At only 24 years of age, Lucy Grunfeld isn’t what many would consider a ‘typical’ entrepreneur. And in a startup ecosystem that is usually dominated by SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions, she’s bucking the trend with a product that has the potential to revolutionise women’s rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery. 

“It was my last year at University and for my final design project, I was inspired by my godmother’s experience with breast cancer. In particular, it was a procedure that left her wearing an ‘extremely uncomfortable and unattractive’ post operative bra – one that made her feel terrible during a time she needed comfort and support the most. 

“I remember how upset she was knowing she had to wear it for a whole year after her surgery. When I looked further into it, I couldn’t believe how outdated current rehabilitation bra products were,” explains Grunfeld. 

Primarily functional, Grunfeld found the bras lacked aesthetic considerations, had visible outlines under clothing and their fixed designs offered minimal flexibility, meaning they failed to cater to the individual. Long term wear would lead to discomfort and even potential adverse reactions.

And after learning that this issue didn’t just affect her godmother, but women the world over, Grunfeld was driven to improve the aftercare for breast cancer patients. This meant beginning her journey as an entrepreneur to develop Bra+ve – versatile, postoperative bras to provide comfort and a positive experience for recovery. 

“This definitely wasn’t something I had set out to do as a career, however, after hearing the experiences of so many women, I was determined to design and develop something that would not only benefit many, but also thank those who generously gave up their time to help me,” says Grunfeld.  

The last few years have been a whirlwind of development, as well as learning about investors, pitch decks and finances. She also recalls how she never thought it would get this far and now it just keeps getting bigger. 

“I was actually told at the start of what I was doing to wait as long as possible before looking for capital investment. And it held me back for quite a while because I felt like my product had to be perfect.

“But all the support I have had from various associations and startup organisations has been really helpful and I’m almost ready to turn it into a commercial product,” says Grunfeld.

Bra+ve products. – Bra+ve aims to integrate comfort, adjustability, and aesthetic appeal to empower patients during recovery, supporting not only physical healing but also emotional well-being.

For Bridget Unsworth, Executive Director of Angel Association New Zealand, it’s people like Grunfeld that she gets most excited about. Keen for greater diversity when it comes to founders and startups being fostered, Unsworth says that it’s so important that people from all walks of life have the opportunity to be involved. 

“If you are going to have an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is thriving, there’s people of all ages from different backgrounds. But if you don’t see someone like you represented as an investor or founder, then it will feel hard before you even get started. 

“With a diverse range of people in this space, it kind of acts like a ‘showcase’, where everyone can (hopefully) find someone they identify with and give them the push to move forward,” says Unsworth.  

It’s something that definitely made a difference for Grunfeld.  

“Being a woman, in particular in the engineering/health tech sector, and hearing other women with similar challenges at the start of their entrepreneurial journey has been so valuable. Especially seeing them able to accomplish what they set out to,” she says.

Another female entrepreneur, Holly Gooch, is also breaking the mould with her startup called The Hyphen Project. After her nineteen-year-old son had a rocky journey through mainstream education, Gooch thought there had to be a better way for talented neurodivergent students to thrive. 

“At age seven, my son hadn’t learnt to read or write, but at age eight he completed an international science exam and got 100%. When he was twelve, he built a motorbike, yet was often in trouble in class for talking too much. He has ADHD and dysgraphia, but he is incredibly creative and academic at the same time and is now studying industrial design,” Gooch says.   

“There is a need for young people, like my son, who have learning difficulties and intellectual gifts at the same time to have their strengths supported. This will prevent them from suffering poor mental health in their teenage years. Plus, they are the out-of-the-box thinkers we need to build innovation in New Zealand.”

And this is where The Hyphen Project comes in. A six-month programme that allows these students to immerse themselves in an environment that is neurodivergent-friendly, workplace focused and provides them with a mentor. 

While doing her Masters of Educational Psychology, Gooch got involved with UniVentures through Wellington University and became the first person in the University’s Faculty of Education—Te Whānau o Ako Pai ever to be accepted into the KiwiNet Emerging Innovators Programme. 

