Bartasi says she believes the main driver is growing awareness. “Almost everybody either has been through treatment or knows somebody who has been through treatment,” she says. “There’s a visibility to it, and how widely affected people are from an emotional standpoint, and what a financial pain point it is.”
For Green and the Forerunner team, whose previous investments include retail companies like Warby Parker, Glossier and Dollar Shave Club, the appeal came from recognizing that low customer satisfaction in health care, and a dearth of investment in women’s health specifically, had left an opportunity for companies to connect with female patients. That’s something Debora Spar, a professor and associate dean at Harvard Business School, has noticed, too. “I’m sort of besieged by students who want to go in this area,” she says. “There’s a strong sense among women and men that fertility has been marginalized because it’s about women’s health.”
[Wait, is that another ad for egg freezing?]
It’s important to note that though the funding of the last couple of years is significant for the space, most of it is in an early stage, and the numbers pale in comparison to, say, the $175 million that one scooter company, Bird, raised in just one round of funding. The technology behind a lot of these companies isn’t radically new, either. Sperm-freezing has been widely available since the 1970s, and the female hormone tests are the same ones you might get at a doctor’s office. Period- and ovulation-tracking apps are a handy addition, but they’re not held to the same privacy standards as a doctor’s office, and can even use personal data to tailor the ads they serve users. Many of these products aren’t F.D.A. approved, either. The innovation these companies are providing is access: sperm tests you can take from home, a check on the hormone that can give you a sense of your ovarian reserve, clear pricing for your tests.
To Dr. Marcelle Cedars, the director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, the benefit of the growth in start-ups is increased awareness: more people willing to talk about fertility issues, and potentially catching low fertility early. If young men and women find their screening-test results low, it might spur them to see a doctor sooner than they otherwise would. And if a proliferation of start-ups can drive down costs and increase access, it could open doors for couples who can’t afford to spend $40,000 to conceive, or women who can’t drop $20,000 to freeze their eggs. “It feels like it’s overdue,” Spar says.