“Just call us America’s sweethearts!” shared the HANX team on Twitter a few weeks ago as they proudly announced their expansion plans and launch in the U.S. The sexual health company, that offers intimate care products like vegan condoms and lube, but also oral contraceptives delivered to your doorstep, was founded in the UK in 2017 and has now made the move “across the pond” after first establishing itself in its European home market.
While HANX may be among the latest European femtech startups to launch overseas, it definitely isn’t the only company looking for scale in the U.S. Gynecological health company Daye, menopause startup Vira Health as well as reproductive health startup Tuune all raised Series A rounds over the past months and have similar plans. Peppy, which got its start as a menopause benefits company in the U.K. also recently announced its U.S. launch on Twitter.
Coincidence? Probably not. The pull to the U.S. market is strong these days for many femtech and digital health companies.
Besides this new wave of digital health companies started in Europe and now expanding to the U.S, some U.S. startups are also looking to Europe for inspiration. Maternal health startups Zaya and Millie are raising the bar for maternal health in the U.S. by creating European-style integrated care models focused on holistic care.
Zaya Founder & CEO Leoni Runge shared: “Growing up in the European healthcare system, where my sister is an OB/GYN, I admired the multilayered approach to maternal care. The doctor and hospital experience is complemented by experts in everything from lactation to nutrition. Plus, many of these practitioners offer in-home visits that remove the logistical barriers of traveling with bump or baby, I started Zaya to establish a new standard of comprehensive maternity care in the United States. We’re the connective layer between parents, who deserve access to quality care, and practitioners, who have so much to offer from preconception to postpartum.”
Supporting European Femtech Startups in the U.S.
European-style care seems to have found its place in the U.S. healthcare system. And as more European healthcare startups are addressing this growing demand for new solutions, and look to the U.S. to scale, VCs and accelerators are responding and setting up their teams and platform offerings to best support portfolio companies with international expansion.
UK-based women’s health VC fund Goddess Gaia Ventures is one of them and has recently brought on U.S.-based Partner Marissa Fayer, who will lead the fund’s operations in the U.S. A big part of her new role is to support the fund’s portfolio companies with U.S. market entry.
She explains: “To have ideas, companies, and new innovation that is developed outside of the US and brought into the US for scale is hugely alluring. It allows a differentiated value creation and ideas to scale within the world’s largest healthcare market. But these companies need support from their investors in the form of market access, regulatory support, co-investment, legal structuring, and clinical trial execution. Without the support, most companies will fail, regardless of the brilliance of the idea.”
Goddess Gaia Ventures Founding Partner Priya Oberoi adds: “Goddess Gaia Ventures’ investment thesis has always been to put first cheques into UK and European companies and scaling best in class into the States.”
Indeed internationalization comes with great opportunity, but also has its challenges. To succeed startups need a solid understanding of both the consumer market and healthcare systems as well as expertise how to navigate and gain traction on a global level. VCs and accelerators play a crucial role here. They open doors and support portfolio companies through their international networks. It’s about feedback on how to best position, and market new services or products, how to navigate the regulatory landscape, and most importantly access to the local healthcare and VC ecosystems.
Internationalization is no easy feat for digital health companies, as they operate in a highly regulated space. But if we are to truly transform healthcare on a global level we need to ensure the best solutions, no matter where they originate, reach as many women as possible. Startups need the right experts, and advisors around them if they are to succeed internationally, and it’s great to see more VCs and accelerators step up with hands-on support. What recently started with a few pioneering companies who are entering the U.S. market, will hopefully continue to evolve into a tried-and-tested path to scale for European femtech companies as they build towards impact and commercial success.
Will we see the first European femtech unicorns emerge in the near future? Time will tell. But given the international ambitions of both European femtech startups and VCs, we’re definitely a whole lot closer now than we were a few years ago, and that in itself is a great signal for the ecosysten as a whole.