“You have to be aware that it takes five years to scale up a start-up into a stable business.”

Hans Versmissen and his start-up Entusia are at the crossroads of health care and aesthetics. He makes stylish briefs and boxer shorts for people with slight urinary leakage, a problem for 1.6 million Belgians and a big taboo. “I want to give people back their confidence and their quality of life. I undertake to make an impact.” For even greater impact, Entusia is now partnering with My Add On, another start-up from the first Birdhouse cohort.

Hans Versmissen worked for a time in the insurance industry, and then moved into real estate. I’m an entrepreneurial type, I’ve always toyed with the idea of starting my own business. But it would have to be something completely different, in a world that would be totally new to me. That’s the case with Entusia, I think.”

Hans Versmissen Entusia

That’s an understatement. Going from real estate to stylish, comfortable briefs and boxer shorts for people with mild leaks is a pretty radical career change. “My sister-in-law is a Canadian, she started making and selling a similar product there,” explains Hans Versmissen. “I then started doing market research here in Belgium, and I was quickly convinced that the need is also particularly great in our country.”

Shocking market research

I’m stunned by the numbers. Approximately 1.6 million Belgians have to deal with bladder weakness at one time or another. In one in four men over the age of 50, prostate problems also cause leakage of urine. Among women, this is even one in three. Not only from menopause onwards, but also during and after pregnancy or due to obesity, pelvic floor problems can lead to urine leakage.”

But even more than the figures, Hans Versmissen was shocked by the conversations with specialists: urologists, gynaecologists, general practitioners: “The impact is even greater than I initially thought. The taboo is huge. When a man suddenly has to wear panty liners, even in a social context, it really erodes his self-confidence. The taboo is still huge. As a result, people wait too long to seek help, and mild urine loss becomes true incontinence.”

”The taboo is still huge. As a result, people wait too long to seek help, and mild urine loss becomes true incontinence.”

The pads that absorb urine loss are invisible in Entusia’s briefs and boxer shorts. They have been subtly incorporated into the fabric. Our underwear looks like regular underwear. For example, our panties are finished with lace. It was important to me to pull the solution away from the purely medical sphere. The aesthetic aspect is equally important. That’s the only way to give people their self-confidence back, and take the issue out of the taboo.”

Entusia has been around for about two years, and founder Hans Versmissen is satisfied with the evolution his start-up has gone through. “It’s a fight, every day. You have to be aware that it takes four or five years to scale up a start-up into a stable company. Especially if you’re making a physical product.

Marie Van den Broek My Add On Hans Versmissen Entusia

“I really got myself into the technology behind the pads. Together with the University of Ghent, I tested these extensively, and searched very hard until I found a manufacturer in the United States who could make 100% of what I wanted. The European standards for medical products are different from the American ones, so I had to take that into account as well. The briefs and boxer shorts themselves are produced in China, through a Dutch textile company. Coming from a completely different world, the search for good, reliable producers and suppliers is a famously difficult task.

“And then, of course, I hadn’t sold any briefs or boxers. In the beginning, I targeted lingerie stores. They were enthusiastic, but for their customers the threshold was still quite high. Pharmacies, ortho shops and the home care shops of the health insurance companies proved to be more effective sales channels. That’s trial and error, you only discover that along the way. Entrepreneurship is forever searching and evaluating.”

Wanted and found: a co-founder

In order to be able to shift up a gear, Hans Versmissen will soon be working with a co-founder: Marie Van den Broeck, the founder of My Add On. “I got to know Marie and My Add On through Birdhouse. She was part of the very first batch of the accelerator. She makes sleeves (MySleeve) to put around crutches. Did you know that people drop their crutches an average of 20 to 30 times a day? (laughs) Neither do I. The sleeves (MySleeve) of My Add On protect your hands, and make sure that the crutches don’t clatter on the floor every now and then.”

Entusia products

“I was looking for a co-founder who shares my mission, and who knows the startup world. Marie is already one step ahead of me with My Add On, and we are on the same page. We both started a start-up for the same reasons: we want to give people more comfort and thus increase their quality of life. We want to make an impact with our products.

“But most importantly, we have complementary skills. I’ve grown along with my start-up. When I started with Entusia, I knew very little about technology, about production, about marketing, about sales, … Birdhouse taught me a lot about it in a very short time and my mentors have been crucial in the development of Entusia.

”We want to give people more comfort and in that way increase their quality of life.”

But at a certain point you hit your limits. I am good at bookkeeping and finance and that sort of thing, Marie is very good at design, marketing, … We complement each other. How exactly we are going to work together, and what that means for Entusia and My Add On, is something we are still discussing. We agreed to join forces, we are now looking for the construction that maximizes our start-ups.”

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