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Lioness Innovators: Liz Gazda on the Embr Wave

Can you imagine "hacking" the brain to feel warmer or cooler? Liz Gazda explores how it's possible with this innovative tech.
  • Embr Labs CEO Liz Gazda shares details of the Embr Wave, a wearable personal thermostat
  • The Embr Wave releases temperature waves to treat conditions like menopause, multiple sclerosis and long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19
  • Gazda explains how the company advocated for new health markets and raised $13 million in funding

You’re cold. You’re hot. Imagine using technology to cool down or warm up without touching the office (or your home) thermostat. It sounds like science fiction (or a dream come true to millions of women who have struggled with hormonally driven hot flashes), but personal thermostats are already here. The Embr Wave is a sleek device worn like a watch. A thermoelectric pump emits hot or cold waves with the touch of a button. Liz Gazda, Embr Labs’ CEO, talked with us about this exciting technology and how her company prioritizes individual wellness and health.

Stepping into the executive role

Gazda was invited to become the CEO of Embr Labs in 2018, but she already had vast previous experience with startups. These included some of the Boston region’s fastest-growing startups, including a fintech company, a music tech company, m-Qube (acquired by VeriSign), and a unicorn Art Technology Group acquired by Oracle. She also worked in larger firms, beginning her career at Philips in the consumer electronics space.

Being asked to join Embr afforded Gazda a unique opportunity. Not only would she spearhead a company with technology that was the first of its kind, but she would be leading a company with three male founders. The three male founders decided they wanted a woman to lead the company and went recruiting. Gazda found both their goal, the founders and the technology, intriguing.

“I was so impressed with their willingness to bring on female leadership,” said Gazda. “It was incredibly compelling to me. Their mission of harnessing the body’s systems for wellness resonated with me, too.”

What is the Embr Wave? How does it work?

The Embr Wave’s design is simple. There are two buttons on the side of the device – press the dotted one for cold and the blank one for warmth. It sits on the inside of your wrist, an area particularly sensitive to changes in temperature. According to testing performed at UC Berkley, the Wave “hacks” the brain into feeling at least five degrees warmer or cooler within three minutes. In women, however, the temperature difference can be as much as nine degrees.

“Women are much more sensitive to that temperature change,” said Gazda. “Imagine you’re in a conference room that’s 65 degrees. You can feel like it’s 74. That’s significant.”

A unique approach to expansion

The Embr Wave hit the market in 2018 and has sold 72,000 units to users in 170 countries. Embr recently launched the second generation of the device, which provides even more effective cooling and an extended battery life, along with a more discrete and simplified design.

Gazda and her team have also changed their marketing strategy to optimize the growth of this personalized thermostat. Initially, the company focused on general thermal comfort. Conditions addressed included menopausal hot flashes; treatment-induced hot flashes from oncology drugs; multiple sclerosis; Raynaud’s syndrome and, more recently, long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19. As the brand’s strategy evolved, however, Embr began prioritizing customers with menopausal hot flashes.

“There will be 1.1 billion women in menopause by 2025. If we serve that market successfully and bring natural relief to those women, we will be very happy,” said Gazda.

Bringing in investors and funding

It hasn’t been easy to convince investors of the value of this product, or the significant market of menopausal women.

“The biggest challenge that we have with fundraising is getting investors to understand that the market is big enough. 1.1 billion women, or roughly 16 percent of the world population, face menopause. Some male investors just don’t see it as interesting,” said Gazda.

Another challenge that Embr faced is convincing investors that the product was not another “wearable” to put on a shelf and abandon. “The difference is that we are a haptic, or touch technology,” said Gazda. “We’re not only measuring things. When you’re a chronically cold woman or you’re having a hot flash, the adoption will be lasting and the habit a long one.”

Embr Labs has raised approximately $13 million from companies that are either in hard techs, medical devices or digital health.

Managing the supply chain during COVID

One issue Embr managed to avoid was pandemic-driven supply chain problems. “We were lucky to have a senior supply chain management guru that we pulled out of retirement to work for us. He anticipated this happening, so we pre-ordered our components for production this year,” said Gazda.

A path to success and tips for other leaders

Gazda refers to her path to success as an accidental journey. For most of her career, she was second-in-command and never dreamed of becoming a CEO. Her advice to any young girl or aspiring professional would be to “Follow your passion at every step of your career, and you’ll always end up in the right place.”

“It’s definitely not an even playing field. There are times when I sit in the background if I think that my audience is more receptive to the male founders,” said Gazda.

Still, Gazda embraces her opportunity to be her authentic self. “Authentic leadership is the most powerful leadership there is. So, I show up as a woman. Being a woman is already a superpower. There’s a lot of untapped potential for society because we haven’t been at the table.”

Embr Labs and the company’s products have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Good Morning America, among others. To learn more about the Embr Wave, watch the video to listen in on Ramani Varanasi’s conversation with Liz Gazda.

Editorial Note:

Ramani Varanasi is the Biopharma/Life Sciences expert for Lioness Magazine. She is a co-founder, and the former president and CEO of X-Biotix Therapeutics, a company focused on the discovery and development of novel antibiotics to combat the ever-increasing global issue of multi-drug resistance caused by “Superbugs”. She is an accomplished business executive, with over 25 years of biopharmaceutical industry experience. Being attracted to mission-driven initiatives, Varanasi has operated with an entrepreneurial vision and passion for launching, building and being part of successful organizations by integrating research and business strategies focused on innovative medicines and solutions having a global impact.

This is part of a series of interviews from Ramani Varanasi, focusing on the VIPs in the Life Sciences and Biopharma world. Meet Laurie HalloranDr. Liang Schweizer and Sue Nemetz. Learn more about Varanasi from her interview with Bobbie Carlton, Lioness’ publisher and Editor-in-chief.

About the author

Laura Grant

Laura Grant is a recent graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring, and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day.

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