Why more than ever, we need to fuel innovation by women: female-founded and led companies building the post-COVID-19 world
By: Sarah Chen
The sentiment on the ground is increasingly grim to say the least, with further extensions of stay-at-home orders across the globe, even amidst protests by locals. COVID-19 has reshaped our view of normalcy and in many ways impacted the way we think about our lives and our work. There have been multiple accounts in the recent days and weeks of how this will affect the venture community and what the shake-out would mean for the startup landscape.
As we at Beyond The Billion™(BTB) continue to work with our partner funds, we are encouraged that many within our ecosystem have been able to fuel the very innovation addressing the current challenges our world is contending with today. From military-grade mobile ventilators to rapid diagnostic tests for infectious diseases, women founders have been and continue to be in the frontline. The message is clear: more than ever, we need to continue to fuel innovation by women. By leaving out 50% of the population, we could be excluding their lens of the world and the great innovations they bring which benefit us all.
In this article, we feature 5 female-founded and led companies, you need to know as we navigate the new normal:
(1) Thornhill Medical — Lesley Gouldie, President & Chief Executive Officer
Thornhill Medical’s innovative medical technology is changing the global face of emergency medicine for first responders and the military. Thornhill Medical was spun off from the University Health Network, Toronto, Canada, in 2003 to commercialize the ideas and research of Drs. Joe Fisher and Ludwik Fedorko, Steve Iscoe, Jim Duffin, and a group of founding engineers. Today, the company is ramping up production of its groundbreaking, proprietary MOVES® SLC™ portable life support and ventilator unit which will support hospitals and health care facilities across the country to deliver much-needed life-saving treatment to patients requiring urgent care. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had cited Thornhill Medical as one of the companies working hard in the fight against COVID-19.
Produced at the company’s manufacturing facility in Toronto, MOVES® SLC™ is a compact portable, self-contained device that provides all of the crucial functions available in a modern intensive care unit (ICU). It integrates the functions of a ventilator that generates its own oxygen from the air, a full suite of critical care monitors, and suction — all able to run on battery power. This portable ICU provides much needed life-saving capacity, essentially enabling health care providers to maintain uninterrupted ICU-level care anywhere in the hospital and to continue with the same level of care within the hospital and between hospitals. It also addresses the challenge of providing the large volumes of oxygen required in COVID-19 treatment even if oxygen supply is in short supply.
Lesley Gouldie, President & CEO of Thornhill Medical, appeals to investors in this time: “Be bold, understand the timelines of commercialization in the healthcare space and see the current backdrop as a time that is ripe for innovation.”
Lally Rementilla, President of Quantius Inc. and Canadian Lead for BTB, says “When we started the investment process with Lesley and her team, we had been very impressed with their ability to commercialize scientific research and intellectual property into world-class products in the emergency response space. It took more than a year to make the investment and throughout that period we appreciated their determination and ability to deliver on their promises. We are very happy for what Lesley has accomplished and the recognition that they are now getting on a global scale.”
(2) E25 Bio — Dr. Irene Bosch, Chief Technology Officer
What started as technology-focused on rapid diagnosis of diseases spread by mosquitoes such as dengue and zika, is now turning to the pandemic at hand to create early tests for diagnosing the coronavirus.
With $2 million recently raised from Khosla ventures, we will be seeing tests available for sale — at a cost of less than $30 — very soon, depending on the regulatory timeline. In Dr. Bosch’s recent interview with Hello Tomorrow, she states:
“We want to bring solutions that are both meaningful as well as profitable for those who are financing them. When you want to bring about change, you can’t do it without VCs, despite the fact it can be hard to penetrate the venture capital world with ‘out of the box’ thinking. I do hope the VC world at large will start focusing on really meaningful solutions so that we will have a better world after this. But in any case, this is definitely going to be a hard lesson, for everybody.
In fact, one of the first things people said was “oh, you’ll never be able to respond to this epidemic, we don’t know how long this could take.” And I thought, “I’m going to do exactly that.” So we did the COVID-19 test.
Bosch’s message is simply “let’s be proactive instead of reactive.” The current pandemic is what happens when you’re reactive. Chaos, and an incredible amount of damage.
Aye, aye, Irene! We could not agree with you more.
(3) Airwallex — Lucy Liu, Co-Founder & President
Airwallex was founded in Melbourne, Australia in 2015 with a simple goal: to push the boundaries of global financial services capabilities in an increasingly borderless world. While traditional banks stick to their exorbitant fees, Airwallex uses inter-bank exchanges with mid-market rates to reduce costs for businesses by as much as 90% (Think an alternative to Transferwise, focused on businesses). With the new reality of more and more businesses going online, we are betting that Airwallex will continue to be integral to facilitating cross-border transactions.
And well, don’t just take our word for it — AirWallex, under Lucy Liu’s leadership, achieved “unicorn” status last year, and announced last week that it has raised a $160 million Series D. The round included ANZi Ventures, the investment arm of ANZ Bank, and Salesforce Ventures, along with returning investors DST Global, Tencent, Sequoia Capital China, Hillhouse Capital, and Horizons Ventures.
Our partner fund, Gobi Partners was also one of the early backers of the startup and has been leading the pack of VCs in Asia making a concerted effort to scout for and invest in women-founded companies, in partnership with BTB.
“Higher profitability, higher retention rates, investing in women is an important strategy we continue to deploy in our work” Shannon Kalayanamitr, Venture Partner, Gobi Partners adds.
