Founder Profile: Vlasta Schutzenhofer (Penn 20)
MEET VLASTA SCHUTZENHOFER, FEM TECH INNOVATOR
“By doing things ourselves, we’ve made a lot of accidental discoveries, ultimately leading to a better product.”
Vlasta Schutzenhofer (P20) is the CEO and Co-Founder of roura, a company focused on wearables designed for people with period cramps.
After spending years hampered by period cramps and being dissatisfied with the options available to her, Vlasta decided to focus on a solution for this issue while completing her Mechanical Engineering degree at Penn. She began developing this idea as a senior project along with her classmate Abi Szabo (P20).
After graduation, Vlasta and Abi decided to keep working on their concept. They were selected to be part of the Wharton Venture Lab Fall 2021 VIP-X Cohort, an intense, 3-month accelerator program for the most dedicated student and alumni entrepreneurs. They have also gone through the Penn I-Corps program which is focused on user research with the goal of creating products that aren’t “just cool” but ones that consumers truly want and will respond to well.
The Relief Brief, their debut product, is the culmination of many years of work and will be available later this year. It’s a device that is less than a half-inch thick and worn under clothing, so no one sees it. It’s fully battery-powered and uses a combination of heating and massage to soothe your cramp
Tell us a bit about your company
At roura, we believe you shouldn’t have to “just deal” with period pain. We are building the Relief Brief, a wearable to soothe period cramps discreetly and on the go.
What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?
After dealing with period cramps for years, starting at age 11, I was constantly frustrated with the lack of effective options that fit into my routine. While completing my Mechanical Engineering degree at Penn, when I was asked what problem I wanted to solve, period cramps were an easy answer.
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
When looking for people to beta test our product, we put out an ad on Instagram and Facebook to see if there was interest, and got more messages than we could respond to! It was extremely heartening to hear that strangers on the internet were excited about our product even without professional photos or ad campaigns.
We’re happy to say that the Relief Brief, our first product, is patent-pending! Filing a nonprovisional patent on our technology felt like a very concrete achievement, and there aren’t many of those when building a company, so it’s definitely a win worth acknowledging.
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
One huge thing I learned is that people with cramps need to talk about them more. After interviewing more than 50 people with cramps, I heard so often that people with severe pain didn’t feel like cramps were worth mentioning because it’s “just part of having a period” or they knew someone with even more severe pain. Half of all people with cramps don’t even mention them to their significant other or spouse! It’s time to be vocal and angry that our society doesn’t do enough to support people with (often debilitating) cramps and demand better solutions.
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
As a hardware-enabled small company, supply chain problems and minimum order quantities will most likely always be issues, but the silver lining is that it forces our team to be extremely hands-on with prototyping and building our product. By doing things ourselves, we’ve made a lot of accidental discoveries, ultimately leading to a better product.
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
I love getting to work on all areas of the business at the same time, from engineering and product design to finance and pitching. I definitely consider myself a generalist and starting my own business allows me to continue learning new things and explore a lot of different areas of interest.