Here at Vantage, we designed our Female Founder Growth Series to provide women-led businesses with the tools to shine in front of investors.
The gender funding gap is substantial, with only 2% of VC funding being awarded to female founders! And yes, that's a statistic from 2021.
To address this, major changes need to be implemented within the finance sector, from the top-down. But something we can do from the ground-up is to inspire more women to pursue their business dreams, and let them know that in a male dominated society - they can succeed.
One way of doing this is to showcase incredible female founders, and share their highs, lows, challenges, and successes.
Dama Health empowers women and clinicians to make personalised and safe decisions regarding female reproductive health.
At the heart of Dama Health is the aim of providing access to science-backed, technology-forward platforms for the provision of individualised guidance on management of one’s reproductive and contraceptive health.
We had the chance to sit down with Elena, to find out more about herself as a female founder, and her journey navigating the Medtech and Femtech industries.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself, and the overall mission of Dama Health.
During her studies of Medical Sciences and Epigenetics at University, Elena’s interest in pharmacogenetics - the study of how genes affect a person's response to medication – was ignited.
Going on to experience working in health and social care, Elena’s frustrations with how slow and bureaucratic the healthcare system can sometimes be fueled her desire to push for more intuitive and accessible treatments.
“So many women react so differently to different forms of contraception, but we still don’t know why, and clinicians don’t know how to prescribe women to contraception in an optimised manner. We built Dama Health to drive the mission statement of advancing the research, support, and personalisation of contraception – which we think is the future of healthcare in general.”
Focusing on the field of pharmacogenetics within hormonal contraception, and equipped with a Masters degree in Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management, Elena partnered with Co-founders Dr Aaron Lazorwitz, a practicing OB-GYN, and Paulina Cecuła, a final year medical student from Imperial College London, to create a solution to the problems within women’s reproductive health.
“The accessibility problem was magnified by COVID-19, people started realising how much they needed solutions that were remote, yet equally effective. This has helped push the movement of digitalising and taking ownership of healthcare decisions.”
Q. What does the process of matching an individual woman with the right contraception look like?
Elena explained how the traditional medical process of prescribing contraception is severely limited, which means that often patients are subjected to guessing, not testing.
“The average GP appointment in the UK lasts only around 9 minutes!” - We’re all too familiar with how these go, in these 9 minutes, we only articulate a fraction of the concerns we made a mental note of whilst in the waiting room.
And even if we did fully explain our understanding of our own health, the GP will struggle to compartmentalise the entirety of this information in such a short space of time.
Though this process is not sufficient for the prescription of hormonal contraception – we go ahead and do it anyway.
So, Dama Health developed a two-part system to put an end to this.
Firstly, the digital test.
Dama Health has created a contraception screening test that performs an in-depth analysis of 80 different variables that are important in prescribing contraception, in the same amount of time (or less) that it takes to sit down with a GP.
“The digital screening test looks through all the important medical factors, from previous health issues and predispositions within your family, to lifestyle choices, and whether you’d prefer to take a pill or have an implant or IUD fitted. The list goes on.”
The second component that sets Dama apart is their comprehensive research on the key genetic associations that determine how women respond to different hormonal contraception.
Elena told us about a number of exciting genetic associations pulled from the breadth of medical literature, such as Dr Lazorwitz’s publications that “look at topics such as blood clot risk, how you metabolise different hormones which may be causing hormonal weight gain, and issues like migraines, to list some examples.”
The genetic component will contribute to the necessary expansion of the research field, looking into side-effects and risk factors of diverse contraceptive methods, ultimately driving the innovation within Dama Health’s solutions.
Q. Can you tell me about the moment you decided that enough is enough, and women deserve more when it comes to reproductive health?
Long before her professional career had taken off, Elena realised that her personal battle with finding the right contraception was just one case out of many.
“When I spoke to friends, when I was at University, and at High School, it was scary how so many girls were feeling really bad on contraceptive medications, and then how dismissive the medical community was to some of their symptoms.”
“My scientific inquisitiveness spiked when looking through reports and research, hoping to find out – are we missing something? Are answers out there that the medical industry is just failing to implement?
That’s when I truly realised the huge lack of innovation and R&D happening in the field of contraception. And that’s what pushed me to the decision that, if no one’s going to do it, I want to do it.”
Historically, contraception was created solely to control pregnancies, so that women could leverage economic power and stay in their jobs. Since then, society has shifted, but the contraceptive methods on offer have largely stayed the same.
