When Mitchella Gilbert (’21) decided to pursue an MBA, she went looking for a school that would embrace her entrepreneurial spirit.
UCLA Anderson filled the bill.
“I really wanted to build a business,” Gilbert says. “UCLA has the most concrete answer to how I can do that.” Now, halfway through the full-time program, Gilbert is well on her way to realizing her dream.
This fall, she and her business team have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to support their fledgling OYA FEMTECH Apparel, maker of leggings designed to support vaginal health by absorbing moisture and promoting ventilation. The company expects to begin shipping $85 leggings in black and Venice blue — designed in Los Angeles — in November.
OYA has already raised thousands of dollars in pitch competitions. In March 2020, the startup placed third in UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business Investing in Inclusion competition. In April, it garnered third place and “audience favorite” in the UCLA Law School Lowell Milken Institute-Sandler Prize for New Entrepreneurs competition, the largest entrepreneurship contest at a U.S. law school. In August, Gilbert was named one of five recipients of the Women Founders Network’s 2020 Woman Founder of Distinction Award.
OYA’s website and Instagram account depict females of many sizes and phases of womanhood wearing the “tummy-targeting” leggings, which come in sizes from small to 2X. The leggings feature mesh panels along the inner thighs to promote ventilation, fabric that aims to reduce the appearance of cellulite and dimples, and washable, removable pads in the crotch-area gusset.
“Other leggings trap bacteria,” the promotional material reads. “OYA leggings are made with antimicrobial and hypoallergenic fabric.”
OYA Femtech Apparel founder Mitchella Gilbert (’21) wears her own product
Gilbert, who grew up in Philadelphia and played rugby as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, came to the idea of entering this niche market after learning that many women of color suffer disproportionately from untreated vaginal infections and the lack of access to doctors and treatments. As she delved deeper, she quickly realized that it wasn’t just women of color who complained about these highly personal issues. Female athletes have long tolerated problems related to perspiration and tight-fitting workout wear. Curvaceous women nationwide bemoan the lack of athletic wear that can accommodate their thighs and derrieres. New mothers, plagued by urinary incontinence, yearn for workout wear that can help manage that problem.
Soon after arriving at Anderson, Gilbert began collaborating with a team she assembled as part of the program’s Business Creation Option field study. Director of finance Aleksandre Kokhreidze, chief operations officer Raylan Vaz and chief partnerships officer Patrick Ayers are all Anderson Class of 2021 MBA students. Chief compliance officer Ashley Sykora is a Class of 2021 law student at the UCLA School of Law. (The company’s chief marketing officer, Ahmed Mahmood, is a Class of 2021 MBA student at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester in New York.)
“I was inspired to work with my team to create leggings that were just as strong as the women wearing them,” says Gilbert, whose first name is pronounced Mitchell-lay.
Another boon has been the UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator, which, Gilbert says, “has been a helpful building block,” providing mentoring and office support.
Gilbert previously worked as a consultant for Deloitte, as a chief product officer for a sportswear startup and as an economics teacher and robotics coach for Teach for America. Last summer, she worked remotely as an intern for Nike, helping to create a COVID-19-related plan for liquidating merchandise in the company’s Asia Pacific and Latin America markets.
Serving as inspiration for her company was Oya, the powerful African goddess of thunder, lightning, tornadoes, winds, rainstorms and hurricanes. The team added “Femtech” to the name to capitalize on a term that is gaining awareness among investors.
Left to right: OYA Femtech Apparel’s Mitchella Gilbert, Patrick Ayers, Divhya Sridhar and Raylan Vaz, all UCLA Anderson Class of 2021 students, placed third in the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Investing in Inclusion competition
Credit for the term “femtech” goes to Ida Tin, a Danish entrepreneur who is co-founder and chief executive of Clue, an app that millions of women use to track their menstrual cycles. Tin coined the term to describe companies that address women’s biological needs. Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm in San Antonio, Texas, projects that the femtech market could be worth $50 billion by 2025.
Doctors at the UCLA Medical Center have advised the OYA team. “Vaginal infections [such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast] … are extremely common issues for women that I see in the clinic every day,” says Ilene Tsui, an obstetrician-gynecologist. “Urinary incontinence is also stigmatized and, unfortunately, a common symptom [that] women face, especially postpartum mothers.” Many gynecologists recommend wearing clothing made of breathable, unscented fabrics to minimize retained moisture and help promote a healthy balance of microbes to protect the vagina from disease.
As the OYA team members scramble to ready their crowdfunding and marketing campaigns, Gilbert acknowledges feeling the weight of responsibility. She is grateful for Anderson’s shared-success maxim and resources for entrepreneurs.
“When you have a growth mindset,” she says, “there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”