(4) Embodied Labs — Carrie Shaw, MS, Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Carrie became a caregiver when she was 19 when her mom was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. Today, Carrie and her team are tackling a question inspired by her mom’s illness: she asks “How do we step into the patient’s shoes and learn more about their experience, and their humanity?”
Her answer — using virtual reality to provide immersive training for caregivers, she believes “If you can visually communicate about health, you can cross those barriers quickly”.
And today, with the outbreak of the pandemic requiring social distancing and the concentration of high-risk citizens in senior care facilities, this tool becomes more important than ever.
Carrie adds, “COVID-19 is offering a spotlight on an important issue that has been there all along- people are now seeing that the older adults as our 28% of all people >80 do not have internet in their homes and we have so much more to do to build inclusivity into our systems.”
Carrie has recently raised $3.2 million in seed funding led by Ziegler Link·Age Fund and The Venture Reality Fund, with additional contributions including from BTB’s partner fund WXR Fund, which focuses on women and the future of computing.
“Embodied Labs has demonstrated their ability to use VR to improve the quality of senior care, and we are honored that our investment will help them scale their positive impact. The CEO, Carrie Shaw, is an incredible capable leader who effectively channels her personal experience and passion as well as her tremendous empathic capacity to better serve customers and inspire her team.”- Martina Welkhoff, Founder and Managing Partner, WXR Fund.
Carrie’s message to funders: “There is a huge market opportunity in investing in companies for aging groups — the longevity economy traditionally has not had a lot of venture capital in it but investing into digital health through technology will become adopted today more than ever — legislation, healthcare systems are now evolving to pay attention to caregivers, this is creating a perfect storm.”
(5) Curie MD — Dr. Leslie Meserve, Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer
Telemedicine has been around for years and was meant to be the next big thing in healthcare. However, pre-COVID 19, it has been often said to have been a bust; a study in late 2017 showed that 82% of U.S consumers still do not utilize telemedicine. But in the world of COVID-19, we’re faced with a new reality: unless our symptoms are truly dire, we avoid the clinic or hospital at all costs.
Dr. Leslie and Kevin Geehr, founders of CurieMD, weigh in: “Telemedicine was hyped up to democratize access and open up a wide array of opportunities but really, did not materialize in the way that was promised. Our theory is that as people are now being forced to telework, it becomes a part of the norm for many parts of their life. While the adoption may trail more mainstream services, the reality is people need to take care of themselves, and even niche services will follow.”
CurieMD’s mission is to change the narrative around menopause and empower women in midlife to take charge of their health and vitality. With the spotlight on puberty, fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth, an estimated 42% of women never discuss their menopausal symptoms with their primary care physician. We were shocked to learn that for an estimated $4 billion market, the percentage of physicians certified to address women’s midlife health meaningfully, is minute (only 3,000 certified midlife practitioners to address an estimate of 30 million women experiencing menopausal symptoms in the US alone)!
CurieMD, backed by BTB partner fund Loyal VC is the first telemedicine platform for women’s midlife health that not only offers expert consultation for managing menopausal symptoms but also provides home delivery for plant-based, FDA-approved menopause hormone replacement therapies.
To us at Beyond the Billion, it’s clear that while the pandemic presents great challenges, even as venture capital fund managers take stock and shore up their current portfolios, we know that certain sectors are uniquely positioned to play a mission-critical role in the pandemic response, and the strongest companies will emerge shaping the future of our world — many of them led by women.
The harsh reality is that while 2019 has been a record year for female founders, as the UN and our counterparts at All Raise warn, the current climate will disproportionately affect women, and we need to work together to ensure the industry does not backslide into its previous ways. We need to ensure that we continue to narrow the gender venture funding gap we’ve been working hard to address.
Bottom line, we need more women founders, more women investors, and more venture investors across the spectrum committed to allocating capital to them. Beyond a moral imperative, a growing body of research demonstrates how women in the frontline are good news for business, and that we must continue to bake diversity into our DNA. Yes, Marc, the future we need to build must include women in it!
As Trish Costello, of Portfolia says “When you bring together the most visionary women investors in the world — we lead during chaos and uncertainty. True to our mission, we bring to life the innovative companies we need in the world, for returns and impact.”
About Beyond The Billion
Beyond The Billion™(BTB), from the Founders of The Billion Dollar Fund for Women™ was founded to address the gender venture investment gap where women-founded teams receive less than 3% of total VC funding. In less than a year, BTB mobilized a global consortium of over 80 venture funds committed to investing $1Bn in women-founded companies. BTB’s mission is now to catalyze the larger landscape of capital, ensuring the continued capacity to invest in women-founded companies by bridging venture funds and limited partner investors. These include institutional investors such as endowments, foundations, international financial institutions, and development financial institutions; as well as strategic corporates, family offices, wealth managers, and high net worth individuals to drive the agenda and capital, collectively.
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About the Author: Sarah Chen
Sarah Chen is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of BTB, with a career that spans across VC and innovation in Asia and the US. While pioneering a corporate VC unit at a publicly-traded Asian conglomerate, Sarah was struck by the complete imbalance of investment dollars into homogeneous teams and the severe lack of women in positions of leadership, despite no shortage of highly qualified women. Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and Forbes 30 Under 30, she is a recognized speaker and adviser on VC, innovation, and women in leadership, having been featured on Forbes, Der Spiegel, the Wall Street Journal, at the United Nations et al.