIs led my co-founder and me to investigate an alternative to antibiotics for UTI prevention, which come with side effects and the increasing risk of resistance. We teamed up with urologists to tackle the problem. Together, we developed Uqora. You can mix Uqora with a glass of water to flush UTI-causing bacteria.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE UQORA?
Before Uqora, I worked at DocuSign, an electronic signature and digital transaction company. I worked on their e-commerce team, focusing on marketing and revenue growth, and later product management. The company was still in the startup phase when I joined and then grew a ton, really quickly. I learned so much about scale and growth-hacking during my time there. I feel very lucky to have grown with the company.
HAD YOU PARTICIPATED IN A COMPETITION LIKE THIS ONE BEFORE?
InnovateHER was my first competition like this, but I suspect it’s a bit addicting! It most likely will not be the last.
WHAT WAS MOST REWARDING ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE?
Meeting the other entrepreneurs. All of the finalists at the InnovateHER competition are tackling meaningful issues in creative ways. All of the pitches made such an impact on me, but I was particularly inspired by Bianca CerqueiraI’s pitch for NovoThelium, which is enabling women to regenerate a nipple made from their own cells after a mastectomy. How incredible is that? Everyone’s drive and talent are next-level, and I’ll be rooting for everyone’s continued success.
HOW HAS THIS EXPERIENCE CHANGED THE WAY YOU APPROACH BUSINESS AND INNOVATION?
For the InnovateHER business challenge, judges evaluated how big of an impact each startup could have on the lives of women and families. At first blush, that sounds like altruism. But over the course of the event, we talked about how much influence women have in the economy. For instance, nearly 75 percent of women identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households. The event is a powerful reminder that developing products that impact women is not only the right thing to do but is also just great business.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UQORA? HOW WILL YOU USE THE $40,000 PRIZE?
We’re going to expand our team! We’re hiring a digital marketer to help us reach our customers and optimize our online advertising channels.
Beyond that, we believe we have a huge opportunity to help reduce UTIs among our most vulnerable population, older adults. After menopause, the likelihood of developing UTIs increases, and the frequency and severity continues to grow. Recurring UTIs are a huge problem among our most vulnerable population in long-term care organizations like nursing homes and assisted living organizations. UTIs are traumatizing to the residents, expensive for everyone, and also contribute to antibiotic resistance, a very real threat among these populations.
We’re aiming to partner with a handful of these organizations and supply Uqora for free to a subset of their residents who suffer from UTIs. This money will help us fund this effort and amplify the results.
Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s Challenge.gov program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 800 competitions have been listed on Challenge.gov, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.