I’m sure you can remember your first UTI—that pain can be pretty unforgettable. Mine happened in the middle of a concert. I ran back and forth from the porta-potties for hours, just trying to make the discomfort end. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m not alone on this. UTIs are the second most common infection in the US, and over 50% of women have had one in their lifetime.
So, what are UTIs? Urinary Tract Infections are infections, usually caused by bacteria, and are 50 times more common in women than in men. UTIs most commonly affect the bladder, causing pain when we urinate, but can affect the urethra and kidneys as well. All of this is to say, UTIs can be complicated, and treatment can be confusing. That’s why Jenna Ryan, founder of Uqora, decided in 2014 to start at the source, building a brand to empower women to take control of their urinary tract health.
For Jenna, enough was enough when she got her 8th UTI in one year. Through research, doctors visits, and honoring her own intuition, she learned that the individual treatment of each UTI can largely depend on the cause. For most women, including herself, simply peeing after sex and showering after workouts proved to be not enough to prevent a UTI. So, Uqora was born! The goal? A multifaceted approach to urinary health: Prevent infections, target an existing infection, take control of your urinary tract, and promote an ongoing, balanced vaginal microbiome.
Uqora is changing the game for anyone who has ever had a UTI. Through its three products, Uqora addresses the deeply personal approach that we must all have for urinary health. With science-backed ingredients and an empowering message, Uqora recognizes that every woman deserves a personal and thoughtful understanding of her own body.
Next up in our By Women, For Women series, Jenna chatted with us about her battle with UTIs, her journey to founding a company, and how Uqora is making a change in women’s health.
Tell us a little bit about yourself (vague, I know).
Just your average gal who used to get a whole lot of UTIs, who couldn’t be more excited to now be helping women like me get proactive about urinary tract health.
Tell us the story of founding Uqora—when did the idea first hit you?
In 2014, I had 8 urinary tract infections (UTIs). If you get UTIs, then you understand how awful the cycle can be. I was told repeatedly there was little I could do other than the stuff I was already doing (trying cranberry, peeing after sex, etc). It turns out that UTIs are the second-most common infection, second only to the common cold. UTIs affect half of all women.
At the time, I didn’t know that. I just knew that I was desperate to get ahead of the problem and was inspired to start looking for ways to begin my own proactive approach to urinary tract health.
My partner, Spencer, was inspired too. With Spencer’s background in biochemistry, and my refusal to rely on antibiotics on a daily basis, we started building Uqora. Uqora was built in collaboration with physicians and urologists, with proven, science-backed ingredients. Uqora is dedicated to tackling urinary health in a new way, with products that work. At this point, we’ve helped more than 60,000 people get proactive about urinary tract health, and that’s just the beginning.
How has Uqora evolved over time?
We’ve always been incredibly deadset on helping people get proactive about urinary tract health, and empowering people to reduce their dependency on antibiotics. What that’s looked like has changed over time.
We started out with our first product, Uqora Target, which is a drink mix that people can drink after sex or exercise the flush the urinary tract. Uqora Target is still a key part of our product offering, but now we have three different products that all approach urinary tract health from a different angle. Uqora Control is a daily product that regularly cleanses the urinary tract and breaks down biofilm, the tool that bacteria can use to hide in the urinary tract. Uqora Promote is a specialized probiotic with two specific strains of “good” vaginal bacteria. Research has shown that a healthy vaginal microbiome can help maintain the entire urogenital system, making the vaginal microbiome a key part of urinary tract health. Most people take all three of our products together.
We’ve also started thinking beyond proactive care. We’re thinking through better ways to tackle UTI symptoms and treatment, and are excited to bring the same level of research and customer focus to every step of the process.
Uqora is built on proven tactics for UTI treatment. Stix also relies on OBGYN-approved tactics to detect ovulation and pregnancy. How did you go about pinpointing the products & methods that are scientifically-backed and actually work?
To get started, we culled together the most reputable, well-designed clinical research coming out of top universities and hospitals to develop our initial concepts. We then consulted with numerous physicians and urologists to get feedback and support—many of which became scientific advisors. We’ve continued to use that same approach as we’ve expanded our product line. Now, we’re also investing in first-party clinical research. We’re currently underway with a 360-subject clinical trial that’s up to pharmaceutical standards and have several other clinical studies that are in the planning stages. We’re super committed to elevating research in the industry and are really excited to be raising the bar in a space that has lagged when it comes to innovation.
What advice would you give to women looking for information & methods they can trust in this crowded women's health space?
I think it’s important to 1) find a physician that you love and trust, 2) look at the research yourself and 3) give your gut some credit too. I think it’s important to be very methodical and facts-based, but that when it comes to health, you do know your body the best, and it’s okay to give that fact weight.
UTIs are pretty stigmatized. How is Uqora pushing back on this stigma?
Education is a big part of helping people understand how to get proactive about urinary tract health. We’re also really passionate about sparking dialogue. I share my story a lot, and I think that’s really helpful in setting the tone with our customers that it’s okay to talk about urinary tract health. As a result of that, our customers share their stories with us all the time. We hear from multiple customers every single day who told us that they’d tried everything and have finally found peace with Uqora. You can read their stories here. They also share their stories with each other, and that’s so gratifying. Shame thrives in silence, and every story that gets shared is a step in the right direction of building that collective voice that can truly be so powerful.
What is one thing everyone should know about urinary system health that very few do?
Some people are just more prone to UTIs than others. They can be doing everything right—wiping correctly, peeing after sex, etc., and they can still be struggling with UTIs. Most of the time, that doesn’t mean they have poor hygiene or are promiscuous, it just means their body reacts differently to bacteria.
I think about this study often, which really drives this home. The basic summary is that researchers took the same strain of bacteria, and inserted the strain into the urinary tracts of a bunch of different mice. The researchers found that some mice ended up getting an infection and some didn’t. Although there are limitations to the leaps we can make about how this research translates to humans, to me this really illustrates that you can’t just pin susceptibility to UTIs on hygiene. This study illustrates that different bodies respond differently to bacteria, regardless of habits.
Building a business can be brutal—how do you take moments to care for yourself as Uqora continues to grow?
Staying active has always been my favorite de-stresser. I find that things just seem so much less stressful after a good sweat. Sometimes I compare myself to one of those dogs that need to be run a lot, like a terrier or something. It’s a joke, but it’s true that I just like to be a body in motion. I do my best work and have my best ideas when I have a lot on my plate and am also getting a lot of exercise and time outdoors. So, I really prioritize fitness—love to surf, play soccer, hike, jog, etc.
What is your wish for women who want to start a business in the women's health space?
I think my message is that people are happy to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out. It takes confidence to ask for help, and it took me a long time to find my voice in that way. I was over that by the time we were launching Uqora, but sometimes I wonder what else I could have done when I was younger if I had been less intimidated by the whole “networking” thing. I think this is especially true of the women’s health space. There really is this feeling of “we’re all into this together” and I think that’s unique. Take advantage of that, and pay it forward!
If people could take one thing away from Uqora, what would it be?
You are not alone in this, and we are here for you!
Jenna found success in her journey by being proactive every step of the way and finding empowerment through knowledge. UTIs + health is personal — every woman deserves a personal, thoughtful approach to her own body! Jenna knows that, we know that, and hopefully now you do too.
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