Hanne T’Kindt and Jenifer King, founders of Odyssey Fertility
Having your dream job in mind and then it turns out that it doesn’t exist. It happened to the American biologist Jenifer King who moved to Belgium 11 years ago. Her dream was to work on adult fertility education. Only, that job didn’t exist. That is why she founded her own company Odyssey Fertility in 2021. In June 2022 Hanne T. from Ghent joined’Kindt her as co-founder. He was convinced for a long time that entrepreneurship meant realizing one’s own idea. Until she discovered the co-founder and crossed Jenifer King’s path through a speed dating event for entrepreneurs. “It was thanks to the mission of female empowerment that we immediately clicked.”
“I came to Belgium 11 years ago,” King starts. “I worked as a biology teacher in an international school for a while, but I especially wanted to work on fertility education for adults. That’s why I quit teaching to pursue a master’s degree in biology. I completed it at the VUB while I was going through a difficult fertility process myself. It made me realize how lucky Belgians are to have access to fertility treatments. Only this access is taken for granted and this system is relied on too much.”
“If the age at which women become mothers continues to rise, unfortunately the system will not be able to keep up with demand,” predicts King. “I want to prevent this by providing information and raising awareness about fertility. When I noticed that there was no body for this yet, I decided to set it up myself. That is how the idea of Odyssey Fertility was born.”
Science minded versus people minded
At Hanne T’Kindt, the sense of entrepreneurship has been there since childhood. “I have several side-businesses had in my teens. After graduating, I immediately became a freelancer. Nevertheless, I started working as an employee.”
There where Jenifer King especially science-minded is Hanne T’Kindt in the first place people minded. “My career as an employee started as an account manager in an agency, where you people skills must be able to understand the customer well and act as a glue within the team and between different departments in terms of communication,” says the latter.
“During my last job at Rubicon – a community for entrepreneurs – I noticed how strong the need is to start my own business and create my own working environment,” continues the Ghent resident. “In February 2022 I took the step back to freelancer, although that was actually just what I didn’t want to do so as not to end up in that golden cage again. That is why I had set myself a clear goal to start something by September 2022.”
“I always knew I wanted someone to share this experience with,” says King again. “Someone to share the workload with, but most importantly someone who could bring a different perspective, broadening my understanding of how to effectively market this.”
She has long had a hard time with the idea of becoming a co-founder, T’Kindt makes no secret of it. “I always had the feeling that it really had to be ‘my’ idea to be seen as a fully-fledged entrepreneur. Yet I am more in my power if there is already an idea or something exists in terms of product and I can bring it to the market. I have always had a lot of ideas, but never felt like: this is what I really want to continue with.”
“Once I knew that people are actually looking for a co-founder, I decided to actively position myself as a co-founder. I soon noticed that many people are looking for a more generalist profile that is eager to build something together, to spar and to challenge each other. It was during a speed dating for imec entrepreneurs that I met Jenifer. I had already sent her a message via LinkedIn in advance, because I felt that purely based on who she was looking for as a co-founder and what was already available at Odyssey Fertility, there could be a possible match.”
“We met for the first time during the event, but in 20 minutes you can’t really feel a very strong click”, T’Kindt continues her story. “In the following week, we worked together for the first time in a co-working space in Brussels, where Jenifer showed me all the ins en outs told. I think we both felt like: this could really be something!”
“In addition, I tested the product, which made me feel even more strongly that this is really something that women should have access to. In the meantime I had a number of second conversations with other entrepreneurs, but after about 3 to 4 weeks I let Jenifer know that I felt a strong click with her and with Odyssey Fertility and that I would like to discover whether it could work between us.” And so it happened.
Jenifer King has been passionate about the topic of fertility for some time. “I have always enjoyed learning and teaching about reproductive health. Whether it’s about the menstrual cycle, breaking the stigma of talking about our reproductive parts, or talking about how eggs and sperm are formed, these are all topics I like to delve into. That was also the reason for obtaining a master’s degree.”
