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Montreal woman wins Canada-wide pitch contest with menstrual pain relief device

Nanette Sene speaks about her company, Juno Technologies Inc., which was awarded the top prize at the Black Pitch Contest. (Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society) Nanette Sene speaks about her company, Juno Technologies Inc., which was awarded the top prize at the Black Pitch Contest. (Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society)
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A female-led Montreal company paving the way to relieving menstrual pain has come out victorious in a Canada-wide pitch contest.

"The idea was to have something that's a device, it's portable, you can wear it under your clothes," Juno Technologies Inc. co-founder Nanette Sene tells CTV News. "It's really effective and it works by inhibiting the feeling of pain."

Sene, who studied physical therapy, mechanical engineering and industrial engineering, says she came up with the idea three years ago while she was a student at École Polytechnique in Montreal.

"From my personal experience, I felt like it was a problem," she explains. "I felt like there was nothing new, nothing innovative on the market."

Sene says one of the best side effects of her company's endeavour is the openness with which women are willing to share their experiences.

"Even now, when we meet with either investors or partners and there is a women in the room, they start opening up more and telling us, 'Oh, I suffer from menstrual pain. I suffer from this and that,' which I think is probably the first time they have mentioned it at work," she said.

Sene adds it has been an empowering experience to allow women to speak openly in a professional setting.

Black excellence

Last month, Juno Technologies Inc. was awarded the top prize at the Black Pitch Contest, organized by the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society (BEBC).

"Winning that pitch, it was kind of a moment where we felt like we were seen, which might not always be the case," Sene said of the $25,000 reward.

More than 200 companies applied and, according to the BEBC, 33,000 people cast a ballot in a round of public voting before the top five finalists pitched their ideas to a panel of judges at the Black Business Summit in Vancouver.

“The road ahead is full of obstacles for Black businesses, but we’re overcoming step by step,” says BEBC Founder Jackee Kasandy.

The financial funding is designed to help Black entrepreneurs who may otherwise be shut out of loans, grants or other business financing because of systemic and racial barriers.

"We are in a field where investors might not understand," Sene tells CTV News. "We've heard a lot of times, 'oh, this is a niche market' or just questions showing that they do not understand the market or how important what we are doing is. Just the product in itself is an issue, and then...the fact that we are women founders makes it even harder."

The finalists at the Black Pitch Contest. (Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society)

According to statistics by the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, despite owning 31 per cent of businesses in the country, women entrepreneurs receive just three per cent of available venture capital funding.

“Research has shown that the language and communication styles used by investors significantly contribute to the disparity in funding so often experienced by women entrepreneurs,” said Nancy Wilson, CEO of the Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce.

In response, the Chamber has created an online program called Flip the Script to help women entrepreneurs "overcome the funding gap and secure investments."

“Flip the Script goes beyond simply acknowledging the existence of gender disparity within venture capital funding," said Wilson. "We are providing equity-deserving entrepreneurs with the tools required to rewrite their story.”

In fact, statistics go further to show that 0.3 per cent of venture capitalist money goes to Black women.

"It was actually someone that shared that information and she said 0.3, you can round that to 0 per cent," said Sene. "So, I think that was really impactful...It is definitely a concern."

Triumphant trial

Sene says a prototype of the product was given to a gynecologist last fall as part of a pilot project.

"He tested it on 30 patients and we were quite hopeful for the trial but we were not expecting as great results as we received," she said. "That's where we were very convinced that wow, this is really amazing. It's a game-changer."

The pilot study showed a 79 per cent reduction in pain, with 78 per cent of participants saying they would replace their medication with the Juno technology.

"It's a numbing sensation, it gives you a sensation of numbing in that area...to really release a cramp and also relieve them quickly compared to what's available," Sene said.

She says she wants to use the $25,000 prize from the Black Pitch Contest to fund Juno's next steps.

"Creating those first units so we can make it available; we already have a waiting list for the product," Sene said. "We want to...make sure that the people that have been waiting can have access to those devices first."

She says if all goes well, the hope is to expand the product to help people with all sorts of pelvic pain -- potentially even for women in labour.

"We had those first meetings and conversations to see if it could be used in another context," she said. "I don't have the answer yet but for sure, it's something that we will try to figure out."

Sene says the hope is to have Health Canada and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance by early 2025, and to have the product widely available to women everywhere shortly after.

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