As SteelSky Ventures raises the world’s largest women’s health VC fund, Femtech World asks founding partner Maria Velissaris how this could unlock new growth opportunities.
In a world where Covid has catalysed telemedicine and digital healthcare, investment in technology infrastructure is needed more than ever.
The close of a US$72m fund makes SteelSky the world’s largest venture capital fund focused on women’s healthcare. The fund aims to invest across the whole spectrum of women’s health, including in terms of medical devices, consumer health, digital health, ePharmacy and retail therapeutics.
“We are really excited about it,” says Maria Velissaris, founding partner and advocate for female founders and women’s health. “We’ve invested in 13 companies, and we plan to invest in about 25 companies out of this first fund.
“We have a lot of investors aligned to make our companies successful – from payers and pharmaceutical companies to strategic investors and hospital systems – and this is one of the reasons why they choose to work with us.”
Covid has dramatically accelerated the transition to digital healthcare and determined, implicitly, a rise in medical advances.
Velissaris says: “The future came very fast and what we thought was going to take the next five to seven years happened overnight. Telemedicine had been around for a long time, but we started to use remote monitoring tools during the pandemic because that was the only way to receive healthcare at the time.
“That gave us a lot of momentum and a lot of opportunity for more digital health tools to pop up more engagement with telemedicine. It also gave people the ability to be open to using digital health tools in ways that they weren’t prior to the pandemic.”
With more financial independence and an increasing number of women graduating from stem programmes in science, technology, engineering and maths, she believes that we will continue to see innovation through development of new ways to deliver care, new products and services.
“This is going to create a complete paradigm shift of what we will start to see in the market and what gets funded,” the founding partner adds.
A lack of investment alongside a general sense of scepticism were still dominating the femtech sector when Velissaris started investing in 2017.
“People didn’t even believe us how dismal the investment was, because they weren’t even tracking it,” she says. “That’s how little it was.
“Now that we’re tracking it, we can see disparities in investment and in health outcomes and we can see a racial disparity there. Data allows us to bring those [issues] to the light and come up with solutions to fix them.”
Research is another important factor in creating actionable insights and shaping a better understanding of the market and where money is needed.
“I do believe that there’s a lot of weight on our shoulders,” Velissaris points out.
“Because we’re growing this new category, we have to come up with the data, we have to fund the company and we have to change healthcare policies. There’s just so much that we still need to do and it’s a lot bigger than just writing a check.”
Although support from celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow has raised visibility for this sector, recent reports have shown that femtech funding lags behind. From a digital health investment of over US$14bn dollars in 2020, femtech made up only US$254m of this.
“Even though we’re talking about it more broadly, the sector is still overlooked.
“We need investment that can grow because if women’s health companies become successful, then more people will start investing in women’s healthcare. This cycle will essentially drive itself and will attract more investment, get more exits and create a multibillion-dollar segment like the other ones [in the health industry].”
The US$72m fund is just the start of what SteelSky aims to change. Velissaris says that the next step would be a US$100m fund towards the end of the year.
“There’s no shortage of great women’s health companies in the pipeline. We constantly see so many great companies and we want to have the money to continue to fund them.
“We’re also really interested in looking at what healthcare looks like for women over 40 because there are a lot of things that come along with being a woman and at that point, you’re basically pushed out of the healthcare system. But there are still so many needs that women have and we really think there’s a lot of opportunity in solutions for women of that age.”
Find out more about SteelSky Ventures here.
Nurses left with no time for training amid “workforce crisis”
Disruption in health services has meant that face-to-face nursing courses had to move online
After they led the fight against Covid, nurses remain four times more likely to take their own lives than people working in any other profession. Michaela Nuttall, founder of the educational platform Learn With Nurses, tells us why they deserve better.
The impact of the pandemic on healthcare services has been immense, reads a 2021 BMJ report. For the over 500,000 nurses in the UK, Covid’s mental health toll has been intensified by physical and emotional exhaustion and an increased risk of burnout.
Despite interrupted training and fear of exposure to the virus, surveys have shown that nurses strived to provide excellent care and support for their patients and colleagues, sometimes at personal cost.
“Nurses were stretched more than ever during the pandemic,” says Michaela Nuttall, cardiovascular nurse specialist and founder of the online educational platform Learn With Nurses.
