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Gloria Kolb: “Keep Calm and Trust God”

My third advice is from my daughter, “Keep Calm and Trust God.” I have always been a woman of faith, but this phrase has been the difference between my joy in leading Elidah and the constant worry I felt running my previous startup. In whatever situation I’m in, I try to pray, make a wise […]

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My third advice is from my daughter, “Keep Calm and Trust God.” I have always been a woman of faith, but this phrase has been the difference between my joy in leading Elidah and the constant worry I felt running my previous startup. In whatever situation I’m in, I try to pray, make a wise decision, and then trust God that if it is His will it will go well. If it doesn’t happen (an funding offer, a partnership, a grant — whatever) it wasn’t meant to be. This has brought peace into my life. Entrepreneurship is so full of ups and downs that you just can’t ride every wave emotionally.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gloria Kolb.

Gloria Kolb is Co-founder and CEO of Elidah, Inc, maker of ELITONE®, a non-invasive wearable treatment for the millions of women with incontinence. Ms. Kolb is a serial entrepreneur and inventor with more than 25 patents. Her engineering and entrepreneurial efforts have led to prestigious awards including Boston’s “40 under 40”, MIT Technology Review’s “World’s Top Innovators under 35”, and Fortune Small Business’ 14 Hot Startups. She has Mechanical Engineering degrees from MIT and Stanford University, and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I am an engineer and problem solver at my core. One of my first jobs out of college was analyzing missiles for Defense Intelligence. I was dismayed that my years of education was focused on machines intended to destroy. I realized I needed a change that would allow me to do two things: design new products and help people. I switched to the medical device field and have never looked back.

My first startup introduced me to the field of urology where I saw a large market (1 in 3 women have incontinence) that coincided with a treatment gap caused by a deficit of non-invasive solutions and the regulatory recalls of pelvic mesh devices used in incontinence surgery. I created ELITONE to fill that gap. Personally, after having three kids I was seeking my own treatment for bladder leaks. I hated everything I saw on the market. I knew there was a better solution.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Elidah is focused on FemTech (female health technology), which has long been ignored, and we are doing it in a patient-centric way. User centered design is not a new concept, but its implementation in medical device design has been slow. There are a number of competitive products in our space that were designed by teams of men who clearly didn’t seek input from their female customers. Looking at those products you can almost hear the dialogue, “as long as we make it pink women will buy it.” At Elidah we spend as much or more time speaking with the women who use ELITONE than we do with the clinicians who recommend it. We are focused on changing how a device is used (non-vaginally, which reduces the risk of infection and the “icky factor”), how it fits into a women’s busy life (wearable under clothing so she can treat while doing other things), and how the device is obtained (direct to consumer without a prescription.)

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The whole subject of incontinence is rife with humor. I have heard too many peeing jokes and funny stories to count. A favorite is, “I laughed so hard, tears ran down my leg.”

Interestingly, an early mistake we made was using too much humor and making too light of this sensitive subject. We used cartoonish graphics, light-hearted phrases like “whoops moments,” and pictures of overly cheerful women because we thought a playful tone would make discussing this embarrassing topic a bit easier. However, that approach was off-putting to some women. We were told we weren’t portraying the seriousness of this medical issue. Incontinence is one of the biggest factors in diminished quality of life and a major contributor to depression. We listened and now take a more balanced approach to our use of humor.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My husband Eric is my co-founder. We met while working for a large medical device company, but then took different career paths for 15 or so years. This is our first time co-founding a company. It’s exhausting and fun. We sometimes have meetings at 11pm, but also take opportunities to turn business trips into mini vacations. He is extremely supportive but also challenges me. He doesn’t hesitate to give constructive feedback, like how I could have communicated something more clearly to our employees. After working side-by-side I now have a deeper appreciation for his skills, both technically and as a manager.

