Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Start-up Stories 1: Enhancing wellbeing with beautiful post breast-cancer lingerie

Creating beautiful post breast-cancer lingerie, with both support and style
Enhancing the wellbeing of women following breast cancer surgery.

Sue Pringle, founder

Sitting in my office at BioCity, Nottingham, my attention is taken by Sue Pringle, as she passionately recounts her story from 2 years previous, of being reduced to tears in the fitting rooms of a major retailer, by disbelief, frustration and distress. Why?  Weeks before Sue had been discharged from hospital following breast cancer surgery,and her existing wardrobe was no longer suitable, given her changed breast shape and form, and the swelling and sensitive scar tissues that would remain for years to come. So the morning in question she'd bravely set out to restock her bras.

It occurred to me that this was no small undertaking, for someone who had endured so much, with months of pain and discomfort following breast surgery (she had been spared the chemo/radio therapy endured by many others), and now being given the all clear, boldly steps out to confront the reality of a changed body image and dented self-confidence.  Imagine the impact, when after hours of increasingly frustrated wandering, and many shops, she is finally confronted with the realisation that there are no bras available that supply both the specialist support & comfort required, and the style that helps rebuild her self-confidence, wellbeing and overall health!  Hence the tears as the reality of the situation struck!
”nobody seems to get it”,  
Sue recalls, as she blinks back a tear at the memory.

“It’s so frustrating when you really need to buy and you can’t find anything suitable!”
“I was so…well…. Angry, Nick”

There are post-surgical bras that work fine physically, as Sue went on to explain, but;

“I want to be able to stand in front of the mirror and
look like me, not Auntie Nora!”

So being the determined and dynamic lady that she is, Sue resolved to do something about it, by forming Millie Lingerie, and developing a specialist range of ‘beautiful post breast-cancer lingerie’.

That was almost a year ago, when I was interviewing Sue for entry into the Next Business Generation accelerator programme.  There started a roller-coaster ride, as founder and coach, in which we’ve learnt a great deal!  I’ve come to see post-surgical bras as a ‘soft medical device’ of considerable complexity, and to really appreciate the impact on self-confidence and wellbeing of stylish lingerie (or rather its lack!).  Sue has worked tirelessly, applying lean start-up approaches to confirm the need and develop a robust business model.  Interviewing and competitor testing, with many women in a similar position, and confirming that most feel like her, and have had similar experiences.  Seventy percent of over 100 women surveyed confirmed that they were indeed dissatisfied with current products, and a lot were keen to know when the new products would be available!

“You expect me to wear that”
Laura, (during a shopping trip to test existing products).

Today Millie has an initial design, and Sue is ready to start development of the first prototype. Next, will be “scaling up”, by creating the many different sizes that a single product range needs, and manufacturing process development.  Then finally first product launch.  To get there she of course needs funding, and for this next step to obtain that first prototype, is inviting the community of those touched by, or who care about, breast cancer, to contribute through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.  The rewards include cloth bags and tee-shirts carrying Millie’s adopted, and amazingly appropriate, proverb (31:25);

“She is clothed in strength and dignity,
and laughs without fear of the future”

As Sue say’s,
“Imagine in time, thousands of women wearing gorgeous Millie bras, feeling more confident & comfortable about their clothed bodies, with a smile on their face.

That would be something, wouldn’t it?”

It’s been my pleasure and privilege to act as Sue’s coach on this journey so far, and I am confident that this great future will arrive.  I invite you to have a look at the Kickstarter campaign page, where Sue’s video explains far better than I, and contribute as you wish.  I have, and intend to stay around to help Sue navigate the business to success.

The campaign launches 28th May, and you can pledge support in advance here.

Nick Pope

This post is part of an occasional series exploring the founders journeys of Lifescience based / Medical start-up companies.  Including participants / alumni of the Next Business Generation programme , Nottingham,UK.