Feb 2, 2021 - Technology

Transgender health startups are having a moment

Plume chief medical officer Dr. Jerrica Kirkley (left).
Plume chief medical officer Jerrica Kirkley (left). Photos: Plume

Transgender health needs, long neglected by the medical establishment, could get a needed assist from tech, as a pair of startups that focus on hormone treatment and other services today announce fresh venture funding.

Why it matters: Transgender and non-binary people can face enormous barriers to health care, from a scarcity of facilities that provide gender-affirming care to insurance company denials and outright discrimination.

  • Today's announcements are also noteworthy as few companies focused on LGBT consumers — and transgender people in particular — have attracted venture funding.

Driving the news: Plume and Folx are both announcing Series A funding rounds today.

  • Both firms bypass traditional insurance and provide needed care online, directly to consumers.
  • Plume is more narrowly targeted at transgender-specific care, while Folx offers services for the broader LGBTQ community.

Details: Plume charges $99 per month for a service that includes online doctor visits and lab work, as well as referral letters people may need in order to get gender-affirming surgery or legally change their name or gender.

  • Folx charges $59 per month, which covers doctor visits, lab work and the least expensive hormone medications. (Injectable medications, including supplies, cost extra.)
  • Folx plans to offer additional services addressing other queer health needs, including STI testing. It is initially available in 11 states, with an aim to expand nationwide.

By the numbers: Plume is announcing $14 million in Series A funding Craft Ventures with participation from General Catalyst, Slow Ventures and Town Hall Ventures.

  • Folx has attracted $25 million in Series A investment, led by Bessemer Venture Partners.

The big picture: Folx and Plume are part of a broader trend of direct-to-consumer startups that offer health services that are hard to find, aren't covered by insurance or have a history of being poorly served by the medical establishment.

  • The heads of both companies said they encountered some skepticism from potential investors, but were able to show both a huge unmet need in the existing market and a population that is growing in size and economic power.
  • Also important, Folx CEO A.G. Breitenstein said, is the fact that more venture firms now have queer and trans people on staff.

Between the lines: Affirming care that people can access from their homes has benefits in big cities where people might wait weeks for an appointment at a trans or queer health clinic.

  • But it's even more useful for those in rural areas that may not have any nearby options for trans- and queer-affirming health care.

What they're saying: "Access to gender-affirming care can be lifesaving for those who need it," said Lainy Painter, a principal at Plume investor Craft Ventures. "While a small number of clinics have focused on the trans community, the vast majority of patients have been unable to access affordable care."

  • Jerrica Kirkley, Plume's chief medical officer, said she has seen the failings of the system both as a patient seeking trans-specific health care and as a doctor. "I knew there had to be a better way," she said.

Yes, but: There are plenty of trans people who can't afford the monthly fees for Plume or Folx. Both companies are working on grant programs to help some people that couldn't otherwise access their services.

What's next: Fresh growth opportunities for the companies include mental health services, general health care and prosthetics, as well as services for transgender youth.

  • Folx has also said it wants to expand into family creation services.
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