Earlier this year, Female Founders Fund conducted research concluding that “responding to the needs of women experiencing menopause is a $600 billion opportunity for companies”. As of 2021, the population of females in the world is estimated at 3.905 billion, representing 49.58% of the world population. Some of these women have gone through and some will go through menopause. By the year 2025, the number of postmenopausal women is expected to rise to 1.1 billion worldwide, according to the North American Menopause Society.
According to the AARP, only 20% of OB-GYN residency programs in the U.S. offer training in menopause. As a result, many medical professionals don’t have the clinical training to diagnose and treat menopausal symptoms, and women are left with insufficient options and support, often being told to ‘just deal with it’. It is clear there is a huge unmet need and an opportunity for impact by creating a solution that can help women feel understood and supported on their journey.
Women aged 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression of any group based on age and gender in the U.S, and women have a 1 in 5 chance of developing cognitive diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men. Despite these stats, innovation for women’s health in later life has been practically non-existent. The femtech industry has made great strides in improving women’s care for menstrual health, fertility, and pregnancy, but it has largely ignored the needs of almost 1 billion globally who are entering menopause.
Featured below are eight female founders and entrepreneurs who are shaping the future of the menopause industry by bringing their innovative products and services to the market, a market that has too long been overlooked, underresearched and underfunded.
Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne, founder of Freda and My Modern Menopause
“I founded Freda, the parent company of My Modern Menopause, to address and challenge the stigma and inequality in women’s health, issues that I was also familiar with from being a woman, a mother, and the wife of a gynecologist. I wanted to create a company that would address everything from period care to menopause with the same sort of respect and sensitivity we give to other wellbeing necessities,” starts her story Parvizi-Wayne. Freda’s Period+ pads offer users a unique hybrid product, designed to provide the coverage needed for mild-to-medium bladder weakness, periods, or for anything in-between.
According to Parvizi-Wayne, expanding into menopause support was a “natural progression of Freda’s commitment to combating stigmas and 'blind spots' in society.” My Modern Menopause was born out of her own experience of how the stigma around menopause is ageist as well as sexist and needs to be tackled with empowerment and education. Women are conditioned to fear menopause as a depressing sign of aging, but ironically, it has much more in common with puberty. If we were able to shift public thinking so that people recognize the complex physical and psychological changes that the body undergoes during this time, we could also begin to appreciate it as a valuable transition into a new stage of life.
Digital biomarkers can have a huge impact in areas of health that are complex and multi-faceted, such as menopause, from the monitoring, diagnostic, and management perspective. Additionally, when symptoms are variable week-to-week, day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour, only continuous regular remote monitoring will be able to elucidate the causes. The use of digital biomarkers can range from providing information and insight to the user, to being able to delineate what interventions or lifestyle changes are actually having a positive impact. “All elements of My Modern Menopause, from the home-kit blood tests to the labs we use to process them, to the information we curate in terms of advice, are all subject to a similar level of scrutiny,” explains Parvizi-Wayne.
According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, almost 8 out of 10 menopausal women are at work. A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey reported that three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work, and nearly a third of women in the survey said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms. “Women’s reproductive health, regardless of the aspect you look at, has suffered from long-term and severe underinvestment. Our hope is that the increasingly open discourse on topics such as menopause in recent years will drive investment and spur significant advancement in healthcare, technology, and policy. Such changes will ultimately result in better, more effective, and indiscriminate products on the market,” she concludes.
Alessandra Henderson, cofounder and CEO of Elektra Health
Elektra Health is a next-gen women's health platform on a mission to smash the menopause taboo by empowering women with evidence-based education, care and community. Their digital platform offers proprietary symptom-based programs, telemedicine care from board-certified menopause specialists, and text-a-menopause-expert support. Importantly, Elektra provides a safe online space for women to connect with, support and learn from each other.
At its core, Elektra supports and cares for women navigating the perimenopause and menopause journey. This not only includes women in their 40s and 50s, but also the thousands of women who are put into surgical and/or premature menopause due to surgery, medication side effects, and more. In addition to offering world-class menopause care via telemedicine, Elektra offers an integrative digital platform called Meno-morphosis (sign up for the waitlist here!) that is built to support women over their 10+ year menopause journey. This platform – currently in private beta – offers evidence-based pathways for managing symptoms, private community support including weekly groups, and 1:1 text access to a dedicated menopause expert. To date, 94% of participating women respondents reported an improved menopause mindset after the Meno-morphosis program.