“Through this programme, I had William Jeffery assigned to me as a mentor and after it finished, he wanted to stay on with me to further develop The Hyphen Project. We’ve now been through the Creative HQ impact accelerator, grown the organisation some more and established a founding and advisory team that has some of the world’s experts in this area.”

Holly Gooch, founder of The Hyphen Project – People and relationships are fundamental in The Hyphen Project, with learners getting one on one mentoring and coaching as well as being able to connect with like-minded peers.

While there are models overseas of what Gooch is doing, there’s nothing similar here in New Zealand. So she’s aiming to bring some of those ideas to our shores, while giving it its own particular flavour. 

“We are hoping to do a pilot starting in July this year, so we need funding. That is the challenge. Because we’re a social impact project and a charitable trust, ideally it’s about finding donors who can relate to our mission – whether they have first hand experience with being a talented neurodivergent person or have children who struggled through education that wasn’t designed for them,” says Gooch.

And while many would assume that most investors are after one thing, a return, Unsworth is buoyed by what she sees in action on a daily basis – those who aren’t just ‘in it for the money’.  

“I’ve found that for a lot of investors, it’s not just about writing the cheques. Plenty want to actually roll their sleeves up and help out, along the lines of ‘here’s my cheque and my skillset – call me anytime’,” says Unsworth. 

“I myself write really small cheques, but I spend time with my portfolio companies and will always do my best to assist them. That’s one of our roles here at the Angel Association, to ensure these connections happen and to create opportunities wherever possible.”

In fact, the numbers don’t lie. A recent survey by the Angel Association showed that only a third of investors are in it for ROI (return on investment). Unsworth says that because many investors have also been founders previously who have successfully exited businesses, they often want to give back – doing it for the love of seeing others succeed. 

“It’s what motivates them. It also helps them stay involved with what’s going on, providing opportunities to work with incredible founders like Holly and Lucy, who are pushing the boundaries on what is possible,” says Unsworth. 

It was something that Gooch found difficult at certain points, feelings of guilt for not being able to pay people who were assisting her with the Hyphen Project. But she says she is now really conscious that they are there because they want to be.   

Bridget Unsworth, Executive Director of AANZ.

“Investors know that it is hard work and that sometimes they will lose their investment,” adds Unsworth. 

“If they were after purely financial returns, there are much easier ways to achieve this. ROI is not the primary motivation, it’s about supporting the next generation of companies.”  

Unsworth takes her hat off to founders, saying it is a really hard journey that she could never take herself. She is passionate about making it easier for founders in any way, to hopefully take away some of those challenges they are facing. “I would say to any entrepreneur or potential investor – don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. If you don’t ask, there is no way I can help.” 

“There are amazing people doing incredible stuff. But you have to have the guts to do it. A lot of the time here in New Zealand, there are personal reasons that have got founders started and the determination to change people’s lives for the better has driven them. This is so clearly illustrated by what Bra+ve and The Hyphen Project are doing. 

For Grunfeld, her focus now is to find a manufacturer who is aligned with her vision and who can assist with innovation of the product. She wants to get it on the women she can help as soon as possible, and already has surgeons interested in trying it out on their patients. 

“There are definitely a lot of challenges and definitely plenty of imposter syndrome. But when I wake up and hear the feedback from the user testing, I realise this is massive and is bigger than me. I’ve got to get out there and get it done, no matter what,” says Grunfeld.  

And for Gooch, she has relocated from Wellington to Auckland and is aiming to further consolidate a like-minded community over the next six months, who can not only help identify possible students for the programme, but those who can help facilitate it. And once Auckland is established, the other main centres will hopefully follow closely behind. 

“It has been a fun, wild ride. It’s a real rollercoaster but helps you get up in the morning. I never thought I would be an entrepreneur, but I love it,” she says. 

Story by Erin Harrison

Supporter Spotlight: Offers and services from NZ Entrepreneur supporters!




Kiwi AI startup signs animal respiratory health trials with Chinese farms, eyes China-wide distribution

You might also like...