For me it was especially important to do business based on a mission
“For me it was especially important to do business on the basis of a mission”, Hanne T’Kindt adds. “Entrepreneurship was instilled in me from an early age, but for my parents, what they do was not very important. In my search I have spoken to many entrepreneurs. It was only with Jenifer that I clicked, just because of that mission of female empowerment.”
Importance to female health
Fertility is receiving more and more attention in healthcare. Quite rightly so according to Jenifer King and Hanne T’Kindt. “Women are not familiar with exactly how fertility works,” the former clarifies. “For example, many women do not know that they are born with a fixed egg reserve of about 1 million eggs and that by the age of 37 only 25,000 remain.”
“Ambition, career and travel are becoming increasingly important for many women”, adds T’Kindt. “That is why having children is postponed for longer and longer. Only the ovaries do not meet the contemporary social movement of women and fertility does not get younger. We want to empower women to climb the corporate ladder, find their life path, travel and find the right partner, by proactively informing them about both their options and the possible consequences of postponing motherhood. If women are armed with such information earlier in their journey, they can more actively plan their reproductive future. In other words, we want to prevent women from seeking help too late and saying: if only I had known sooner.”
If women are armed with such information earlier in their journey, they can more actively plan their reproductive future
“There are more and more start-ups focusing on menstrual health, helping women really understand their cycle and harness the power of their cycle in their daily lives,” says King. “Unfortunately, we still lack information about how reproduction really works. For example, we still believe from sex education that sexual intercourse immediately leads to pregnancy. So we need to talk more about ovulation and the fertile window: factors that influence fertility as well as the realities – and the limitations – of medicine.”
“In addition, we believe that women should be able to proactively manage their fertility if they want to and if they want to look for answers, they should be able to find them,” adds T’Kindt. “Women have the right to access reliable information about their own bodies at any time and for any reason.”
The hormone test and additional challenges
The entrepreneurial duo wants to improve the fertility trajectory with Odyssey Fertility. That is why they were the first to develop a hormone test. “With this test, women can actively seek knowledge about themselves and increase their fertility awareness. It really is the first step in a fertility journey and the best way to get personalized information about your own reproductive health,” T’Kindt clarifies.
Of course, the development of the hormone test also came with its own challenges. “It all started with finding a lab to do our analysis,” says Jenifer King. “Then the platform had to be expanded and the contents of the kit determined.”
“Although my biggest challenge was that my business knowledge was not super strong and me on the go and learned very quickly”, says King candidly. “Besides, I felt stuck in my own head, like spinning tires in the mud. Until Hanne came on board. She really gave me confidence to bring this project to market.”
We have a lot of ideas about where this could go, but most of all we let our customers lead the way
“For me it was especially important to put my perfectionism aside”, admits Hanne T’Kindt. “In the agency where I worked before, I was always surrounded by experts, so you rarely think you can do better than someone who specializes in something. Because we now bootstrapped work, it is necessary to take matters into your own hands.”
“Since every woman has a different journey, there are many ways we can develop and expand our services. Discovering what the target group really wants and finding product market fit is therefore an additional challenge,” continues T’Kindt. “We rely heavily on our customers’ feedback to learn what they need and how we can support them. In short, we have a lot of ideas about where this could go, but we’re letting our customers lead the way.”
Still a long way to go
“We live in a time when women have a lot of say, which is reflected in many facets of life. We just have a long way to go. Much more is needed than giving women a voice or saying ‘we support you’. We need to show it in our policies and our values as a society,” says King.
“For example, if we want women to have children earlier in life, we need to support them in their early motherhood so that they can balance their professional careers and not feel they have to choose. Policy can provide this support in the form of better maternity and paternity leave, better and affordable childcare, time and place to express milk, and so on. It is this policy that needs to change if we really want to support women.”
The only men who take us seriously are those who have been on a fertility journey themselves or have seen a close friend or family member struggle with infertility
“But a lot of policy and investment depends on men, and the concept of the biological clock is foreign to most men. The only men who take us seriously are those who have been on a fertility journey themselves or have seen a close friend or family member struggle with infertility,” says T’Kindt.
“That is why with Odyssey we are building a community of women to give them a voice and hear what they need to be better supported. A collective voice always sounds much stronger to bring about change – hopefully soon.”