Photographs: Caroline Tompkins; Prop Styling: Matt Cullen

Why Have So Many Breast Pump Startups Flamed Out?

Despite years of hype, these entrepreneurs are finding it’s nearly impossible to survive

Bryce Covert
Published in
12 min readJan 6, 2020

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JJanica Alvarez and her husband, Jeff, were supposed to revolutionize the breast pump. The pump—a hulking, painful, ugly device—serves a very precise purpose: to extract milk from a mother’s breasts when she’s not with her baby. It’s a heavy, noisy machine that armies of postpartum women drag to work and hook themselves up to multiple times throughout the day — shirts crumpled, milk dripping, unwieldy flanges dangling — all so they can keep their babies nourished and their milk supply alive.

Alvarez, a mother of three, quit her job as a biotech researcher at Genentech, as did her husband, a product developer for a surgical robotics company, to build a smart breast pump. To develop the design, the couple relied on their own knowledge of hydraulics and robotics, along with sonograms of breastfeeding babies and the advice of lactation consultants and pediatricians. The Naya pump had soft cups for the breasts, along with water-based (rather than air-based) suction technology, which worked together to more closely mimic a baby’s mouth. The device automatically tracked how long women pumped and how much milk they extracted. The co-founders claimed their product pumped 30% more breast milk and was…

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