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Around Silicon Valley, I’ve been seeing the winds of change beginning to reach a tipping point. More and more women are making the leap and founding their own companies. More and more men are proactively supporting women entrepreneurs. As I go about my days leading my own company, Stella Digital, I feel more respected and supported than ever before by both men and women. My friends who are Founders, CEOs and Venture Capitalists – and women – have shared feelings and thoughts similar to my own. I wanted to find out if women outside of my own circle are experiencing a similar phenomenon – because – if they have been – it signals massive positive change for all women entrepreneurs.
In my search to find out more, I connected with Claire Tomkins, the CEO and co-founder of Future Family, a company seeking to revolutionize the fertility industry through its premier healthcare services platform and novel fertility subscription service.
“It’s a good time to be a female entrepreneur,” says Tomkins, “there is finally a conversation around underserved female markets, and that people who can innovate and create companies for those underserved markets are often women.”
What I am seeing and what keeps getting confirmed with every conversation I have is that while there are still many barriers that women entrepreneurs face, opportunities are opening up faster than ever before. There are problems in the market that have remained unsolved due to a lack of entrepreneurs with the right combination of perspective, experience, innovation, and (most importantly) funding. Now, the conversation around investing is starting to acknowledge the benefits of investing in women-owned companies and the intense market demand from underserved communities. Female entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to take advantage of stagnant innovation and fill large gaps in these markets.
That’s exactly what Claire Tomkins set out to do when she co-founded Future Family. Her journey started with her own personal in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments to conceive her daughter. Each treatment cost around $20,000; Tomkins went through six rounds. The stress she underwent trying to manage her healthcare while attempting to conceive got her thinking that there had to be another way to provide families with these services.
Diving into industry research, she quickly discovered a large, relatively untouched pool of demand stemmed by high IVF costs in the US. In other countries like Denmark, where the procedures are more accessible and affordable, about 10% of babies are conceived through IVF. In America, that number is only around 1%. American women are also having children later in life; 2016 was the first year that more women gave birth in their 30s rather than their 20s. This trend indicates demand for IVF treatments will continue to grow.
Prior to Future Family, Tomkins was working in clean tech. She took note of the subscription model they used to make clean tech available to consumers, and realized that the same model could be applied to IVF services. A subscription model would allow soon-to-be mothers to start treatments right away, pay over time (negating the need to stockpile cash for each treatment), and would have affordable access to complementary services like nutrition counseling and acupuncture.
Tomkins took her experience as customer of an underserved industry and combined it with what she wished she had experienced to create a revolutionary business concept. But your sights don’t need to be set on changing an entire industry in order to take advantage of the opportunities available to female entrepreneurs today. In fact, Future Family’s origin maps closely with the path of my own business.
When I was striving to become an entrepreneur, I was lucky enough to find a forward thinking lead investor who saw the value in both my expertise and the opportunity of the market I set out to serve. That was a few years ago, and the fundraising environment for women has dramatically improved since then.
I asked Tomkins about what advice she would give to other women who want to become entrepreneurs. “Now is the time,” she beams. “Continue taking advantage of the tailwind of the conditions now where people are actively looking to support women entrepreneurs.”
Her last point I found especially pertinent. As mentioned above, there are still many barriers female entrepreneurs must overcome. However, there are also a large number of people and organizations actively seeking out and supporting women-owned enterprises. This includes customer groups and potential employees as well as individual investors and large investment firms.
For Tomkins, securing funding through an organization that would provide that support was very important. “Future Family is serving a predominantly female base, and I wanted to continue that in our leadership,” she says. Aspect Ventures, an early stage investment firm founded by two women and with a majority female staff, led their Series A funding round for $10 million.
Now, with Atalaya Capital Management, Future Family will be able to help even more people grow their families. Atalaya is providing Future Family with a $100 million fund to finance patients on their IVF subscription platform. “Future Family is leading financial innovation in this important healthcare market and creating access where none existed,” said David Aidi, Partner at Atalaya Capital Management.
“Since launching our subscription model earlier this year, we’ve seen overwhelming demand,” said Tomkins, “which only highlights how underserved this market has been to date. With Atalaya as a partner, we’re now able to remove any limits on meeting this demand. We’re incredibly excited for this next level of growth.”
Tomkins was able to identify a sector of the market that lacked innovation and would benefit from her skills and personal experiences. By taking advantage of positive market conditions and leveraging her appeal as a female entrepreneur in a largely female market, Tomkins built an organization with the ability to change thousands of lives.
There are opportunities just like hers in industries and markets around the globe right now. All it takes is for someone to take a look around and say I’ve got a better way to do this – now is the time.
December 14, 2018 at 08:04AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs