Axios Pro: Health Tech Deals

April 28, 2022

Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Hello and happy almost Friday, Health Tech enthusiasts!

📉 Situational awareness: Teladoc is getting hammered. After recording a $6.6 billion impairment charge on Livongo, the former telehealth leader saw its stock take a 48% nosedive this morning.

  • Driving the news: Competition from surging behavioral health rivals — several of which offer controlled substance prescriptions in addition to therapy — and lower returns on DTC ad dollars, among other things, caused this pain, analysts tell Erin.

1 big thing: Fertility startups sew $7M seed as baby funding booms

Illustration of a baby onesie printed with the image of a $100 bill.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The funding frenzy for fertility tech has only just begun, as two reproductive health companies sewed a collective $6.7 million in seed funding today.

  • Los Angeles-based Ruth Health and Berlin-based Apryl gathered $2.4 million and $4.3 million from venture backers in their respective geographies.

Driving the news: Digital health investors are flocking to fertility tech like never before, pouring unprecedented amounts of capital into a sector that's been overlooked by mainstream backers for decades. Investors and analysts tell Erin:

  • People are choosing to have children later in life, making the process biologically more challenging and increasing the appeal of supportive technology.
  • Discussions around reproductive health, infertility and women's health are beginning to be destigmatized.
  • Employers increasingly view reproductive health tools as a core workplace benefit.

Why it matters: Reproductive wellness is a core component of health care with impacts beyond children and their birthing parents, including their partners, adoptive parents, caregivers and employers.

  • "The industry is finally catching up to the fact that this isn’t just a women’s issue," says CRV partner Kristin Baker Spohn, who previously invested in the startup Carrot Fertility. "And it's a tax on a woman’s highest growth potential, so we need better clinical care and infrastructure in place."

Details: Ruth offers consumers virtual care tools that span pelvic floor training, lactation counseling, C-section recovery and intimacy. Apryl offers employers tools that include lab testing, care navigation, fertility treatment financing and adoption support.

  • Ruth's seed financing was led by Giant Ventures, with participation from Citylight VC, Cleo Capital Scout Fund, Crista Galli Ventures and others, bringing its total raised capital to $3.1 million.
  • Apryl's seed financing was led by European venture firm Breega.

Context: The first quarter of 2022 saw a growth spurt for reproductive and maternal health startups. In April, the sector placed among the top six best-funded clinical categories for the first time since 2019 with a collective $424 million in funding, according to a recent Rock Health report.

  • The trend was especially apparent in October 2021, when global investments in fertility tech rose 89% from the year before, according to Crunchbase.
  • "I believe the market is ripe for this," Shereese Maynard, a health tech strategist who focuses on women's health, tells Erin.

State of play: Companies in the fertility tech sector span a wide canal of services, from reproductive counseling and support to diagnostic testing and financial support.

  • U.K.-based Gaia in February debuted its personalized in-vitro fertilization (IVF) insurance product on the Lloyds of London market and raised $20 million in Series A funding.
  • San Francisco-based Frame Fertility this week raised a $2.8 million seed round to offer its virtual care tools to "anyone who might want kids," including people who identify as LGBTQIA.
  • New York-based Noula Health in March raised $1.4 million in pre-seed funding to offer a mix of virtual coaching and home testing products to birthing parents in English and Spanish.
  • San Francisco-based Future Family this month raised $25 million in Series B funding to offer birthing parents both financial and virtual care support.

Be smart: Most businesses in this sector offer their services through employers, who investors say have been early adopters of the tools, as opposed to consumers, who would either have to pay out of pocket or attempt reimbursement with insurance, which rarely covers infertility treatments.

  • "Employers think of it as total rewards rather than health and benefits," Baker Spohn tells Erin. 

The other side: The fertility tech industry is still potty training as it reckons with sizable challenges such as the U.S. health care system, where a fee-for-service model tends to incentivize people to wait until they are actively trying to conceive to get help, as opposed to opting into early-stage family planning or preventive care.

  • "Thinking preventively about fertility is not intuitively how people or the medical system treat it currently," says women's health investor Leslie Schrock. "It should be the standard of care but is going to take a lot of time to educate people."

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