The UK’s Medical sector has long been recognised for breaking new ground and contributing to the evolution of healthcare across the globe.
Here at Vantage, we built the MedTech Growth Series to help health-focused business grow, scale, secure investment, and improve the wellbeing of society.
To inspire budding MedTech entrepreneurs, we’re showcasing some incredible founders obsessed with health and wellbeing, and sharing their highs, lows, challenges, and successes.
Béa Fertility is reimagining the fertility care journey, removing pain and confusion, and putting control and intimacy back into the hands of those starting their families.
In September 2020, Tess opened Béa’s Pre-Seed funding round and secured $500k from 14 investors. At present, the team at Béa are preparing to close a subsequent $5 million Seed round, ramping up to a UK market launch in May 2023.
We had the chance to sit down with Tess to find out more about herself as a MedTech Co-Founder, and her journey navigating the medical hardware and fertility space.
Q. Tell me a bit about yourself, and the overall mission of Béa Fertility.
“I’m Tess, I come from the advertising world where I spent three years building and scaling an advertising agency.”
Tess highlighted her background in advertising, where she gained a wealth of experience in branding “anything that you would’ve thought could never be branded and sold”, working with companies in drones, satellites, agriculture, and other B2B, heavy-tech products.
Following this, her innate desire to start and scale her own company led her to dip her toe into the SexTech industry, where Tess explored how to address and solve the problem of teenage sexual abuse.
“Teenage sexual abuse is a very difficult problem to solve commercially because your audience are minors, even with the goal of solving the heart-breaking issue of abuse, you cannot legally approach minors with a sexual product or content”, Tess explained. However, from this obstacle came an alternative beacon of inspiration.
“As I was struggling a little in that space, I met an embryologist who had an idea for better fertility care. He was looking for someone to help him bring that idea to life, and it just made complete sense to me.”
Upon further research, the specific issue of fertility treatment struck a chord with Tess: “I’m kind of obsessed with things that don’t feel fair, and the more I dug into the fertility space the more I thought - this is horribly unfair!”
Tess incorporated Béa Fertility in March of 2020. Her first year and a half in the business were spent dedicated to defining the opportunity that Béa presented: What does the fertility care market look like? Do people want this? Can this business be venture backed?
“I closed our pre-seed round in February 2021. We could finally start paying salaries, my co-founder George and I made our first few hires and we continued to build the team from there.”
Béa’s mission is to provide at-home, affordable fertility care - “we’re very deliberate when we say ‘home fertility care’, because we believe that the future of fertility treatment lies in bringing as much as we can out of the clinical world and putting it into people’s homes.”
“One of our core beliefs is that, regardless of where you're from, where you live, or who you are, none of these things should play a part in whether you receive fertility care or not.”
“Absolutely everyone should be able to access and receive the fertility care that they need, and that’s what we’re on a mission to build.”
Q. Tell us about the process of building the first clinical-grade, at-home fertility treatment device.
“As our product is medically regulated hardware, it can’t go into a human body unless it’s in an MHRA cleared clinical investigation, or it’s been cleared to market by the MHRA”, Tess explained.
A distinction between the hardware being developed at Béa Fertility, as opposed to a software, is that with software, you can launch, test, and iterate as you build.
For Tess and the team, this isn’t an option. A strenuous aspect of Béa’s product development is that they “needed to commit to up to £400,000 to R&D to get to a prototype, to then test it in a simulated environment, in order to realise whether we've built the right device in the right way.”
As with many research and development projects, Tess shared how Béa Fertility’s hardware started as nothing more than an idea and was brought to life through 3D printing technology.
“3D printing has revolutionised this process. We’re fortunate that we could 3D print a device, see how it fits and works, and iterate and change things quite seamlessly. We went through 90 3D prints to get to the version of the device that we have today.”
Following cycles of trial and error in reaching a viable prototype for their at-home fertility treatment device, Tess spoke of the human-led studies the team conducted to get a clearer understanding of how their product could be used in the real world.
Two larger-scale studies were conducted, as well as 18-25 smaller studies, to provide us with the data needed to optimise the user experience.
