Maolac pours new funding into superfood mimicking breast milk health benefits

Inspiration for a new company can come from many different places. For Maya Ashkenazi Otmazgin, a biomedical engineer, it was while nursing her first child that she got the idea for harnessing the health benefits of breast milk, but in food and wellness supplements for adults.

“I wondered why we were not understanding the proteins inside breast milk and trying to find bioequivalents in other sources,” she told TechCrunch. “Breast milk is the ‘gold standard’ for nutrients, and grownups are being deprived of one of life’s greatest resources.”

Maya Ashkenazi-Otmazgin, CEO and co-founder of Maolac

Maya Ashkenazi Otmazgin, CEO and co-founder of Maolac Image Credits: Maolac

She teamed up with Dr. Ariel Orbach and Eli Lerner in 2018 to form Maolac, an Israeli food tech startup focused on creating a superfood by extracting proteins from bovine colostrum or plant-based analogs.

Together, the company’s team put together a library of sorts of over 1,500 known bioactive proteins in human breast milk. They then identified that bovine colostrum is one of those “other sources” that has over 400 homolog proteins with over 95% biosimilarity with human breast milk.

Colostrum is a nutrient-rich substance that is present in the milk of mammals for the first few days after giving birth. It is often discarded at dairies, which accounts for more than 5 billion liters of waste per year, Ashkenazi Otmazgin said.

She also touts that the company is the first to “identify and extract the functional proteins from bovine colostrum” and make functional milk protein mixtures from that colostrum, using a proteomics discovery platform and computational biology that could be used for different immune-boosting applications.

The milk protein mixture looks like a white powder that is digested in the human body similarly to breast milk and is suitable to add to food, even cooked foods like pasta, without losing functionality, Ashkenazi Otmazgin added.

Maolac’s mixture was also proven to produce higher overall efficacy at lower dosages. Competitors in the space are charging $500 per kilogram, and Ashkenazi Otmazgin says her company will charge similar for its product, but Maolac can deliver better efficacy at a fraction of the unit economics.

Maolac is pre-revenue at this point and working on its first product line of anti-inflammatory aids, one for athletes to reduce muscle strain and improve recovery time, and one to improve elderly mobility.

Ashkenazi Otmazgin expects these products to hit the market in 2023. She also claims the market potential for functional ingredients is huge, about $22 billion per year.

Helping to accelerate the products is a new $3.2 million seed round that was closed in January. OurCrowd led the investment and was joined by the Strauss Group’s Kitchen FoodTech Hub, the Food Tech Lab, Ventures Israel, NAOMI Investments and Mediterranean Towers Ventures. The investment boosts the company’s total funding to just over $4 million.

“The idea of transforming the first, nutrient-rich milk of cows that have just given birth into a source for human protein is a stroke of pure genius,” OurCrowd CEO Jon Medved said in a written statement. “Billions of liters of bovine colostrum are discarded each year. Maolac takes this waste and creates a product of huge potential benefit to millions at a time when the world is desperately searching for new sustainable sources of protein. The company is a perfect example of the circular economy in action.”

The new funding enables Maolac to build a pilot facility that will feature small-scale production capabilities of about 100 kilograms per month and create analytics and samples for customers and clinical trials. Ashkenazi Otmazgin also plans to add to the company’s team of 12 employees.

In addition, the company is currently working on getting regulatory approval in both the U.S. and Europe and is in discussions with food and supplement companies in Israel and dairy companies around the world.

Babyation’s breast pump brings stealth and dignity to mothers

“Dairy cows don’t put up with what women put up with,” sighs Samantha Rudolph, CEO at Babyation, a St. Louis, Missouri-based company that is today launching a brand new solution for breast-pumping mothers. The company is taking a more holistic approach than most, with an all-in-one system focused especially on stealth. The solution comes in an all-in-one carrying bag that includes cooling packs, storage and stealthy breast shields worn inside a bra. The setup is controlled from an app, making it possible to pump in quiet comfort, even while out and about in the world.

A recent study showed that the vast majority of women say that pumping is the worst part of breastfeeding. That’s a hell of a statistic, given that 95% of nursing mothers pump, and as someone who hasn’t had to use a breast pump, it doesn’t take a lot of research to get confirmation: It sounds pretty awful. The milk has to come out somehow, though — you can’t change biology. Babyation’s take is that if they can’t make it a loved process, they can at least do what they can to make sure it isn’t outright hated.

“We designed our product to optimize for an entire day of pumping. We minimize what’s on the body, then we have built-in storage,” explains Rudolph. It’s hard to overstate how helpful that is; a lot of breast pumps sell just a bottle and a pump, but you’re left with a storage problem and the potential awkwardness of having to leave a bottle of milk in the office fridge. “In other solutions, if I forget any one of these little parts, my pump doesn’t work, and then I’m either uncomfortable, or my milk supply is decreasing. We optimized and put everything in one spot.”