“I started Elektra Health after a personal experience opened my eyes to how truly fragmented and broken the women’s health landscape is. Several years ago, I froze my eggs and the prescribed hormones impacted my eyesight. It was a huge wake-up call for me around how little I knew about hormonal health, and how it is simply NOT discussed. The experience inspired me to speak with hundreds of women and experts to learn more about why that is. As a woman on the precipice of navigating perimenopause myself, I was inspired to build a platform to ensure no woman felt alone or unsupported during her menopause journey. After months of conversations and waking up in the middle of the night thinking about ways to support the women I met who were desperate for better a better solution, I was inspired to build a safe space that educates and supports women during one of the most important transitions in her (my!) life,” shares Henderson.
Joined by her co-founder Jannine Versi and founding physician Dr. Anna Barbieri on this startup journey, these three women have raised $4 million in funding so far from leading consumer tech and healthcare investors - the company’s seed round was co-led by Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six as well at Flare Capital Partners, with additional investments from Human Ventures, January Ventures, The Fund, Company Ventures, and strategic angels.
Andrea Berchowitz, cofounder of Vira Health
Vira Health is a digital health company focused on improving long-term health for women. Its first product is Stella, an app that delivers relief from the symptoms of menopause. Vira Health approaches menopause with two main premises - first, everyone’s menopause experience is different so each treatment plan is personalized to specific symptoms and learning, and lifestyle preferences, and second - a commitment to scientific and evidence-based solutions.
“Inequities in healthcare have been a long-standing interest of mine. Deciding to build a company was a reaction to reading the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez in 2019. Chapter 10, “The Drugs Don’t Work” was a complete eye-opener for me. She systematically explains how the gender data gap in healthcare is resulting in wildly inferior care (misdiagnosis, inferior pain management, increased mortality). When I finished reading it, it was completely clear to me that, without new innovators bringing the power of technology to female-only conditions, this wasn’t going to change. I was lucky to meet my co-founder Dr. Rebecca Love at the right time. Her background is in academia; she is a chronic disease epidemiologist and an expert in behavior change. We shared an interest in the opportunity to fundamentally transform later-life health for women. And thus, in 2020 Vira Health was born,” shares Berchowitz.
So how does Stella app work in practice? Take a person who is coping with sleep disturbances and urinary incontinence. Her Stella plan would combine cognitive behavioral therapy, sleep scheduling, pelvic floor exercises, and other guidance related to lifestyle and behavior change. Plans are 12 weeks long, giving users time to learn, practice, and embed new habits. In addition to the treatment plans, the Stella platform has articles, recipes, mindfulness meditations, exercise suggestions, and access to virtual events such as yoga classes or a Q&A with a gynecologist.
The company raised £1.5 million in seed funding so far from LocalGlobe, MMC Ventures, and angel investors including Megumi Ikeda, Managing Director at Hearst Ventures, Andrea Zitna of Elvie, former Spotify executive Sofia Bendz, founder of GoCardless Matt Robinson, and Simon Lambert, former CTO at MOO.com and Treatwell.
Arfa Rehman, cofounder and CEO of Chorus Health
Chorus Health is a San Francisco-based digital health company, whose flagship product, Caria, is the first data-driven platform providing personalized care to women in menopause. Developed with leading experts in women’s health and menopause, Caria provides evidence-based programs backed by science and personalized to women’s unique symptoms and needs.
What makes Caria different from other solutions is our personalized approach powered by data and AI. “Every woman’s experience of menopause is totally different, which is why we developed the first AI-powered assessment tool for menopause. Women can chat with Caria's intelligent assistant to find guidance on where they are in the menopause journey, and get personalized recommendations to manage their symptoms. On average, women spend several years trying to get the right diagnosis and $20,000 in trial-and-error treatments, doctor's visits, and products. Caria aims to reduce this time and cost using technology and AI,” explains Rehman.