“We had participants enter a research lab and use the prototype device on a medical model of a female pelvis. We would watch them do this behind mirrored glass to be able to understand what they're going through and how they're using the hardware.”
Upon completion of a process called Design for Manufacturing, the company can finally enter the final stages of building a medical device, commissioning tooling, and getting ready to manufacture the device.
Despite this labour-intensive process often taking between 5-10 years for MedTech companies, Béa is expecting their product to be ready to launch in the UK in May 2023, just over two years since the company got going.
Q: How is Béa Fertility’s fertility care device used?
Béa Fertility offers at-home fertility treatment through intracervical insemination (ICI).
Tess provided insight into this approach, explaining that “intracervical insemination is a clinical treatment that was widely used up until the late 70s. It dropped off the menu of available clinical treatment options when IVF and IUI were introduced as clinical treatment options.”
Béa Fertility is on a mission to bring ICI into the modern day, with optimal efficacy and accessibility.
When it comes to the process in using Béa’s ICI device, the user places semen into a cervical cap and uses an applicator to place that cap onto the cervix, where they leave the cap in place for an extended amount of time.
So, if ICI was set aside to make way for alternative fertility treatments such as and IVF and IUI, wouldn’t it be less effective?
Data indicates that this is not the case. Tess shared that “there is a significant volume of peer reviewed evidence on ICI to suggest that it has similar efficacy rates as IUI – which is what you pay a fortune to go and receive in a clinic.”
“So, what we're trying to do is introduce clinical-grade fertility care with clinical-grade efficacy, but at a fifth of the cost of IUI, delivered straight to your home.”
Tess and the team at Béa Fertility are removing a variety of barriers involved in traditional fertility care, meaning users won’t need to leave their homes, won’t need to undergo invasive medical procedures, won’t need to spend excessive amounts of money, and so on.
But there are two distinct features of Béa’s device that Tess argues makes it so unique…
“The first thing specific to our at-home device is the fact that you collect semen using a semen collection container, much the same way you would at a fertility clinic. The user pours the semen sample into the applicator, where the cervical cap is found."
What does this mean for users? Tess highlighted the inclusivity offered by this design element: “Our device opens the door for those with all types of family building stories, whether it be for same-sex female couples, single females, sexual trauma survivors, those with vaginismus, etc. Essentially, many for whom heterosexual intercourse is not a part of their family building journey can use Béa’s Treatment Kit”.
Designed with every user in mind, Béa Fertility’s treatment process cracks open inclusivity as well as affordability in a space that’s far too often reserved for those that can afford expensive clinical procedures.
Despite taking fertility care outside of the clinical environment, Béa Fertility refuses to compromise on the professional support and personalised care that’s crucial to the treatment process.
“We’re not just shipping applicators to customers - we’ve created a whole treatment experience designed to guide you through a complete treatment cycle. We provide ovulation tests, pregnancy tests, two insemination devices, semen collection containers, and a digital support app that guides you through treatment and allows you to connect with our team for on-demand support.”
Q. Can you tell me about the moment you decided that fertility treatment needed to be vastly improved?
As is the case for many women, fertility care wasn’t on the forefront of Tess’ mind earlier in life. But a turning point came when she heard of several friends’ experiences with conceiving, and when one friend in particular shared that she’d been struggling to get pregnant for the past couple of years.
“When she told me, I thought, wow - I had no idea that you were going through this! There was something about speaking to her in that moment that made me realise what a lonely and isolating experience it must be for women and families.”
It was then when Tess decided to find a way to make this better.
“When we're hiring, if potential team members aren't obsessed with fertility, I don't actually mind that much. If we hire the right people for the job and they sit through just one user interview with a user who is on a fertility journey - they'll come out of it changed.”
Tess recounted that whether new team members come out of these conversations with goosebumps, in tears, or frustrated, one thing is clear - you don't need to spend longer than 5 minutes with someone struggling to conceive before you’re desperate to solve that problem.
Q: Tell me more about Bea Fertility's progress to date, and what are your plans for the next 6 months - 1 year?
