Money talks in business. For women’s health, not everyone is listening 

Women's health tech

Economics 101 will tell you to study the gap between supply and demand. Where supply is low and demand is high, there is a clear market opportunity. Globally, there are approximately four billion women in the world and yet historically, women’s health has been underserved, underfunded and underrepresented.

It is strikingly clear that not enough is known about conditions that only affect women (e.g menopause), conditions that differently affect women (e.g. cardiovascular disease and dementia) and disproportionately affect women (e.g. auto-immune diseases).

The anatomy of the clitoris wasn’t even discovered until 1998. Today, many investors are just as oblivious to the business opportunity of catering to half the world’s population.

Money talks

In August, 2022, the UK government released its Women’s Health Strategy for England outlining its response to the ‘male as default’ approach to healthcare in research and clinical trials, education and training for healthcare professionals and the design of healthcare policies and services. These calls to action can be heard globally from governments to the likes of the World Health Organisation which is great – but my experience suggests that there isn’t a more impactful catalyst to the progress of a market than cash.

Women’s health is thought to be a trillion-dollar market and we are seeing a growing body of entrepreneurs and innovators starting to address the gaps left by legacy medical research and development. Femtech is often held up as the poster child for innovation in women’s health and indeed the likes of McKinsey foresee it becoming a multi-billion dollar market in its own right in the years to come.

VCs across the globe proudly talk about their (albeit outlier) ‘femtech’ investments to showcase their growing diversity credentials and there are dedicated funds launching including my own, Goddess Gaia Ventures – the first women’s health investment fund in Europe.

The progress is encouraging, women are getting louder and many of us are taking matters into our own hands. My experiences battling cancer, an auto-immune disease and a very difficult IVF journey have given me even more motivation to back the great minds driving innovation in precision medicine and creating health solutions tailored specifically for women.

However, please do not confuse my passion for philanthropy – like a number of smart LPs and family offices across the world fuelling VC funds, I am convinced that there is a huge amount of money to be made in this sector. Commercial success will ensure longevity and that the gender healthcare gap is closed at pace.

Going global

At Goddess Gaia Ventures, we invest across European healthcare between seed and Series A rounds, but with a real skew towards the UK. It is a fantastic place to start a healthcare business – the universities, regulatory environment, culture and access to early data all create fertile ground, but there is a huge leap to get to commercial success. The need for lengthy clinical trials or regulatory approval means those early years are long and being financially sustainable is a challenge.

For most healthcare businesses, success in the US market will be critical but this also presents some challenges. As well as getting regulators on side (for example, the US Food and Drug Administration grants permission for a medical device to be marketed) you will likely need to understand and access reimbursement codes from payers.

In the US market, all health claims for Medicare, Medicaid and other health insurance programmes are processed using a standardised coding system. For a product or service to be adopted by healthcare providers and paid for by insurers or government payers, you will need to demonstrate improved outcomes and economic benefits. Knowing this and planning for it from day one will make all the difference.

Changing the narrative about women’s health

I am often asked about the challenges facing founders raising capital to scale businesses in the women’s health market and no doubt the word ‘vagina’ can give many investors the ‘ick’. The only way to change the narrative is to demonstrate the commercial opportunity and success.

Money follows money. With healthcare, particularly women’s healthcare, it is easy to get lost in diversity discussions and tales of personal journeys. We mustn’t forget to talk about market opportunity and financial returns with as much passion and vigour.

Priya Oberoi is the founding general partner of Goddess Gaia Ventures.