What stood out to Rehman in the research she and her team conducted was the number of women who felt dismissed by the healthcare system. 71% of women in their research indicated they had a negative experience when seeking care for menopause. “We heard over and over again that women were being misdiagnosed, told they were ‘too young’ to experience menopause, or that their symptoms were in their heads. Just like the tech industry, the traditional healthcare system has also neglected women’s needs beyond fertility and pregnancy.”
So far, Caria has established partnerships with major payer and pharma companies including UnitedHealthcare, Bayer, and Novartis, and has partnered with the University of Illinois at Chicago to launch a clinical trial to study the efficacy of its proprietary care protocol in relieving symptoms of menopause. From its user surveys, 85% of women report improvement in symptoms after using Caria. “We’re excited to build on this foundation and collect more clinically validated data through the UIC partnership - which will be the first randomized control trial studying a digital behavioral health intervention for menopause,” adds Rehman.
Colette Courtion, founder and CEO of Joylux
Joylux is focused on improving women’s lives by applying innovative technology-driven solutions to common intimate health issues women face as they are aging and is one of the early pioneers in menopausal health with its home-use intimate wellness devices, vSculpt, and vFit Gold – the first and only smart devices that harness the power of red-light to improve sexual function, bladder function, vaginal atrophy, and dryness. Paired with a companion app, Joylux is on a mission to inform, educate and follow women as they go through the changes that menopause brings.
The inspiration for Joylux came to Courtion from the birth of her child. Like most women, she was unaware and ill-prepared for the physical changes that happen after childbirth and with age, especially with our vaginal health. She was surprised at how many women suffer from these issues, yet there are so few effective and affordable solutions that are non-hormonal. Intimate health issues often get exponentially worse as women approach perimenopause and menopause. “More than half of all the menopausal women in the U.S. today experience one or more of these issues, from accidental bladder leakage to vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse—wreaking havoc on their lives. The amount of money women are spending on temporary solutions for these issues is astronomical. We saw an enormous need and opportunity for a home-use solution that is affordable, safe, effective, and hormone-free,” explains Courtion.
As a serial entrepreneur in the field of medical aesthetics, she had in-depth experience working with the latest in energy-based technologies to tighten skin. This is when Courtion had her a-ha! moment. “I thought why can’t we create a home-use device to tighten the vaginal canal and restore the health of the vaginal tissue using the same energy-based technologies that we do in facial aesthetics. So I partnered with a team of engineers, gynecologists, and light scientists and together we created a suite of home-use medical and wellness devices that treat a myriad of issues, from vaginal dryness and sexual function to stress incontinence.”
To date, Joylux has raised $16 million from angel investors and smaller female-focused funds, with many of them having a close and personal connection to these prevalent issues. Some of their investors include Gingerbread Capital, Portfolia, BELLE Capital, Golden Seeds, and many angel investors from the femtech space.
Debbie Dickinson, cofounder of Thermaband
Thermaband's mission is to modernize menopause with science, sisterhood, and temperature-regulating technology. Founded by a mother-daughter duo (Debbie and Markea Dickinson), seeking a tech solution for hot flashes, cold flashes, and night sweats, the Thermaband Zone is an innovative connected device that provides thermal relief on demand through cooling or heating sensations on the inner wrist, but is effective, however, for anyone who is typically uncomfortably hot or cold and is designed to be the standard of care for thermal health.
Thermaband was born from Dickinson’s own lived experience as a perimenopausal woman. “I’m a benefits attorney, wife, mother, and entrepreneur, yet felt completely unprepared for menopause at 51,” she admits. “We teach young girls about puberty and reproductive health, but somehow menopause is not taught and women feel uninformed and ill-equipped. I learned firsthand how vast and debilitating menopausal symptoms can be, especially hot flashes and night sweats.”
But these symptoms are not symptomatic only for menopause. In addition to menopausal women, many people are affected by chronic hot flashes and night sweats, including cancer patients and survivors, due to chemotherapy treatments and a variety of medical conditions and treatments, such as hysterectomies, which is an extremely common surgery for women. “Such treatments and surgeries often induce medical menopause with relentless hot flashes,” explains Dickinson.