For the past 14 months, Tess has had a full-time team working alongside her to get Béa Fertility to the stage it’s at today.
Their team has been growing exponentially: “Two hires came in and then we waited a few months and took on two more, and all of a sudden we're a team of 12, looking to hire another 4-5 in the next couple months.”
In a competitive funding landscape, Tess has gained the trust and financial support of several investors, proving on multiple occasions the visceral nature of the fertility care problem shared by so many.
“We've closed a round of funding and we’re in the middle of raising a $5 million Seed round. We've also undertaken a second cycle of R&D on our device - the product that we’ll be bringing to market is just beautiful.”
Tess described the momentum behind Béa Fertility’s ICI device, which validates the need for accessible fertility care: “We've got 5,500 people on a waitlist just waiting for our product to drop.”
The next quarter will see the late stages in engineering and compliance come together in anticipation of next year’s product launch.
“We’re launching product in the UK in May 2023. The first half of next year is about validating and verifying a manufacturing line for the product and then ramping up to launch.”
After learning about Tess’ journey in building Béa Fertility, and the importance of improving accessibility and affordability of fertility treatment, we shifted the conversation to a fundamental aspect of startup growth – securing investment.
As a founder that’s proving successful in not one but two investment rounds, we asked Tess to lend her expertise to early-stage entrepreneurs looking to win over an investor panel and scale their businesses.
Q: What routes did you consider when looking to raise funds and what led you to your choice?
As an innovative, impact-driven business, Béa Fertility was the perfect candidate for government-led funding initiatives, such as R&D Tax Credits and Grant Funding.
After winning an Innovate UK grant early on in their journey, Tess started thinking about how they could make the transition to securing Angel and VC investment.
“In July 2020 I started thinking about how we were going to raise funds and get the money we would need to get to market. By September, I opened our first funding round. I soon thought - I don’t think we talk enough about how hard it is to raise money.”
Tess explained how several characteristics of Béa Fertility made it a unique investment proposition by presenting a greater set of risks to investors.
Firstly, the nature of engineering medical hardware tends to be a space that investors shy away from, due to the barriers presented by complex medical regulations and the difficulty of building hardware. Secondly, consumer facing, D2C brands also carry greater risks.
“It’s difficult when you present these really high-risk things (hardware, regulation and go-to-market) all mashed together into one company and ask people to put money into it.”
For Tess, entering the funding landscape was an entirely new challenge: “I had never raised before, had no idea how to do it. I listened to Brad Feld's book three times, then I googled ‘how to raise money in London’ and that's how I started. I had no contacts. I had no ‘in’ with anyone.”
As a founder looking keep up to date with the investment sphere, it’s easy to get disheartened by scrolling through Sifted articles and seeing countless success stories of founders that have raised millions seemingly overnight.
Tess noted the affect that this had on her mindset: “with all these record-breaking headline stories, I remember sitting back in thinking - am I doing this wrong?”
With her fertility-care obsession and business ambition growing, resilience was the only option for Tess. She shared that this Pre-Seed round took her “six months and 284 conversations to close, securing £500K from early angels and funds.”
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the fundraise process?
Tess explained how the entire Pre-Seed funding round presented several challenging obstacles: “The challenge I faced was a combination of everything. Being a complex, R&D-heavy business, investors really needed to believe in me and a wider team (of which there was none at the time!)”.
A specific challenge that Tess had to overcome during Béa’s Pre-Seed fundraise was to identify when not to compromise. She recounted how one Angel Syndicate asked her to lower the company valuation specifically for them, and offer them preferential terms.
Upon reflection, Tess expressed a sense of relief for sticking to her guns. It can be tempting to bend your terms and grab on to any available funding, but Tess urges founders not to commit to an investor relationship you’re not comfortable with.
“Right from the beginning, we acknowledged that this is a MedTech business, we will need venture capital to fund it. But equally, Béa has a very viable business model launching in a significant market opportunity, and that’s how we presented it. Essentially, that belief is how we secured what we did.”
Q: Is there anything you wish you had done differently during the fundraise process?