The innovation is that it’s possible to wear the wearables underneath your clothing, and have a small, inconspicuous tube run into the storage bag on the floor. The suction itself comes from a new technology that reflects nature, rather than taking a page out of the dairy industry’s playbook. The company has 11 patents protecting its tech.

“The way we derive our suction is that the device actually collapses on the nipple. It’s how babies suck. The FDA is actually allowing us to say that our suction mimics babies’. No other product can do that,” says Rudolph, and takes me on a journey of how the competition does things. “If you look at [competitor’s] patents, most of them are based on dairy cow technology.”

Breast pump tech in bag

Babyation’s breast pump and storage solution means that mothers can ensure that they have everything they need at a glance. If something is missing from a storage slot, it’s super obvious. Image Credits: Babyation

In the industry, most lactation consultants will tell you that breast pumps can’t express as much milk as a baby, but the Babyation team has a trick up its shirt — proverbially as well as literally — with extraordinary efficacy.

“In testing, 100% of women got out as much milk with our pump, compared with the pump that they usually use. Fifty percent of the time our pump got out more milk than a baby,” Rudolph says. The team is proud of the efficiency, and angry it has taken the industry this long to get there. “Innovation in this space does take time, but I think that part of the reason it’s taken so long, is that for a very long time it was ignored. I think we’ve solved this in a way that has never been done before. I think that our numbers are proving that it’s game-changing. But also, it’s not rocket science to be quiet, discreet and smart. We did not reinvent the way milk is produced. So the fact that women have had to live so long with these outdated solutions is just madness to me.”

Part of the company’s dedication to stealth meant moving the controls for the device to an app, rather than for users having to fiddle around underneath their clothing. The app tracks how much milk has been expressed, it can control the pump remotely and it can track inventory. That way, nursing mothers can know how much milk there is in the fridge and in the freezer and track consumption.

Babyation optimizes for discretion. Image Credit: Babyation

“We actually built an entire feeding app. So if I have a caregiver, I can ask the caregiver to feed a specific bottle of milk, and then that will deplete from my inventory. We also track breastfeeding and we track formula feeding as well. We really tried to put a lot of thought into the app,” explains Rudolph. “We also have an auto-start and auto-stop; if I’m on a call at 3 pm but I know I usually pump at 3:30, I can do that without fiddling around with the pump — that would be the antithesis of discretion. Discretion is our north star.” 

The company told me it has more than 4,500 people on the wait list for its product, which bodes well for its launch today. Babyation is primarily a direct-to-consumer brand, and the company is selling its system for $499.

Helaina’s latest round brings it closer to market with human milk-equivalent baby formula

Helaina, a company producing a first-of-its-kind infant milk, announced $20 million in Series A financing to usher in its next phase of growth that includes beginning the manufacturing and commercialization process for its first product.

Food scientist Laura Katz, who also teaches food science at New York University, founded the company in 2019, and touts it as “the first company making functional human proteins for food.”

To do this, Helaina is tapping into a precision fermentation process that programs yeast cells and teaches them to become manufacturing hubs to develop almost identical proteins found in human milk.

“When we started Helaina, there was a lot of technology going into a lot of industries, but feeding babies had not advanced too much,” Katz told TechCrunch. “For me, when I thought about where in the population to advance nutrition and health, infants and parents were the first thing that came to me.”

As the infant formula market, poised to be a $103 billion market by 2026, grows, there continues to be shame and stigma around how to feed children in their early years, and Helaina aims to provide parents with a choice of foods that are priced to be accessible to all, but also support as they examine their choices, she said.

Helaina created its first protein and now wants to create all of breast milk’s components, though one at a time. Not only will its product provide calories, but also it will help to build immunity against fungal, bacterial and viral diseases.

The company’s latest round was co-led by Spark Capital and Siam Capital, and includes Plum Alley and Primary Venture Partners. It gives the company $24.6 million in total funding, which includes a $4.6 million combined round of pre-seed and seed investments from 2019 and 2020, respectively, Katz said.

It was a planned round, but what Katz noted was unexpected was the “overwhelming interest” in the company from investors.

“What we found in raising money is such a personal connection to what we are doing,” she added. “So much is happening in food tech, but seeing the ability to use this tech for a product so close to people’s heart has been overwhelming. Lots of people are interested in what we are doing.”

The Series A will enable the company to scale with manufacturing partners to prepare for commercialization. The goal is to grow capability, round out the executive team and finalize go-to-market plans.

