Tech4Eva’s Boston Roadshow Recap
The Boston innovation system is unique in that there is a significant collaborative presence by governments and regulatory authorities, R&D institutions, hospitals, entrepreneurs, and venture capital. At our last Roadshow of the year, US local players, experts and entrepreneurs in the ecosystem shared with our audience worldwide how to build effective collaborations among stakeholders from different institutions to bring innovations into the market that will improve women’s health. We had the chance to explore 2 very interesting panel topics and listen to an insightful keynote from Rachel Braun Scherl, Managing Partner & CEO, SPARK Solutions for Growth & Pulse.
Setting the Stage - Where have we been?
Everyone is finally talking about Femtech, and this is already a positive and radical change from where we have been for along time. We moved from a narrow view of solving women’s health issues by given them products to a more global view of helping the women in each of her life stage. We have made some significant progress in terms of access to capital and representation in clinical trials most recently to drive innovation in the sector. What is driving change? Access to capital (more women are at the table investing & new funds), Covid created new conversations, Decision making, and Economic power (women taking control).
The narrative around women’s health is evolving with a more comprehensive view, better understanding of impact and cost of families, workplaces, and societies. The market size is estimated to be worth close to $1.186T by 2027, more women’s health focused investment funds and companies are emerging, new research is on the rise, and a changed policy on Meta advertising was just announced, which is great news all around for the sector. Rachel said: “Ride the wave and keep the conversation going and the money flowing!”
How to engage with policy, regulation, and cultural norms to promote women's health
Speakers Nada O. Hanafi, SVP Regulatory Strategy, Veranex, Danielle Silber, Director of Corporate Engagement, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Nadia Khamis, Director Corporate Engagement, Planned Parenthood, Mario Garcia, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Innovation Hub of the University at Buffalo and Rachel Braun Scherl, Managing Partner, SPARK Solutions For Growth and Chief Development Officer, Pulse had a very thought-provoking discussion on the topic.
We know that women may encounter a unique set of challenges over the course of their life in their many roles; whether it's their health, their wellbeing, their financial circumstances, the demands of their family, etc. They represent more than half of the US population, they live longer, they are the primary users of the healthcare system in any number of roles as patients, as caregivers and as family representatives. So, we need to be armed with the information to have some basic understanding of all the factors and the actors that impact their ability to make decisions.
In terms of regulations, is the US more complex?
The US is obviously a very huge and diverse market. In terms of its diversity and when you are tackling gender equality and women's investments, it really needs to be viewed from a cultural socioeconomic and regional approach. For example, a state like Texas with the same size as France is obviously a very different operating environment when it comes to women's healthcare, access to reproductive rights and enabling environment for business. However, business attraction is not necessarily the best when it comes to promoting and advancing women's healthcare or inclusion and diversity. Central reproductive healthcare as an example needs to be viewed as essential services by any company which has their services under the healthcare umbrella and that reinforcing the importance of not leaning into the stigma and taboo. A lot of forces and factors need to be taking into considerations when building a business.
Influence policies for reproductive freedom and women's health at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)?
It's powerful for business leaders to be talking about comprehensive reproductive healthcare inclusive of abortion care, because previously politicians and business leaders really shied away from that topic. We now know that Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion care, we saw that actually at the ballot box as well. If we can keep up the surround sound to support abortion care aspart of comprehensive reproductive healthcare especially in the business sector, that will be critical for maintaining this momentum. We also must pay attention what happens state level, for example in January, State Legislatures across the country are going to reconvene and in addition to seeing more abortion bans being introduced in states that have already banned abortion, we are likely to see limitations on contraception introduced, so knowing that is important for the tech sector to finding new innovative ways – it’s a huge opportunity and threat at the same time. Thus, it remains important to stay tuned on understanding what legislation is moving especially in tech hub states likeTexas and Florida.
What advice do you have for companies who are creating products and services? And how can they figure out how to make progress in this very complex world?
· Be vocal and find like-minded people within your industry association. The more companies and business leaders have connected tissue with each other, the more that we can see resistance to whether it's defensive against abortion bans and other restrictions or being offensive. Like we just saw in Michigan in terms of pushing forward abortion rights. At the state constitutional level, the more that we can be build coalitions inclusive of the private sector, the more that will a create that surround sound.
