Waterloo woman draws on experience with cervical cancer for startup idea

Rachel Bartholomew of Waterloo drew on personal experience with cervical cancer to create sexual rehabilitation devices for women. It earned her a second-place win at recent "Fierce Founders" pitch competition.

Idea earns second-place win at recent Fierce Founders pitch competition

HyIvy Health founder Rachel Bartholomew is pictured at Grand River Hospital. (Submitted by Rachel Bartholomew)

The founder of a Waterloo-based startup is drawing on her experience with cervical cancer to develop sexual rehabilitation devices that she hopes will help other women.

Rachel Bartholomew came up with the idea for the medical device company, HyIvy Health, when she was in the thick of cancer treatment last spring.

Bartholomew said she was given a vaginal dilator to help deal with scar tissue created by radiation therapy, and, in speaking with her doctors, quickly realized the product design was due for an update.

"I was like, 'Maybe there's something I can do here,'" said Bartholomew, who recalls pitching the business idea to a doctor while inside the radiation machine at Grand River Hospital.

The HyIvy device design is similar to that of a traditional dilator, she said, but will incorporate features like lubrication and auto-dilation to make it easier to use.

It's intended to help women who are dealing with pelvic health issues including scar tissue and a lack of muscle tension. Bartholomew said those problems can affect women at all stages of life, including those who've recently given birth, are dealing with menopause or those who, like her, are recovering from cancer.

"Some woman actually get so bad that you can't even do a pelvic exam at the doctor's office, let alone insert a dilator, let alone have sex," said Bartholomew. 

Pelvic floor physiotherapy is also helpful, she said, but can be expensive and hard to access in rural parts of the province. She hopes her device will help women complete their therapy in the comfort of their homes.

The idea earned her second place in a recent pitch competition for women founders at Communitech. The prize was $25,000, which Bartholomew said she plans to use to pay for travel and other expenses related to fundraising.

Bartholomew said she hopes to make the products available for sale at some point in the fall.