“At a time when they were forced to work extra hours, look after their kids and take care of their parents, they were left with little to no support and no time for training.”
The sudden disruption in health services along with staff shortages have meant that face-to-face nursing courses had to move online.
However, letting people have time off for training proved extremely difficult, says Nuttall. “Because nurses can’t be at work during training, many were left with no access to training.”
Having worked in cardiovascular disease training herself, Nuttall decided to host a Zoom meeting about the importance of blood pressure control at the start of the pandemic and invited people to join through social media nursing groups.
“I was really missing training and I wanted people not to forget about cardiovascular disease,” she explains. “I put the Zoom link online and about 200 people registered for the first session.
“The need was definitely there. So, I started working with other nurses to build a bigger platform and we went from nothing to everything in a very short space of time.”
Learn With Nurses, now a global online community of specialist nurses, provides free educational support to healthcare professionals and helps them improve the quality of care while promoting evidence-based clinical practice guidance.
“It is not meant to replace formal training,” the founder says. “Our aim is to make training much more accessible and give people a free platform where they can learn, ask questions and interact with other healthcare professionals. We now use a platform called MedAll instead of Zoom because it makes our job much easier and allows thousands of people to join and we try to have a relaxed style that almost feels like you’re talking to a friend over a coffee.”
The courses, delivered in bite-sized sessions of 30-40 minutes, cover a different subject each week, allowing nurses to understand some of the most common health conditions they treat in hospital.
“We’ve made a commitment at the beginning that we will always provide our courses without any barriers to learning,” Nuttall says.
“People tell us how much Learn With Nurses has helped them and although we are looking at memberships and donations to help us fund the training, we don’t want money to be a barrier.”
Nurses like Nuttall say that the NHS is still facing challenges. According to the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, health services in England are currently facing “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” with the NHS losing millions of full-time equivalent days to staff sickness caused by anxiety, stress and depression.
“Nurses remain under extreme pressure,” says Nuttall. “Almost 90 per cent of them are female and they need our support more than ever.
“Our ambition is to give more visibility to all nurses, but particularly to those from minority backgrounds. I hope that through Learn With Nurses they will find a diverse community where they could feel represented and supported.”
Step us for breastfeeding: educate and support – WABA 2022
This year World Breastfeeding week’s theme is ‘Step us for breastfeeding: educate and support’.
The World Breastfeeding week (WABA) 2022, which takes place from the 1st of August until the 7th, focuses on strengthening the capacity of actors that have to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across different levels of society.
WABA’s aims to inform and educate governments, health systems, workplaces and communities to strengthen their capacity to provide and sustain breastfeeding-friendly environments for families in the post pandemic world.
Anwar Fazal, Chairperson at WABA, said: “World Breastfeeding week is a vibrant global movement that expands and connects the power of one with the power of many. Only by working together we can make the changes we need.”
Breastfeeding is key to sustainable development strategies post-pandemic, as it improves nutrition, ensures food security and reduces inequalities between and within countries.
The theme is aligned with the thematic area one of the WMW-SDG 2030 campaign which highlights the links between breastfeeding and good nutrition, food security and reduction of inequalities.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) aims to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 per cent by 2050. This policy aims to increase attention to, investment in, and action for a set of cost-effective interventions and policies that can help Member States and their partners in improving exclusive breastfeeding rates among infant younger than six months.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development.
It serves as a child’s first immunisation, providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrhoeal disease, and other potentially life-threatening aliments.
Exclusive breastfeeding also has a protective effect against obesity and certain noncommunicable disease later in life.
Yet, much remains to be done to make exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life the norm for infant feeding. Globally, only 38 per cent of infants aged zero to six months are exclusively breastfed.
Recent analysis indicate that suboptimal breastfeeding practices, including non-exclusive breastfeeding, contribute to 11.6 per cent of mortality in children under five years of age.
Breastfeeding could be a powerful tool to meet the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as it can be linked to all of them.
Amal Omer-Salim, executive director at WABA, said: “By focusing on a broader context, longer timeframe and practical yet ambitious goals, we can create sustainable and engaging campaigns.”
