How a young Canadian entrepreneur is poised to improve the lives of women

A woman suffering from menstruation pain during work in the office. Getty Images

Every month, for roughly 40 years of their lives, women will get their period.

For the majority of women, menstruation can mean several days of pain and discomfort, ranging from simple annoyance to all-out debilitation.

The most common symptom according to the Cleveland Clinic is cramping, which is caused by contractions as the uterus sheds its lining.

Nanette Sene, cofounder and CEO of Montreal startup Juno Technologies, knows a thing or two about period pain.

“To me, it (feels) a bit like I was being stabbed,” she said of her own menstrual cramps. “It’s a sharp pain that continuously comes and goes, comes and goes.”

The pain is unpredictable, Sene said, in that she doesn’t necessarily know when it’s going to start in her cycle and how long it will last from one time to the next.

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With Juno, Sene has made it her mission to help other women by creating a wearable device to alleviate pain.

Sene said the wireless device is rechargeable, easy to use and fits discreetly under clothing.

Our product is (meant) to relieve menstrual pain without any medication, and without the side effects that come with medication, but still be very efficient,” Sene said.

Nanette Sene is the CEO and co-founder of Juno Technologies. Sene has won the Mitacs prize for social innovation for her work to help alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps. Courtesy Nanette Sene

While Sene couldn’t reveal too much technical information due to pending intellectual property rights, she said it’s made to adhere to the pelvic area and was developed by combining different technologies.

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It works by “relaxing the muscles that create cramps and it also inhibits the feeling of pain,” Sene said, adding the relief is almost immediate.

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Current methods of treating menstrual pain, as described by the Mayo Clinic, include over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, hormonal birth control and sometimes surgery when the cramps are caused by a disorder.

The Mayo Clinic also suggests using a heating pad, reducing caffeine intake and massaging the affected area, along with other methods of self-care to alleviate pain.

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Period pain can make women lose nearly 9 days of productivity a year: study

Sene, however, guided by her entrepreneurial spirit, decided to take matters into her own hands.

She started researching the issue of menstrual pain two years ago while undertaking her master’s degree in industrial engineering at Polytechnique Montréal.

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“I love the idea of entrepreneurship, but to create a great product or a great solution, you really need to find a problem that’s real, that’s big, that impacts a lot of people,” she said.

And to me, menstrual pain is something that obviously affects so many people. It’s 80 per cent of women that suffer from it.”

For some women with underlying conditions, the pain can be unbearable, she says.

“About 10 per cent have extreme menstrual pain and the reason why I say 10 per cent have extreme menstrual pain is because 10 per cent of women have endometriosis.”

Pain resulting from cramps can also affect people’s daily activities and can lead to lost productivity.

Sene said there are times when she’s had to take a morning off work but also many times when that wasn’t a luxury she could afford.

So when I was a student and you have exams, it’s not an excuse that they take into consideration.

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Pushing through pain and discomfort to carry on with school or work is a reality for many people.

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“In a lot of situations you can’t actually use it to take the day off or to take a sick day, ” she said.

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A Dutch study from 2019, found that period pain can make women lose nearly nine days of productivity a year.

So with a real problem on her hands, Sene teamed up with electrical engineering student and Juno co-founder Lynn Doughane to invent a solution.

They built up a team, worked closely with gynecologists and various mentors and developed a prototype. And now that hard work is starting to pay off.

On Thursday, Sene was awarded the Mitacs Social Entrepreneur Award for her efforts to turn her research into a business with the potential to impact the lives of Canadians.

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Mitacs is a not-for-profit national research organization whose goal is to foster innovation and drive business solutions, in partnership with universities, the private sector and different levels of government.

For Sene, the award offers validation.

“The Mitacs prize means that what we are creating is very innovative,” she said. “But to get the Mitacs prize in social innovation also means that the problem we are treating is a social problem. So menstrual pain is a social problem.”

What surprised Sene the most when she began her research was how few academic papers focused on the issue of pain.

“It’s kind of ironic that there is not a lot of information on the subject, yet it affects so many women,” she said.

With Juno, Sene is hoping to advance the cause and break the stigma that often accompanies menstrual pain.

The next step she says is to find the right partners to start clinical trials in a hospital setting.

A second prototype is currently in production for that exact purpose.

“So that’s the real testing that we would love to start in early 2024.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian entrepreneur making that ‘time of the month’ more manageable'
Canadian entrepreneur making that ‘time of the month’ more manageable

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