The company is working to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its product and then has plans to use its proteins in a host of consumer products that will be clinically proven, essentially creating a new category within the consumer sector that broadens the definition of nutrition to include immunity, Katz said.

Helaina is not alone in working to create a formula that is more nutritious and best resembles human milk. Earlier this year, Bobbie raised $15 million in Series A funding for its formula modeled after European brands. ByHeart is also developing a formula, while Biomilq says it has produced the “world’s first cell-cultured human milk outside of the breast.”

Katz says the approach her company is taking to create the proteins and focus on making a product that is better in terms of health outcomes is what differentiates Helaina from its competitors.

“Helaina is the first company to bring human proteins to food,” she added. “No one else has done this before. As we expand technology to parents to feed growing children, we are creating this new category that is like consumer immunology.”

Meanwhile, the company is one of the first investments that Sita Chantramonklasri made from her new fund, Siam Capital, which she said invests in businesses that are at the intersection of sustainability and consumer need.

Chantramonklasri spends a lot of her time in the food tech space and heard about Helaina long before she was connected with Katz by Kevin Thau, who led the seed round for Spark Capital, she said.

At the time, she was doing a deep dive into the breast milk space and was looking at some of the novel technology in the space from some of Helaina’s competitors. She spent a lot of time with Katz to understand her background and what Helaina was doing in the space. After spending time in the laboratory and seeing the company’s yeast engineering experience, Chantramonklasri said she felt that Helaina was providing a science-forward product.

“Laura is a fantastic founder and wise beyond her years [she’s 29 years old!] and wants to see the mission of Helaina through,” she added. “The market will get more competitive and timing is the play as is customer loyalty. Helaina is in a position to be an advocate for mothers and families. From a technology standpoint, it is too early to tell what will happen. We see innovation in other cell culture technologies like the Biomilq, but Helaina will be a leader in the space from a progress standpoint.”


SimpliFed serves up $500,000 pre-seed toward infant nutrition support

Feeding babies can take many different forms, and is also an area where parents can feel less supported as they navigate this new milestone in their lives.

Enter SimpliFed, an Ithaca, New York-based company providing virtual lactation and a baby feeding support platform. The startup announced Friday that it raised $500,000 in pre-seed funding led by Third Culture Capital.

Andrea Ippolito, founder and CEO of SimpliFed. Image Credits: SimpliFed

CEO Andrea Ippolito, a biomedical engineer and mother of two young children, had the idea for SimpliFed three years ago. She struggled with breastfeeding after having her first child and, realizing that she was not alone in this area, set out to figure out a way to get anyone access to information and support for infant feeding.

“Post discharge is when the rubber meets the goal for us,” she told TechCrunch. “This is a huge pain point for Medicaid, and it is not just about increasing access, but providing ongoing support for feeding and the quagmire that is health insurance. We want to help moms reach their infant feeding goals, no matter how they choose to feed, and to figure out what feeding looks like for them.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers nurse for up to six months. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60% of mothers don’t breastfeed for as long as they intend due to reasons like difficulty lactating or the baby latching, sickness or an unsupportive work environment.

SimpliFed’s platform is a judgement-free zone providing evidence-based information on nutritional health for babies. It isn’t meant to replace typical care that mother and baby will receive before and after delivery, but to provide support when issues arise, Ippolito said. Parents can book a free, initial 15-minute virtual consultation with a lactation expert and then subsequent 60-minute sessions for $100 each. There is also a future membership option for those seeking continuing care.

The new funds will be used to hire additional employees to further develop the telelactation platform and grow the company’s footprint, Ippolito said. The platform is gearing up to go through a clinical study to co-design the program with 1,000 mothers. She also wants to build out relationships with payers and providers toward a longer-term goal of becoming in-network and paid through reimbursement from health plans.

Julien Pham, managing partner at Third Culture Capital, said he met Ippolito at MIT Hacking Medicine a decade ago. A physician by training, he saw first-hand how big of an opportunity it is to demystify providing the best nutrition for babies.

“The U.S. culture has evolved over the years, and millennials are the next-generation moms who have a different ask, and SimpliFed is here at the right time,” Pham said. “Andrea is just a dynamo. We love her energy and how she is at the front line of this as a mother herself — she is most qualified to do this, and we support her.


MyMilk Labs launches Mylee, a small sensor that analyzes breast milk at home

Many expectant mothers are told that breastfeeding will come naturally, but it is often a fraught and confusing experience, especially during the first few weeks after birth. Parents often worry about if their babies are getting enough nutrition or if they are producing enough milk. MyMilk Labs wants to give nursing mothers more information with Mylee, a sensor that scans a few drops of breast milk to get information about its composition and connects to a mobile app. The Israel-based company presented today at Disrupt Battlefield as one of two wild card competitors picked from Startup Alley.

