Leslie Heyer is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Cycle Technologies. She works on “game-changing” ideas in women’s health, and is committed to helping the +214 million women worldwide who have an unmet need for contraception. Her company’s mission is to reduce unplanned pregnancies and help people have families when they’re ready. Cycle Technologies develops, tests, and distributes reproductive health technologies that are simple, effective, and provide women contraception without side effects while using the latest in science and technological advancements. The company’s products – CycleBeads®, Dot™, and TwoDay Method® – have been used by over 6 million women worldwide, and have been implemented in more than 60 countries as part of their health programs.
Prior to establishing Cycle Technologies, Leslie was on the founding management team of two software companies and managed advertising accounts for global brands. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Georgetown University. She was named “50 Most Talented Social Innovators” in 2015 and was awarded the Social Innovation Leadership Award in 2016 (World CSR Congress). She lives in Washington, DC with her family.
We had an opportunity to speak with Heyer to get a better understanding of the technology, also for us to get into the mind of the creator to see what future Cycle Technologies has planned.
Smartphone-based fertility apps sounds interesting but looking at today’s global increase in poverty amongst women, what initiatives does Cycle Technologies have in place to support accessibility of this apps?
Proven effective, smartphone-based fertility apps have the potential to reach millions of women who have unmet contraceptive needs. These methods can be accessed entirely through a mobile device, they don’t cause side effects, and in the case of our apps – Dot, CycleBeads and 2Day Method – they are available for free. In early July, we made a formal commitment to Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) at the Family Planning Summit in London to make our contraceptive technologies available to 10 million women and girls around the world for free by 2020.
While smartphone use in developing countries has lagged behind the rest of the world, it is growing quickly in emerging and developing countries and the trend is expected to continue.
What we’ve seen in the research we’ve done in the past year is that even though smartphones may not yet be ubiquitous, we are able to reach a lot of women with unmet contraceptive need. And that the women who are accessing these methods, come from a range of backgrounds. We are able to do a lot right now, and expect to be able to do even more in the next few years as smartphone use continues to expand in these markets.
Global contraception crisis affects millions and lack of enough funding to cater for the provision of contraceptives especially for girls below the age 18 is resulting to unintended pregnancies in the third world. Surprisingly, there is an increasing rate of unintended teen pregnancies in the western world too. Is an educational campaign to support smartphone based fertility apps on the horizon for Cycle Technologies?
We are in an interesting time right now where there is a lot of uncertainty about what’s happening in terms of women’s health and where funding will come from to support access to contraceptive options. Here in the U.S., funds have been pulled from programs to help address teen pregnancies. This is really strange given that these programs have been quite effective over the past few years with teen pregnancies in the U.S. overall declining.
We are looking at ways to further educate all users of our technologies, including teens, about their fertility. While we’re already giving them information about their fertility risks and helping them monitor their cycles, we’re continuing to update the type of educational information that we give them and how to make it relevant and useful based on their stage of life, reproductive goals, their location and context, etc.
The importance of adequate family planning today cannot be over-emphasised most especially for economic reasons. Upon reviewing your company’s family planning innovations, I was particularly intrigued by the CycleBeads. What makes this CycleBead initiative any better than simply remembering to use birth control and other contraceptives. In other words, why use CycleBeads when you can just always use a birth control pill?
Providing women with contraceptive options is one of the best investments we can make. It has huge benefits that go far beyond the individual user. When a woman is able to decide if and when she will have a child, and with whom, she is better able to take care of herself and her family. There are real benefits to her community and society at large.
We have found that effective, easy to use fertility awareness options are appealing to a number of women. Importantly, they address the most common reason that women cite for not using contraception – concerns about side effects. They also can give women a better understanding of their bodies and work in range of cultural contexts.
CycleBeads was the first fertility awareness option with which we worked, and we have learned a lot from that experience. Women really like using fertility awareness options that are both simple and effective. We introduced CycleBeads in 2002 and the original CycleBeads is a physical product though we’ve developed other digital products to support the use of the underlying method as technology has advanced.
More recently we’ve developed a new method that builds on our success with CycleBeads. The new method is implemented through an app called Dot, and like CycleBeads is based on simple period tracking. Dot takes a dynamic approach to calculating a user’s fertile days using advanced statistics and comparing a user’s data to large global data sets to identify her individual risk for pregnancy. It can work for women with a much wider range of cycle lengths, and tailors based on a user’s individual data.
Do you have any statistics on the success rate of the CycleBeads?
CycleBeads underwent a full-scale contraceptive efficacy study that showed it is 95% effective in perfect use and 88% effective in typical use. There have been additional studies that have looked at ongoing use and how using this method affects communication, behaviour, knowledge, etc. It’s been used by over 6 million women, including many in the countries with the most unmet contraceptive need. It is incorporated into health systems in approximately 60 countries.
I should mention that our new app – Dot – is undergoing the first contraceptive efficacy study on an app. We did extensive computer modelling to determine it’s expected effectiveness to be in the 97-99% range, and are working with researchers at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health to determine the actual efficacy in a full-scale efficacy trial.
Technology is evolving on a daily basis with new innovations upstaging the current which can pose quite a challenge. What will keep Cycle Technologies relevant tomorrow?
Cycle Technologies is first and foremost a women’s health company. Technology is a fantastic tool for advancing health and improving lives. For us, it’s about having a deep understanding of our space, staying on top of the latest science related to reproductive health, and continuing to identify the best tools possible to develop solutions that work.