Want to Visit the Doctor Less? These Two Women-Focused Startups Can Help


Bye bye, UTIs. Hello, cute vitamins.

There’s a very specific brand of dread that arrives the moment you realize you’ve got a UTI. Like some sort of cruel cosmic joke, they often follow romantic, sex-filled weekends (it’s called the “honeymoon disease” for a reason). There was perhaps an occasion over the course of that aerobic marathon where you were too exhausted to pee right afterward (or perhaps you just have bad luck) and when you wake up in the morning, bam: there’s that distinctive burn. One in two women get them in their lifetime, and UTIs are second to colds for being the most common reason people visit a doc.

And of course, feeling the burn is only the beginning of the hassle; leaving work to go to the doctor is a time suck that’s often costly and annoying. Throw in the present uncertainty of health insurance reforms and the fact that Planned Parenthood seems to be under attack every other week, and you’ve got a whole new can of worms. Lucky for us all, two new startups are aiming to help disrupt doctors visits and empower women to take charge of their own wellness—with health supplements.

Jenna Ryan understands the struggle all too well. Ryan is a former frequent UTI-sufferer who recently founded the San Diego, Calif.-based health company Uqora, which works to protect women from UTI-causing bacteria with a natural drinkable formula that tastes a little like Crystal Light. “It’s a targeted solution that you don’t need to take every day—just when you are at risk,” Ryan explains, adding that the activities that lead to risk are exercise, sex, and not taking a shower for several days (yep, Uqora is camper-friendly).

In 2014, Ryan suffered eight UTIs and she says this “ungodly number” led her to be on antibiotics for almost the entire year. “That, to me, was not a way to live,” Ryan explains. Ryan was so frustrated with the experience that she set out with her partner, Spencer Gordon, who has a background in molecular biology, to seek out prevention methods. After poring over research on UTIs and working with urologists, Uqora was born.

The solution’s principle ingredient is d-mannose, a sugar that binds with UTI-causing bacteria. After urination, the bacteria is eliminated with your pee instead of settling into the bladder and leading to agony. How do we know it works? A board of doctors have vetted the research and back up Uqora’s effectiveness, and users have flooded Ryan with positive responses.

One of Ryan’s missions for Uqora is to not only cut down on costly medical visits and antibiotics for women, but also pass on her personal philosophy of taking health in your own hands. “It’s an incredibly pivotal time—especially as a woman—to be thinking about what you can do to control what you can with your health since there’s so much that is out of our control,” Ryan says.  

Another simple way to cut back on going to the doctor might be taking a Vitamin D supplement, which Craig Elbert says has been proven by recent studies to help boost your immunity and might even prevent you from getting a cold or flu. Elbert knows his vitamins. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Care/of, a new vitamin subscription service complete with interactive questions —which is more like a smart Cosmo quiz, and less like filling out  stuffy doctor forms—that leads to a recommendation for personalized vitamin and supplement pack. There’s immune-boosting elderberry capsules or prenatal vitamins with a side of fish oil capsules for new moms, for example. Care/of was started largely due to Elbert’s frustration with the confusion and lack of information he found at his local vitamin stores in New York City, so he worked with doctors and researchers from Harvard and Tufts University to come up with science-backed company to make the vitamins and supplements more accessible.

“There’s a move towards preventative health care right now, versus just taking pharmaceuticals once someone is actually sick.” Elbert says. He adds that Care/of’s vitamin recs particularly lend themselves to preventative care when it comes to long-term bone health, heart health, and aging.  

Care/of and the UTI-eradicating Uqora are, of course, no replacement for medical attention, but both companies are starting a dialog around empowering users with information so they can make their own decisions about their health and not rely solely on doctors. We may not be able to control access to birth control or instate paid maternity leave at the moment, but we can take some of the reigns of our health into our own hands with preventative care. And when it comes in a pink drinkable solution that tastes like Crystal Light or a cute vitamin packet, it may not make the present women's health situation any easier to swallow, but it doesn’t hurt either.

-Sophia Kercher