Indian digital health platform on a mission to provide affordable family care
Over 75 per cent of women in India experience postpartum anxiety while 25 per cent struggle with postpartum depression
As the country recovers post-pandemic, we asked Carina Kohli, founder of the digital health platform HUMM, why India desperately needs affordable and accessible family healthcare.
Although 76 per cent of healthcare professionals in India use digital health records, gender-based discrimination remains a prevalent issue.
According to a study conducted in 2016 by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Statistical Institute and Harvard University, only 37 per cent of women got access to healthcare compared with 67 per cent of men.
Recent figures show that 75 per cent of Indian women experience postpartum anxiety for up to 24 months post pregnancy while 73 per cent of them quit the workforce to start or raise a family.
When the pandemic hit, the country faced big question marks. A 2021 BMJ report found that Covid had a negative impact on the Indian healthcare system, with “the exaggeration of income inequality during lockdown expected to extend beyond”.
“I grew up thinking that healthcare is a human right,” says Carina Kohli, founder of HUMM, a healthtech company focusing on postpartum and postnatal care. “The reality is that in India, the majority of the population either don’t have access to healthcare or can’t afford it.
“I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was about 13 and I felt very isolated. I remember being very insecure and nervous and, aged 19, I started doing research on options for women’s health and fertility in India.”
At the peak of the pandemic Kohli and her team created a web application and launched Baby Space – a digital content and community platform for fertility, pregnancy and childcare.
“We grew that to about 16,000 people,” she says. “But in a country like India where we still deal with issues of affordability, geographical accessibility and infrastructure. Therefore, we realised that access to healthcare is a primary need and we decided to pivot and rebuild [part of the system].
“So we established HUMM to offer affordable unlimited family health care to mothers, families and organisations with a focus on postpartum, postnatal, neonatal and baby care.”
HUMM has a range of on-demand, solution-based health programmes as well as different tools with personalised insights, health plans and progress charts covering physical, mental and emotional health.
“Our incredible doctors and experts often chat with our users on social media and the HUMM app, answer their questions and essentially, build that trust,” Kohli explains.
“Telemedicine has been around in India for a little while and people are now more open to options and they’re more adaptable. They know that this can be a much more affordable and convenient option.”
Has the pandemic helped digital health technology in this regard? “Definitely. The pandemic has influenced consumer behaviour to a great extent,” the founder adds.
“There are still a lot of cultural barriers and people may not be always open about mental health or sexual health, but the response we’ve had has been really eye-opening and we found that couples felt less alone knowing that they had dedicated doctors and experts to speak to.”
The lower costs and the one-to-one consultations with experts are what keep users coming back and Kohli says that receiving positive feedback is by far the most rewarding feeling for her, as a founder.
“We have great doctors in our country and I think information and awareness will definitely help us grow,” she says.
“Our dream is to broaden access to healthcare services across the country because the need is definitely there. Currently, we are India-focused because it’s a huge market where 25 million babies are born every year. But we are also looking at neighbouring countries that deal with similar issues. In the next five to seven years, we might consider countries across Southeast Asia.”
Kohli would love to see more openness to femtech. Although there is a growing interest in the sector, women’s healthcare remains underfunded. “I really don’t like when people talk about women’s health as a niche,” the founder says.
“We are 50 per cent of the population and there is so much we need to do.”
For more info, visit hummcare.com.
- Fertility: The fear, grief and relief in accessing mental health support
- UNFPA appeals for £10.7 million for critical women healthcare in Sri Lanka
- Nike launches online maternity training programme
- Nanopath secures $10 million to develop diagnostic testing for women
- Nurses left with no time for training amid “workforce crisis”
News4 months ago
British entrepreneur launches the first online marketplace for menstrual care
News5 months ago
Woman’s case raises hopes of functional HIV cure
News6 months ago
AI could detect breast cancer in early stages, study reveals
Features2 months ago
Meet the world’s first Women’s Health Innovation Centre
Features2 months ago
The hidden dangers of chronic inflammation
News6 months ago
Home insemination makes fertility care more affordable for thousands ineligible for NHS treatment
Mental health4 months ago
A childhood overshadowed by war inspired Mandana Ahmadi to make a change
News4 months ago
Swedish company develops reusable pregnancy test