Elena, and the team at Dama Health, recognise that bringing the needs of sexually active women into the modern day is largely reliant on a surge in research and data collection.
Elena told us that Dama Health seeks to “not only empower women by giving them personalised medical information, but in doing so, collect anonymised data to advance women’s health science and work with healthcare providers so that we can contribute to making better products with fewer side effects for women.”
Q. With almost every woman able to tell you a negative side-effect she’s had with some form of birth control, why do you think that issues around women’s contraception have been swept under the rug for so long?
Fundamentally, the lack of information and support around women’s reproductive health is an issue of injustice that stems from a bigger picture of female misdiagnosis.
Elena opened our eyes to just how prevalent gender bias within the medical system really is.
“Unfortunately, there is still a lack of representative medical and scientific data around the complex nature of female bodies and how they respond to treatments that we have yet to discover and work with. Lack of data and information means lack of power. It’s about having women’s voices heard amongst the noise in the medical community.”
Research into data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink compared the time it took to diagnose 11 types of cancers across men and women. The study revealed that, for females, there was a much longer lag time from the onset of symptoms through to the point of diagnosis.
What’s more, this disparity wasn’t due to women waiting longer to seek medical attention – research showed that the delay occurred after they first visited their doctor, and as a result of their symptoms being attributed to anxiety, depression, or the more common dismissal - “stress”.
A wider study into gender disparities within diagnosis found that, across 700 conditions, diagnosis of diabetes, ADHD, and other conditions, takes an average of 4.5 years longer in female populations.
The most concerning part of these findings? Shockingly, they weren’t pulled from historical times.
They were published as recently as 2015 and 2019.
To make positive progress, sexual health education in schools has to do a better job at educating both girls and boys on the effects of hormones in general, and the options available to young women that want to take charge of their reproductive health.
“Contraception is a taboo subject in a lot of communities, especially religious communities, so there is still a lack of education and information out there.”
Elena made the point that “men only start to realise the problems with contraception once they have partners or wives that are on it.”
When it comes to reproductive health, these issues have maintained a reactionary, passive system for too long.
But enough is enough, a proactive approach to healthcare is long overdue.
Q. Medical R&D is often a much lengthier process than that of other sectors. At present, where is Dama Health on the timeline of idea to market?
The component of genetic research within Dama Health’s project naturally takes time; “To mitigate this lengthier process, we hope to launch our digital screening test in 2022. It will be available online, allowing women/users to take the test remotely, with a partner, or with a medical professional.”
Data collected from the digital screening tests on the Dama Health platform will then begin to fill the absence of contraceptive pharmacogenetic research; “our tests will allow us to collect the information that isn’t always publicly available."
Excitingly, Elena shared that the Dama Health platform is almost ready to go; “we’ve built the proprietary algorithm already, and we’re now preparing the company for our first fundraising round so that we can grow the team and launch our solution.”
If you'd like to take an active role in shaping Dama Health’s product and the future of contraception, you're in luck - beta testers play a large role in advancing their product!
By registering here, you can join the waitlist to become a beta tester when Dama Health is looking to trial its contraception matching test.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge that female founders face?
It’s widely known that the majority of investors are male. In fact, in the UK, women represent just 13% of Venture Capital decision makers.
Elena explained that “We’ve been lucky as founders that contraception is a huge issue and many males understand it - either because of their partners, daughters or sisters but there are definitely some female health related issues such as endometriosis or PCOS which are still rarely talked about or fully understood.”
As previously discussed, when data is needed to reinforce the problem with contraception, the numbers simply aren’t available.
But things are looking up for the FemTech sector, and female-centred innovation.
“I can’t say that we’ve been disadvantaged much, we’re seeing larger funds now focusing on helping female founders. I am grateful that the market is shifting towards helping diverse teams.”
Addressing the underrepresentation of female founders can not only help to close the female funding gap, but also combat unconscious bias and outdated depictions of what it means to be female.
Applications for our Female Founder Growth Series - Autumn Cohort are opening on 4th July!
After pinpointing the wants and needs of both female founders and VC investors, this programme features six weekly workshops designed to get female entrepreneurs ‘investor-ready’, and maximise their chances of securing funding.
This programme will be taking place in London from 14th September - 19th October, and is totally free of charge.
Click here to get started with your application.