Talk about all in the family. For Ran Ma, who comes from three generations of doctors, healthcare is in her blood.
“The expectation for me was to go to med school like every other nice Chinese girl," Ma tells SWAAY with a laugh. “But at the end of the day, I wanted to find my own path. I really appreciate what doctors do but I wanted to make a difference more on the prevention side. I wanted to help give people the tools to do something about their health before they have to get cut open. I wanted to work higher up in the healthcare chain."
After working in a wound lab where she did a lot of research on diabetic foot, Ma says she found her calling. “It stuck in my head," she says, about the issue in which high blood pressure leads to nerve damage in the foot. “People in the medical industry know that diabetic foot is a very traumatic, expensive, life-threatening problem, but it's very preventable."
Siren's first smart sock protype
With that idea in mind, Ma, who studied biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, decided to revolutionize the way diabetes patients monitor their health at home by introducing a smart sock that would help detect temperature changes in feet. In February of 2015, Ma began officially launched her company, Siren Care, which is designed to offer practical solutions to health issues through wearable technology. Ma's first prototype, which she today laughs about and describes as “hideous" was built after hours of research and her own development with a mix of parts she bought online.
“It was very painful, very hard at the beginning. I worked for a couple other start ups when I decided to do my own thing. It was a New Year's resolution. I told myself I'm going to work out and I want to start my own startup."
In March, 2015 Ma went to DFCon (Diabetic Foot Conference) with her homemade prototype to meet with podiatrists and surgeons. “They didn't know what to think of me," says Ma. “I started talking to doctors. I went back with their feedback and worked on another version."
This time Ma paid a professional to make the product, and she switched out the electrical parts and wires for smaller, more streamlined versions. Then, she went back to the conference the following year and unveiled her newest version. At this point, Ma says the reaction to her concept was even more positive.
“The sock got a little better, a little smaller, and a little more refined each time," says Ma, who subsequently brought on board two co-founders; CTO Jie Fu and COO Henk Jan Scholten, as well as an Industrial Designer to help take her to the next level. “Then I really reached the limit of my prototyping abilities," says Ma, adding that the company is currently seeking a head of growth.
Today the Siren Smart Sock, which sends a signal to a corresponding app should there be any significant change in your foot temperature, is making waves across the globe. It is available on the company's website for pre-order.
“I just started doing research," says Ma. “I made lists and kept coming back to diabetic foot and wearables I had all these ideas."
According to Ma, a big springboard to her brand's success was winning the Techcrunch Hardware Battlefield competition. After her subsequent feature in the magazine, Ma says Siren's website traffic exploded, and the product became one of the most popular articles on Reddit.
“The news about what we do is spreading like wildfire around the world."
“We are getting inquiries from as far as the Middle East, Russia, Mexico, Iceland, and Korea," says Ma, adding that she is plans to roll out in Europe next, followed by Asia. “Diabetes can happen to anyone anywhere. It touches the lives of so many."
“Our technology has a lot more uses than diabetic foot," says Ma, who plans to expand her line to include more intelligent undergarments. “I'm very passionate about prevention and health care and adjacent industries. There are many health issues that affect a lot of people, including the elderly who live with chronic disease. I want to make sure we have dignity in our older years and have devices that are easy to use and can detect things for you."
When it comes to funding, Ma says she raised about half a million in the summer of 2016, then joined an accelerator soon after. She is currently raising her seed round as is hoping to close a “significantly larger" investment in the next few weeks.
“We call ourselves consumer healthcare brand/company," says Ma, about her hybrid B2B and B2C brand proposition. “At the end of the day we need to make consumers happy, no matter who we sell to. That's what I care about."
For Ma, the biggest motivator for pushing her company forward continues to be the people she helps with her product introductions.
“I work with patients who have ulcers and have been bedridden for months trying to heal ulcers," says Ma. “They can't go to work. They're living in fear because they don't know when they will have the next ulcer, and by the time they see a doctor it's too late, surgery is the only option. We've come in and the response has been very happy and emotional."
"We want to help people. We want them to stop living in fear."
“I started with the problem," says Ma. “Then I built the technology to solve it."
"Just keep doing what you're doing and one day you will get there."
When asked what words of advice she would give to young entrepreneurs following in her footsteps, Ma says simply, “Never give up. No matter how hard it is. When I started people laughed at me. They said “what are you doing making socks in your bedroom? You're crazy. You could get some other job, but I didn't give up."
Ma, who will be making an academic presentation at DFCon 2017, adds that entrepreneurs shouldn't be afraid to put themselves out there, regardless of which point of the launch journey they may find themselves. "When I went to the conferences with my crazy prototype people laughed at me," says Ma. "But every conference I went to it got better. As long as you keep making progress no matter how small, don't give up."
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
I live the Tenderloin area of San Francisco and a lot of packages get stolen. The Doorman app is really useful so I can schedule deliveries for when I am at home and I can make sure my packages get to me in one piece.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
I have two types of mornings: day without presentations when I wake up 15 minutes in advance, shower, get dressed, run to work, and days with presentations when I wake up an hour and a half earlier to do hair, makeup, put on heels and a dress, land take Lyft or Uber to work.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Elon Musk. His vision is so big he's almost borderline crazy. I admire that!
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Penicillin. It's one of the major milestones in modern medicine and has saved millions of lives.
5. What is your spirit animal?
Tiger. Just like my Chinese horoscope. Fearless.
6. What is your life motto?
"Never give up!"
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful.
"Willing to take risk"
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
Silicon Valley. I knew this is where I was going to learn how to build my company and where I was going to build it. That was three years ago.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Laptop, power generator, some way to connect to the internet.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.