Founder Spotlight: Sujay Suresh Kumar
How this electrical engineer’s passion for technology carries forward his mission to support women
Today we catch up with Sujay Suresh Kumar, cofounder and CTO of Lilu, the first hands-free massage and pumping bra for breastfeeding mothers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Advocating for women has always been at the center of your work. Let’s hear about your background.
I come from a small place in Southern India called Hyderabad. I grew up in a culture where there’s a lot of systemic gender biases. It is not really deliberate, it’s sort of ignorant, but it has always existed. I also grew up in a family that always respected women and valued the status of women in society. I knew I wanted to combine my education and technology to build something that would help women.
Prior to moving to the United States, I started a non-profit called Jyothi in Hyderabad. Jyothi was centered around providing survivors of harassment and rape with a platform to let their voices be heard anonymously and provide support workshops to help them overcome that incident or help them cope with it.
How did the idea for Lilu transpire?
I met my co-founder, Adriana Vázquez, in a robotics class while I was pursuing a Masters in Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. We started working on these really cool projects together and building robots that basically had no purpose. It was all just cool stuff. Towards the end of the semester, Adriana pitched an idea about wanting to create a breast pump product that would actually help moms.
What did you see as the biggest opportunity?
There are so many unmet needs in this space. Lifestyles are changing and technology hasn’t kept up.
What is Lilu’s mission?
We will build technology to empower new moms. We launched our very first product: a pumping bra that automates breast massage to help moms who are already using their breast pumps, pump more milk and pump hands-free in less time.
How did you bring your first prototype to market?
We’ve been running such a lean company and we’ve actually been able to launch our first product without a lot of help. We’ve had a couple of really awesome investors who backed us very early on. Aside from those early supporters, we haven’t taken any VC money. We received a tremendous amount of support from a pre-order Kickstarter campaign last February. We reached our goal from the Kickstarter campaign and sold close to 130 units. We launched the product on our e-commerce platform in August, 2019.
International startups face unique challenges and you’ve been abroad for the better half of a year. What impact has that had on your team?
I left the United States to go to China to oversee manufacturing for Lilu in April 2019 and haven’t been back to the United States since then. I haven’t seen my co-founders in person for eight or nine months, which is insane when you think about it. It’s so important for the team to be together to guide each other through the ups and downs and collectively help each other out.
On the upside, I have 18 hours to work with. I work in the mornings and then I attend phone calls with people in the United States at night. I end up working more hours than I would have in the United States. So it’s a win-win situation!
You recently got approval for an O-1 visa. What was the application process like?
I was on the STEM extension, which is basically the work permit that comes after your graduate program or another student program. One of the biggest challenges for me was figuring out what my options were to get back into the country. There aren’t a lot of options out there for immigrant entrepreneurs.
Despite the stress that comes with applying for a visa, the Legalpad team was super supportive through the ups and downs. My first petition went through an RFE (Request for Evidence) and a denial before getting approved. Legalpad never hesitated to put in the amount of work required to resubmit my case twice. After the denial, we made a couple of very fine tweaks to the application, resubmitted, and got approval.
Getting your O-1 Visa approved is a huge milestone!
For sure! The amount of confidence that the team showed in me and my application was incredible even when it felt like all hopes were lost. It’s not about the job for Legalpad–it’s about helping people out. It is so refreshing to actually talk to a person who says, “Let’s figure this out together.”
What’s in store for 2020?
There is a lot in store for us this year. One thing I am really excited about is an upcoming clinical trial with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia under Dr. Diane Spatz, a leading lactation expert in the U.S. We’re also signing new partnerships with HR perks providers to offer our product to their clients.
Visit Lilu’s website to learn more!