My entrepreneurial journey started when I was kid. Growing up, my mom and dad were both entrepreneurs. I remember that with everything I did, even then, I always thought I could turn it into a business. My mom put me in gymnastics, and when my friends would come over I thought I should charge each friend $10 and give them gymnastics lessons. Not realizing certifications, insurance, etc., I just wanted to figure out a way to make money. I was eight.
My mom would ask me for a massage after a long days' work, and I would ask her if I did this every day, would she pay me so I can start a massage business. I would walk into a laundry mat and think how cool it would be to do people's laundry, listen to music, and fold clothes. It would make so many people's lives easier, and I could charge per load of laundry.
I always thought at the time that all my ideas were great, and I could make a lot of money by word of mouth. I just had that desire to be on my own, make my own money, and be successful. Fast forward to me trying to think of ways to earn extra allowance. I don't know if I was a shopaholic, but my mom did want me to earn my own money so I could stop asking her to buy me clothing at 13. My mom said if you want it, go out and get a job.
My first job was in my town, Montville, at an arcade called Game Town where I helped with all the parties by waitressing and bussing tables. For 13, I was making a lot of money. It was cash tips, so it became addicting to have cash in my pocket at all times. I went on to waitress at a local diner and work for one of my Dad's companies. Then I ventured out to try different jobs until I figured out what I wanted to do. That didn't happen until I was about 28 years old, but I finally found my niche.
I moved to Poughkeepsie, New York in 1998 and worked for a psychiatrist and then at an Assisted Living facility. I soon decided that though I loved where I was working, I wanted to move to Westchester instead of staying in Poughkeepsie. The owner of the assisted living complex owned an apartment complex in Yonkers so I moved there and rented an apartment from him.
I quickly realized that I needed a second job to pay for the gas back and forth to Poughkeepsie. and went into a local Italian restaurant to ask if they were hiring for a bartender. I never bartended a day in my life. But I was hired. The first drink was a screwdriver, and even then I was stumped. I am eternally grateful that the owner was happy to train me and the customers were patient while I learned, because in 2015 a partner and I purchased that same restaurant where I started bartending at just 21 years old.
Prior to purchasing, I waitressed there while I started a PR firm that I thought was going to start small and stay small, maybe one other employee that services local accounts only. Three years in and I was referred to multiple celebrities and reality stars that I am thankful to this day. These early relationships put my company on the map and turned it into a firm with 10 employees and over 30 clients spread across the entire country.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would be flying out of the country to manage celebrity events like the Cannes Film Festival. At one point, clients were flying me to Los Angeles once a week, if not more, to manage the celebrity and talent wrangling for major award shows. It was fun to experience new things and make friends wherever I went. I soon found myself partnering with a celebrity on a wine brand, growing my PR firm, purchasing a restaurant, and partnering with one of my employees on a non-invasive beauty business.
Through all of these experiences, I have grown to appreciate being an entrepreneur in so many ways. While there are many hurdles, struggles, and stressors to being in your own business, once you get to a place of stability, the rewards are so worth it. It's definitely not for everyone. Sometimes you just don't know where you are getting a dollar to pay a dollar back, but I stuck it out somehow. Looking back on this entire journey, it's been the most rewarding position I have ever been in.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."