The downside? Since we discuss Elidah 24/7 (although we do try to limit it during dinner), disagreements can brood at home. We’ve had to establish boundaries for when and how we argue about work issues. It’s a learning process. Our kids know more about incontinence than any kid should! On the flipside, our kids see the value of hard work and the joy of helping others. The entrepreneurship bug has rubbed off! Our teenager daughter created Ray-Board, an ergonomic swim kickboard that is selling thousands of units on Amazon.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is great for the consumer. It typically means an improved new product that makes life easier. However, the pathway to market for a disruptive product can be challenging, particularly when driven by a small healthcare company. Why? Because we don’t fit the mold, and potential partners don’t know where to place us in their established business models. Early on we talked to a lot of large medical device companies about potential partnerships. They loved our device, and they appreciated the importance of creating DTC channels, but they struggled with where to place us within their existing organizational structures and how to utilize their existing resources (salespeople). Similarly, as we raised funds the medical device investors characterized us as a lifestyle product company, which they didn’t support. Conversely, consumer product investors wouldn’t touch us because of the perceived regulatory risk that comes with medical devices… even after we received FDA clearance. We didn’t fit their familiar models. It also didn’t help that I was a woman pitching a product for women to a roomful of men who didn’t know there was a problem that needed to be solved.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

In our first year we participated in the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, which is a boot camp that teaches the Lean Startup methodology. They always said “Get out of the building!” and forced us to interview potential customers and stakeholders early in our development process. Interviewing hundreds of incontinent women and the healthcare providers who care for them took me out of my comfort zone, but we learned so much. We learned that urologists (who are 98% male) were not our primary customer and that we needed to engage gynecologists because they saw women early in their incontinence journeys and had the greatest need for a new treatment.

My in-laws have a phrase painted over their kitchen sink that reads “Buck Up!” That fits my family’s thinking. Don’t complain. Don’t blame. Have grit. Get back up and don’t dwell on the past, negatives, or things you can’t control.

My third advice is from my daughter, “Keep Calm and Trust God.” I have always been a woman of faith, but this phrase has been the difference between my joy in leading Elidah and the constant worry I felt running my previous startup. In whatever situation I’m in, I try to pray, make a wise decision, and then trust God that if it is His will it will go well. If it doesn’t happen (an funding offer, a partnership, a grant — whatever) it wasn’t meant to be. This has brought peace into my life. Entrepreneurship is so full of ups and downs that you just can’t ride every wave emotionally.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

We still struggle with this but are constantly improving. Because our product is unique, and because many women (and even clinicians) aren’t aware of the breadth and diversity of available treatments, we spend a lot of effort educating potential customers. During that process we encourage them to keep taking steps towards better health. Conventional email capture strategies like coupons and quizzes are effective, but ELITONE is not a quick sale. Many of our customers have dealt with incontinence for decades, so we’re looking to help them make a meaningful improvement in their health and wellbeing, not simply make an impulse purchase.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

The next area we would like to tackle is pelvic pain. This is another area where technology can help, but there is nothing on the market for the 1 in 10 women who struggle with pelvic pain.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I am an introvert and was known as the shy one growing up. During business school I learned public speaking and networked endlessly, which left me exhausted. But so much of business is likeability and presence and authority. I am fascinated by Olivia Fox Cabane’s book “The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism”. In her research she shows how charisma can be learned, and there are different types of charisma. In one example, she shows how Marilyn Monroe could make herself “invisible” when she wanted to, and then “turn it on” at the right moments. I will never be an extrovert, but I’m learning to have a presence and be in the present, which helps in every situation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I would say the “Keep Calm and Trust God” quote mentioned above is my guiding principle.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope to inspire women to take care of themselves and take care of their health. Let me explain. Women naturally take care of everyone else first and put their own needs last, often to their own detriment. One customer shared that she decided to buy our product only after she realized she was making cost-based excuses for not taking care of her own health, but was spending much more on her pet’s medical bills! In our clinical study we found that participants had been incontinent on average for eleven years. That’s eleven years of just “dealing with it” while symptoms slowly got worse. Unfortunately, with incontinence there is a point of no return, where the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments become too weak or stretched that getting back to “normal” is not possible with conservative treatments like ours, and the only option is surgery. That frustrates me when early intervention is so easy and effective! So I want to tell women that they are worth the time, the cost and the effort.

How can our readers follow you online?

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest: @elidahinc, Instagram: Elitone1

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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