· On the left-hand side, when you want to be thinking about regulation think about it from three points of view: are you following a sound scientific principle? Does your solution conform to that scientific principle? And finally, do you have evidence that your end users have been deprived of the benefits of your solution? When it comes to Women'sHealth, the answer across the board is a resounding yes. In that case, the FDA has dedicated lines for entrepreneurs and consult with you. There are agencies that will work hand in hand with you, they are not going to shoot you down because you are doing something wrong, they will provide you with the feedback and the guidance for you to get through the regulatory process so don't be scared about reaching out early on. Then on the right-hand side, consider that the state and federal government are an actual customer. Somebody on your team in business development, should get in touch in the location where you're doing business, who are the state level and federal level representatives in state or federal Congress governor’s office.
· Recognizing the impact covid had on women and the need for comprehensive employer’s health plans. You need to think about the product you are selling and whether insurance will cover it.
· It’s important to decide how you're going to recruit and retain talent. Recent studies from Mercer for example and resume builders show that many job seekers from Gen Z and particularly millennials want a company that takes a strong position on access to reproductive healthcare and that aligns their policies and practices.
· Furthermore, in terms of accessing FDA, a well-defined problem is half solved problem, so clearly understand your product/ your device to show them you are an expert in its intended use. Understand how your product can add value.
How to better navigate women’s health benefits in today’s workplace in the US
Speakers Elizabeth Gazda, CEO, Embrlabs, Maryon Stewart, CEO, Femmar Health Corp., Elaine-Marie Cannella, Director, Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits, Tammy Sun, Founder & CEO, Carrot Fertility and Lizamarie Mohamed, Senior Program Associate, Rhia Ventures discussed the importance of providing more health benefits for women and families to improve productivity at the workplace.
Women struggle to access the care that they need. In fact, women in the US have the highest rates of emotional distress with more than one in five women experiencing mental health conditions: they experience higher rates of chronic conditions, have difficulty paying or managing navigating medical bills, they are more likely to die of pregnancy or childbirth and postpartum period and of course this disproportionately affects black indigenous and other people of color. Half of women in the US report spending $2000 or more and out of pocket medical costs for themselves and their families and there are nearly 500 laws restricting abortion access that have been passed by politicians just since 2011. With now Roevs. Wade overturned, the laws being passed are far more restrictive and the effect of these restrictive abortion laws are re-enforced by the lack of health and social protections and of course the status and other pre-existing conditions mentioned above.
What are some of the gaps in Women's Health benefits in the workplace and what can we do to fill these gaps?
An example is infertility, which refers to the inability to achieve pregnancy after 6-12months of unprotected intercourse between a male and a female under the supervision of a doctor, but also women who are looking for fertility preservation, single intending parents and same sex couples. Carrot Fertility is the most complete platform available for employers to deliver this type of fertility coverage, which includes financial coverage such care navigation and emotional support to all employees regardless of their demographics. Carrot Fertility partners with corporates to improve the experience of their employees.
Then, we have menopause: about up to 1/4 of women leave their workplace because they feel unable to carry on working, they can't think straight, they've got brain fog they are up all night with hot flashes and night sweats, they are getting anxious and suffering with insomnia, which doesn't bode well for turning up as your best self. To prevent that, we must keep educating women about how to feel well in the long term. The employers can also make menopause a new life stage. For example, some companies award their employees certain amount of money every month that they can use for things they can use it to invest in their health at the time of menopause and beyond such as mental health. It's a win-win for the company because they have got a more productive workforce and a better economy because they're not losing their talents.
Embrlabs is a wearable device that controls the body temperature sensation, it’s the silver bullet for symptoms of menopause and it helps with sleep and stress. Women can be better prepared at the workplace with the device i.e., control hot flushes. The side effects of menopause can have a big impact on job performance and confidence, so knowing that the device can help when needed is a huge plus.
61% of employer’s plans are offering family health benefits currently, an upward momentum in offers is happening which is great compared to historically only giving benefits to women once diagnosed with an issue. Supporting women throughout their lives is an investment for employers and will result in more productivity.
To watch the full recording of the event, visit our YouTube Channel