November 2020 Power Womxn
We’re committed to uplifting the amazing womxn in tech who are working to ensure that everyone – no matter who they are or where they live – can achieve reproductive well-being. Brought to you by Pandia Health, we are pleased to launch the Power Womxn series in which we will feature womxn FemTech leaders and founders who are out to change the world!
This month’s Power Womxn is Cristina Leos, MSPH, PhD, co-founder, Real Talk.
What inspired you to start/lead your company?
I grew up in a place where most of my peers became teen parents by the time we finished high school, so I always had a deep curiosity to understand why this was happening and what we could do to better support young people. I went on to pursue a graduate degree in public health, where my colleagues and I focused on using technology to help increase access to high-quality sexual health information and resources. We were thrilled to use technology to help fill an education gap, yet even within this work, we saw many opportunities to extend our impact further: we wanted to reach younger teens, we wanted to use mobile technology, and we wanted to explore models for providing health information and resources that hadn’t really been used widely in sex education yet. We were fortunate to be selected for the Innovation Next accelerator which provided essential funding, training, and support to explore these questions. Through this experience, we developed the concept for the Real Talk app: using authentic storytelling to connect young teens with high-quality information and resources on sexual health topics. We were excited by Real Talk’s potential and decided to incorporate as a nonprofit to operate it separately from our academic research.
How does your work help give people the tools to achieve reproductive well-being?
Real Talk focuses on using storytelling to elevate youth voices, purposefully incorporate diverse identities and experiences when it comes to sensitive topics, and help youth know they are not alone in their experiences growing up. We are also helping to reduce stigma and increase access to high-quality, teen-friendly resources on topics like puberty, attraction, relationships, identity, and mental health.
How would you define success for your company and for the fem tech space, more generally?
Our goal is to help all youth have access to the information, resources, and support they need to be healthy, regardless of who they are or where they live. As a technology platform, we have the potential for immense reach, but we want to stay true to who we aim to support. We intentionally seek to amplify the stories of groups who have historically been told their stories don’t matter in the mainstream culture. I think a similar sentiment exists in the general FemTech space where the specific intention is to create resources, products, and services for groups that have long been underrepresented in innovation.
How do you see the FemTech space changing in the next 5 years? What are you looking forward to?
There has been so much change already in the last 5 years, that I can hardly imagine what will come next! Some of the most important feedback we’ve gotten in developing Real Talk has come directly from young teens challenging us to be more inclusive, less prescriptive, and intentional in what we are doing. I expect that this will only become stronger as this generation of youth grows up and enters the workforce.
What advice what you give other womxn looking to get into FemTech?
I encourage other womxn to not be afraid to share and workshop their ideas with others. It can be really intimidating sometimes to share a half-baked idea, but this really is one of the most important parts of the process in order to refine concepts, see additional opportunities, and find others who are excited about that work as well.