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Exclusive: Nodal debuts as "Bumble for surrogacy"

Illustration of four toy blocks with symbols of a check mark, a pregnant person, a heart, and a baby.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

You could say fertility specialist Brian Levine is walking the walk with his latest endeavor—a surrogacy-matching startup called Nodal that Levine is launching without getting paid for it.

Why it matters: Surrogacy is a particularly expensive and antiquated piece of the fertility landscape that can cost up to $125,000 or more per child. Since Nodal aims to make surrogacy more accessible, Levine says it makes sense to steer the company in a compensation-free role.

  • The surrogacy process is "cost-prohibitive, time-prohibitive and emotionally exhausting," Levine tells Axios. "I can either be complicit and part of it or use the same energy and say, 'let’s fix this system.'"

Deal details: Nodal is launching with $4.7 million in funding led by Amplo, Levine tells Axios exclusively.

  • Also joining the round are Scott Belsky of Behance, Chelsea Hirschhorn of Frida, Kate Ryder of Maven Clinic, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Interplay Venture Capital. Nodal’s advisory board includes Anu Duggal of Female Founders Fund and Robin Berzin of Parsley Health.

How it works: Nodal encourages surrogates to connect with intended parents over its tech platform — similar to dating app Bumble — and offers educational and support tools to both parties.

  • Nodal aims to replace archaic tools that currently characterize the system, like faxes, mailed photocopies and manual reviews of records.
  • Users pay $500 per month to create a profile on the company’s platform, which surrogates then browse. A match is $6,000.
  • All users are screened in a process that includes background checks and live interviews.
  • The company works with surrogates, intended parents, surrogacy agencies and and assisted reproductive technology (ART) attorneys. "I think we're collaborative with the current system," says Levine.

Context: Nodal is unique in applying tech to the surrogacy market, but a growing cadre of tech-forward startups is emerging to shake up most parts of the fertility care landscape, from diagnostic testing to IVF financing, such as:

Be smart: Trends driving investor interest in the reproductive health sector include:

  • People choosing to have children later in life, which can make the process biologically harder and increase the appeal of supportive tech.
  • Discussions around reproductive health and infertility being increasingly less stigmatized.
  • Employers starting to see reproductive health tools as key workplace benefits.

One fun thing: The name Nodal comes from the company's aim to connect different nodes of the surrogacy system.

What they're saying: Maven founder and CEO Kate Ryder tells Axios more than half of surrogacy members sign up for Maven looking for help finding an agency, so it made sense to invest in a company specializing in improving the process with a focus on accessibility and affordability.

  • People "come to us because they don’t understand the agency landscape and they’re stressed," Ryder says.
  • Since much of what surrogacy agencies do is conduct health screenings and provide support, "there's a great opportunity for a tech platform and surrogacy coaches to help with that."

The take-home: "In medical school I took an oath to do no harm," Levine says. "I think if we allow the price [of surrogacy] to go unchecked, we are doing harm."

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