Being financially backed by Google (Black Founders Fund) and Blue Collective, and with $1.3 million raised from institutional investors, angels, and accredited investors, including IDEAZ, their product developers. Dickinson admits that the pandemic impacted fundraising drastically – both positively and negatively. On one hand, it removed barriers for investor meetings and conversations since they were able to connect virtually. On the other hand, the uncertainty of the pandemic has made it harder to hire top talent and continue weathering the supply chain storms to ensure that she and her team can meet the demand for their product. “60% of pre-order units were sold within the first hour of launch, so our next goal is to raise funds to scale,” she concludes.
Mridula Pore, co-CEO and cofounder of Peppy
In her own words, Pore is “passionate about making healthcare more affordable and accessible”. Despite spending her career in healthcare, she is an engineer by training, studying first at Cambridge, before spending several years at MIT on a Ph.D./ MBA program. “Peppy is the future of personalized health support. We support underserved areas of healthcare - like fertility, baby, menopause, and men’s health – all delivered through a secure app, funded by your employer, and free to you. This way, you can connect with human experts at the touch of a button, to access the support you can trust, anytime, anywhere,” explains Pore.
Almost 1 million people now have access to Peppy through their employer or medical insurance, and this number is growing every week. The company works with employers as wide-ranging as Wickes, Santander, Clifford Chance, the University of Sheffield, and with insurance partners, like Vitality. With the focus on addressing underserved areas of healthcare - like fertility, menopause, and men’s health, their users are regular people, going through very common stages of life, which creates ups and downs in their health. Going through a fertility journey or becoming a parent is not a rare thing. Men's health issues are widespread but often swept under the carpet, too.
“Menopause is certainly not a 'niche' thing, with 51% of the world's population certain to experience it. In the past, a lot of people experiencing menopause were either not working outside the home, or near the end of their working lives. Nowadays, those people are in the midst of their careers, juggling relationships, caring responsibilities, and very much wanting to live life to the full for several decades ahead. When we started talking to those who had experienced issues in the workplace due to menopause and heard what our clinical experts were seeing, we knew we had to do something.”
The company recently announced its $10 million Series A round, which was led by Felix Capital, with other investors including Outward VC, Seedcamp, Hambro Perks, and Form Ventures. “We raised both our seed round and our series A during the pandemic, which has been quite a journey. Initially, it was unclear what would happen to employee benefits as offices shut down and people started working from home. But then the digital health space has boomed, and the potential of the sector is now much more widely recognized. There has been such a huge emphasis on health and wellbeing, regardless of your work location, that the value of our proposition has now become obvious to our clients and to the investor market.”
Sam Simister, cofounder of GenM
The first organization of its kind, GenM (which stands for Generation Menopause) is the menopause partner for brands. Partnering with responsible and forward-thinking companies, GenM helps them understand the needs of the menopausal market and better represent them in products, services, signposting, campaigns, and policies. From Boots and Marks & Spencer to Simba and Always Discreet, GenM has over 30 brands on board as Founding Partners, all who are looking to lead from the front to normalize the conversation around menopause, thereby breaking the taboo for millions of women and those experiencing menopause, whether an employee or consumer.
“There are 15.5 million perimenopausal and menopausal women in the U.K. and around 1 billion worldwide. This market is hugely underserved and is in need of targeted information and products. Our Invisibility Report has shown that 87% of menopausal women feel overlooked by brands, while a huge 97% feel that brands should work harder to cater to them. This isn’t about exploiting menopause by creating a load of products that don’t add value, but among other strategies, there’s a huge opportunity in simply signposting customers towards already existing products that help alleviate menopause symptoms. These can range from makeup that can withstand hot flush sweats to sensitive skin beddings,” explains Simister.
For Simister and her cofounder Heather Jackson, menopause isn’t a just diversity and inclusion issue - it’s also a business issue. The movement for more women in the boardroom will only be taken seriously when the decision-makers realize that companies with more female representation are more profitable than those without. “We think it’s the same here. There is a huge opportunity to be had here and it’s time that businesses woke up to that.”
In addition to bringing on new partners, GenM is now turning its focus to its second phase of research along with its thought leadership roundtables. For the future, an aspiration is to create a recognizable menopause label that can be placed on products to clearly signpost that they are helpful for menopause symptoms. “These symbols exist for recyclable products or vegan products, making it easy for consumers to find the products they need. We think there is a huge opportunity to utilize this for menopause too,” concludes Simister.
Link to original story here.