As a founder in the femtech space, I talk about women’s health pretty much all day, every day. I consider it part of my job to create awareness, to advocate for women’s health and do my part to contribute to destigmatization. “We’re not just building companies. We’re starting a movement.” I’ve said this many times. And I’ve also heard this many times from fellow entrepreneurs. While it can feel empowering to be part of a community that’s creating real change for millions of women, it can also feel daunting at times.
I have spent my entire career in the tech industry, working in SaaS and fintech and eventually got into women’s health after being diagnosed with PCOS. PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and is a common hormonal condition that affects around 1 in 10 women. It took me more than a decade to get a diagnosis and another couple of years to figure out how to best manage my chronic condition.
Today my story of turning struggle into entrepreneurial success is helping thousands of women come to terms with their own health issues and to feel less alone. “If she can talk openly about this and overcome adversity, maybe I can too.” And frankly knowing that my work helps other women cope, is really what gets me out of bed every morning and helps me through the many ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
Now please don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful I get to work in a space I care so deeply about, but it isn’t always easy to be a “poster child” for women’s health. Many founders in our space, including myself, often struggle to be entrepreneurs, advocates and patients all at the same time. When your personal experience is so closely tied to your cause and work, it becomes hard to switch off, hard to not get angry about the lack of women’s health research, the lack of funding for femtech entrepreneurs, and the injustice when it comes to equitable access to care.
As femtech founders we walk a fine line and it can be difficult to navigate the startup ecosystem. Talk too little about your own journey, you might not be “inspiring enough”, not committed enough to see it through. Talk too much about it and you might be seen as too “emotional” or unprofessional – even more so if you happen to be a female founder. “We like founders with a personal connection to the problem they’re solving”, some VCs like to say before they quickly add: “Care. Yes. But don’t care too much. You might need to make some hard decisions down the line.”
Dedicating your career to women’s health, some assume you’re prioritizing impact over profit and while I will proudly proclaim that I am a mission-driven founder, I also believe that impact and profit aren’t mutually exclusive. And I think this is what many, who wrongfully still speak about femtech as a niche in 2022, get wrong. In a space as underserved as women’s health we have a unique opportunity to make a huge difference in women’s lives, while building incredibly successful companies, unicorns like Maven and many more which I’m sure will follow.
Despite our – sometimes involuntary – roles as women’s health advocates, I truly wish that femtech founders would get more visibility and media coverage for what they truly are: Not only patients or advocates with “projects”, but trailblazing entrepreneurs, who are building industry-changing companies that have the potential to evoke long-lasting societal change while at the same time creating great financial returns for investors, employees and last, but not least the founders themselves.
Women’s health is good business. And it is about time we start treating it as such.