The chances of a first-time founder navigating their Pre-Seed fundraise without a hitch is extremely low. Despite Tess’ impressive success so far, she admitted that something she might’ve done differently would be to better prepare for the round, and run a tighter process when pitching.
“I also think I could’ve been a little sharper in the way I communicated, and a little less accommodating. I also should’ve perhaps been more prepared with a Data Room and other materials ready for the investors I approached.”
The good news for early-stage founders it that the first funding round can often be the hardest. One raise will build out your network of connections extensively, which can then be utilised as you enter your Seed round, your Series A, and so on. Currently, Tess is leading Béa’s Seed funding round, which has been open for five weeks.
“Now, we’re raising $5 million and I'm close to closing the round. You get better at raising. You get sharper and more prepared, and you don't go into it cold. Now I've got contacts. I've got people that I can go and speak to and drum up interest through.”
Q: What piece of advice would you give to founders looking to attract investment?
“I would say, make sure that your business and your business model are venture backable. VCs have very specific things that they look for in investment opportunities, particularly regarding the company’s ability to generate a return for the fund. Anything that doesn’t have the potential to generate significant returns won’t get funded.”
Tess explained the importance of taking a step back and looking at your investment proposition from the outside. Ask yourself pragmatically, can you make them the kind of return that they want? If you can, great. Show them how. If not, adjust your search and find a source of funding that’s right for you.
“Look for specific funds, make sure that you fit the fund thesis. Don't waste peoples' time. And if you’re pitching to VCs, then make sure that the business you're trying to scale is one that VCs would get excited about.”
Q: As a business operating within the MedTech space, what metrics did you need to consider when looking to attract investment?
The demand for metrics changes as founders progress along their growth trajectory, and you must enter each funding round open to taking a different approach. Tess highlighted that “for our current Seed round, we decided to tell the story of the potential market opportunity and fertility care very differently”.
Shockingly, during her Pre-Seed round Tess was often was told that the fertility market was ‘niche’. Though it took her by surprise, this outlook motivated Tess to change others saw the fertility care problem.
“We completely changed the way we sold the opportunity. We drew parallels to other sectors of medicine and other Unicorn businesses that have succeeded, and we made it crystal clear that our company is next. We clarified that at-home fertility care is the one sector of medicine currently taking off and that we are the next Unicorn that will lead it.”
For other companies looking to fundraise, Tess suggests taking the approach of telling a story that draws parallels, so that people who are unfamiliar with your problem can easily understand the urgency and importance of your proposition.
“In terms of direct traction, it can be hard. We’re not on the market yet. A lot of other Seed stage businesses that are raising have traction. We don't – which makes it complex to raise.”
Sometimes, businesses forget that that KPIs don’t have to be financial. The 5,500-strong waitlist that Béa has nurtured is a great example of traction, demonstrating their ability to acquire a loyal customer base.
Another way Tess displayed traction to investors was her Conjoint Analysis Study in the US and the UK. She explained that this is a method of analysis that allows you to determine price points and what people are willing to pay for your product.
“The price points in this data gave us a powerful unit economic story that allowed us to show how we can make it to a $100 million revenue with very low market penetration in the US. I’d recommend looking for data-driven ways that help you tell the story of your potential. You don’t necessarily need traction, but you need to show that you can quickly gain traction.”
Q: Have you found that medical regulations and compliance have impacted your fundraising journey, or do expect it to in the future? Might this motivate you to explore alternative markets?
“Under the new regulatory frameworks in a post-Brexit world, the UK is the actually the best country to launch a medical device in. So, we're gunning for a UK market launch.”
With patience and dedication over time, Tess pointed out that regulation can be transformed from an obstacle into a springboard for growth.
“Often, in regulated spaces, when you clear the regulation, or get close to clearing it, then it becomes a huge strategic advantage for you. It separates you from your competitors that might still have this hurdle ahead of them.”
After pinpointing the wants and needs of both MedTech founders and VC investors, our MedTech Growth Series features six weekly workshops designed to give health-focused businesses the tools to shine in front of investors, and grow and scale at pace.