Peer to Peer: Investing in Innovation in Women’s Healthcare

Long overlooked, the opportunity to treat women better is booming.

October 18, 2023

Students and speakers at a panel discussion sponsored by the GSB Femtech Club | By Courtesy

In May, nearly 100 GSB students attended “Investing in Women’s Health,” a panel discussion with VC investors hosted by the GSB Femtech Club, an interdisciplinary organization promoting innovation in ­women’s healthcare.

Club co-founders Sasha Pines and Emily Powers, MBA ’24, recap some key takeaways about this long-overlooked, now-booming opportunity to help women of all ages:

Filling in the Gaps

“Femtech” was coined less than a decade ago, but its global market size could be as big as $1 trillion. “The white space in women’s health is sort of… everywhere,” said Jessica Karr, a general partner at Coyote Ventures. “There’s so much to be done in this male-dominated industry.”

Getting off the Sidelines

“Women have been underserved and neglected from the beginning of modern medicine,” said Alice Zheng, principal at RH ­Capital and coauthor of a McKinsey report that finds femtech is “on the cusp of disruption.” Even though women use more healthcare than men and oversee 80% of their families’ healthcare purchases, many male investors have hesitated to invest in women’s health. Deena Shakir, a general partner at Lux Capital and a lecturer in management at the GSB, says she’s come to see “others’ biases as an opportunity.”

New Science for Old Problems

More research is still needed to better understand women’s bodies. Clinical testing on women was not required by law in the U.S. until the 1990s and only 2% of drugs in development are for women’s health conditions (not including cancers). Take menopause: Treatment options have remained stagnant for decades due to a lack of research. “Including sex and gender as a variable in drug development is fundamental to developing better drugs for women,” Zheng said.

Fertile Ground

Women are having children later, more LGBTQ couples are starting families, and IVF remains prohibitively expensive. The panelists were enthusiastic about efforts to improve outcomes and lower costs for parents-to-be, such as recruiting more specialists in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. “There is a huge shortage of OB-GYNs and REIs, so we’re excited about solutions that can supplement the workforce,” said Julie Wroblewski, a managing partner of Magnify Ventures.

Improving Equal Access to Care

More than 40% of pregnant women in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid, yet they’ve been underserved by the healthcare industry. Delivering better care to them would not only tap into an untouched market but could help address America’s maternal mortality crisis, panelists said.

Treating the Whole

The panelists expressed excitement about multi-­solution platforms that make it easier for women to get treatment in one place. “As women, we don’t think about our problems as organs but rather as our broader health and wellness,” Shakir said. “So I think integrative care is the future of medicine and should be the future of platform solutions.”

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