By Linda Greub
A male venture capitalist once said, “I don’t want to talk about vaginas every Monday morning in my partner meeting.”
Although nearly every woman has a vagina, the word itself can be enough to prevent men, the majority of decision-making investors, from investing in vagina-based innovations — or women’s health in general. Female founders received only 1.9% of all venture capital funding in 2022 and female founders of women’s health companies received even less than that.
However, when it comes to innovation and improvements for women, female-led women’s health companies are poised to succeed.
Women are 80% of the health care workforce, make 80% of household health care decisions, and spend 29% more per-capita on health care than men. They live longer, are more likely to have chronic health care conditions, and see health care providers more regularly than men.
They are also more likely than men to experience adverse drug effects, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, among others. Other conditions — such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and pre-eclampsia — affect them exclusively.
Women’s intuition plays a role
Women are so intertwined with health care — as decision-makers, patients and workers — that they have the insight to identify white spaces, drive innovation and understand the direct and indirect costs of ignoring women’s health.
For example, women make up 66% of family caregivers: a role with a $1.5 trillion estimated value in the U.S. and $10.9 trillion globally. Unhealthy women might not have the emotional, mental, or physical abilities to keep those in their care healthy as well, including children, parents, or in-laws.
They also might not be able to work to their full potential, or even work at all: If all paid working women in the United States did not — or could not — work for a single day, the country would lose almost $21 billion in terms of GDP. Yet, women with period pain saw nearly nine days in lost productivity per year while 32% of surveyed women with endometriosis reported missing work. Quantified, the estimated indirect costs of PMS are $4,333 per woman and greater than $15,000 for endometriosis.
Women helping women
The best people to understand, experience and address this need for healthy women are one and the same: women.
Female leadership has already proven its value: Women in leadership or board roles have greater diversity of backgrounds, more innovation patents and citations, improved performance and less corruption than mostly or all–male teams. Women-led companies also had 35% higher ROIs and 63% higher valuations than all-male teams and generated 78 cents of revenue per dollar raised compared to all-male teams’ 31 cents.
Thus, female-led health care companies address an otherwise overlooked market and have successful, skillful leaders at their helm. They have already started to see major successes too: Maven Health became the first digital health unicorn focused on women’s health while Elvie, Kindbody and Tia had some of the largest fundraising rounds for women’s health companies ever.
Acquisitions of KaNDy Therapeutics by Bayer, Alydia Health by Organon, Uqora by Pharmavite, and Gennev by Unified Women’s Healthcare show that established companies are recognizing the value of women’s health — and may encourage others to follow. Plus, all these startups were founded and/or are led by women.
While male investors may not want to say the word vagina, their historic lack of focus on and funding for women’s health has created a massive market vacuum. Female leaders, especially those of women’s health companies, can successfully capitalize on this overlooked opportunity and, in the process, improve health outcomes for women everywhere.
Linda Greub is the co-founder and managing partner of Avestria Ventures, which invests in early-stage women’s health and female-led life science ventures. For 30-plus years, Greub has invested in public and private life science companies as an institutional investor, a corporate M&A executive, a hedge fund analyst, and a private venture investor. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Business School.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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