The Mylee launched at Disrupt with a pre-order price of $249 (its regular retail price is $349). Based in Israel, MyMilk Labs was founded in 2014 by Ravid Schecter and Sharon Haramati, who met while working on PhDs in neuroimmunology and neurobiology, respectively, at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Mylee deviceDuring the company’s stage presentation, Schecter said the device is meant to give mothers and lactation consultants objective information about breast milk.

Breast milk changes in the first days and weeks after birth, progressing from colostrum to mature milk. Mylee scans the electrochemical properties of milk and then correlates that to data points based on MyMilk Labs’ research to calculate where the sample is on the continuum, then tells mothers if their milk is “delayed” or “advanced,” relative to the time that has passed since they gave birth.

The device’s first version is currently in a beta pilot with lactation consultants who have used them to scan milk samples from 500 mothers.

MyMilk Labs already has consumer breast milk testing kits that enable mothers to provide a small sample at home that is then sent to MyMilk Labs’ laboratories for analysis. One is a nutritional panel that gives information about the milk’s levels of vitamins B6, B12 and A, calories and fat percentage, along with dietary recommendations for the mother. Another panel focuses on what is causing breast pain, a frequent complaint for nursing mothers. It tests for bacterial or fungal infections and gives antibiotic suggestions depending on what strains are detected.

Though some doctors believe testing kits are unnecessary for the majority of nursing mothers, there is demand for more knowledge about breastfeeding, as demonstrated by the line-up of breast milk testing kits from MyMilk Labs and competitors like Lactation Labs, Everly Well and Happy Vitals. Haramati said on stage that MyMilk Labs plans to eventually transfer some of the tests’ capabilities to the Mylee.

Elvie raises $42M to become the go-to destination for women’s health

Elvie, the developer of femtech hardware including a silent wearable breast pump and a smart pelvic floor exerciser, is one of the boldest startups around.

Led by co-founder and chief executive officer Tania Boler, the London-based business has successfully infiltrated the bro-y community of venture capitalists, which has historically shied away from the “unrelatable” and “niche” sector that is women’s health. Of course, that sector isn’t niche at all, the global women’s health market is expected to be worth $51.3 billion by 2025, but investors have only recently begun to accept that reality.

Elvie is today announcing its third private financing, a $42 million Series B led by IPGL to support the release of four additional women’s health products. Octopus Ventures and Impact Ventures U.K. have also participated in the round.

Six-year-old Elvie is led by Boler and co-founder Alexander Asseily, a hardware vet and co-founder of the consumer electronics business Jawbone, which despite its many struggles, managed to get VCs to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars before it folded. Boler’s expertise in the space — she has a Ph.D. in sexual health — and Asseily’s hardware prowess have undoubtedly lured investors, as has Elvie’s breast pump, launched in September, which boasts a waitlist of thousands of women.

Under Boler’s fearless leadership, Elvie has raised nearly $50 million and started a much-needed conversation around women’s issues, like pelvic floor health and public breastfeeding.

[gallery size="full" type="slideshow" ids="1805635,1805639,1805637,1805638"]

Elvie’s latest attempt to change the narrative around public breastfeeding involved five giant inflatable breasts being placed across London’s skyline. On Mother’s Day in the U.K., March 31, Elvie’s #FreeTheFeed campaign attempted to fight the stigma around breastfeeding and pumping in public in what the startup said was “an invitation to stand with all those women that have felt shamed or confined when breastfeeding or pumping.”

“We know the giant boobs will raise a few eyebrows, but we want to make sure no one overlooks the way that this stigma has been used to repress women,” Boler said in a statement.

“When you create a new category, you have to educate the market and you have to change the conversation,” Boler added in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week.

Elvie’s long-term plan is to develop products supportive of women at every stage in her life, whether that be pre-natal, menopausal or otherwise, and to become a one-stop shop for women’s health. Its debut product, the app-connected Kegel trainer, helps women strengthen their pelvic floor with five-minute workouts and real-time biofeedback. Its second product, the silent wearable breast pump, is similarly app-connected and monitors milk volume in real-time, tracks pumping history for each breast and can be operated remotely. Both have been category-defining triumphs.

The company will use its latest investment to continue R&D on upcoming products and to build brand awareness and distribution for the Elvie pump and the Elvie Kegel trainer across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.

Elvie’s round follows a number of new investments in the femtech space. Today, another women’s health startup, Cora, closed a $7.5 million investment. Another, NextGen Jane, raised $9 million in a round announced yesterday to use blood wrung from tampons to possibly discover early markers of endometriosis.

“I think it’s really an exciting moment for femtech,” Boler said. “The tech sector is waking up to the importance of the female consumer.”

Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on and, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA approval.