Houston investor shares why she's focused on funding the future of femtech

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 98

Kyra Doolan joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the huge opportunities for innovation within femtech. Photo via LinkedIn

Successful investors find gaps in the marketplace and direct funds into startups and technologies resolving those gaps. For Kyra Doolan, managing director at Houston-based Texas HALO Fund, femtech represents a huge opportunity for innovation.

"A lot of the issues that face women, are things that are not talked about," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, referencing things like miscarriage, injury during childbirth, etc. "For a lot time, women just sat back if they had these issues, and they kept it to themselves, so those problems weren't being addressed."

While Texas HALO Fund has invested in femtech since its first fund in 2012, Doolan shares on the show how she personally saw an investment opportunity with kegg, a fertility tracking device. Doolan says she and other women aren't taught how to manage their own fertility journey, but it doesn't have to be that way.

"I was at a stage in my life where my eyes were open to the gaps that are out there and the conversations that weren't being had," she says. "In looking into Kegg, it showed me what the market was and how many gapes there were in the market just around fertility."

Texas HALO Fund has a few femtech companies in its portfolio now, and the most recent addition is Houston-based Work & Mother, a company that builds out fully-equipped nursing accommodations in office buildings.

Despite it's growing femtech portfolio, the fund is industry agnostic, though, Doolan says, about a third of the companies Texas HALO Fund invests in reside in the health tech space. What makes HALO different is its focus on early-stage startups.

"We like to get in early," Doolan says. "We're, what you would historically consider 'pre-VC,' but now that's getting a little bit blurred. ... We're some of the earlier capital that's invested, and we continue to make investment as the companies continue to subsequent rounds."

Doolan shares more on her passion for femtech, as well as her advice for founders looking for funding and potential female investors looking to get into investing on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


One way to move the needle on developing femtech, according to this expert, is to make sure women have a seat at the table at venture firms funding the innovations. Photo via Getty Images

The growing femtech industry needs more attention — and funds, says this Houston expert

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Femtech is a term that is generally given to medical products, software, and technologies that aim to enhance the health and wellbeing of women. But when people think of femtech, things like period tracker apps and pregnancy tests are usually the first things to come to mind. While those developments are important and used regularly, there are other diseases and chronic issues affecting women that need to be talked about as well.

The concept of femtech shouldn't replace "women's health" which considers broader issues, such as endometriosis and PCOS, as well as other conditions — such as heart disease — common to both men and women but clinically different in the latter. Femtech investors, manufacturers, and health advocates should focus on creating solutions for all issues and diseases that affect women, not just the most obvious.

However, more education and awareness is necessary to bring these issues to the forefront, as many people are not aware about how certain chronic issues and diseases affect women differently than they may affect men. For example, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and men, but if you close your eyes and envision someone having a heart attack — do you see a man? Or a woman? Probably a man. And you're not alone. Because so much of our healthcare research has focused primarily on men, we are programmed to think of certain conditions affecting men predominantly when they are truly major health issues for both.

Similarly, when it comes to memory loss, women have a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to men being 1 in 11. Additionally, out of the more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer's in the U.S., 3.2 million are women. While there aren't as many Femtech-related products or solutions focused on these issues, there should be, especially in a rapidly growing industry.

According to the U.S. Clinical Laboratory Test Market, the femtech industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 13 percent. Frost and Sullivan predicts the global Femtech market revenue will reach $1.1 billion by 2024, and BIS Research forecasts that by 2030 the sector will hit $3.04 billion. But even with great momentum, there is a knowledge gap that needs to be bridged. Overall, the industry has been underfunded and many opportunities have been overlooked, not necessarily because of gender. But, because investors in the industry are predominantly men, there is a lack of education and understanding of why these products are needed.

A solution would be for more women to become investors. Women have the personal experience and a better understanding of how these products will benefit them, which allows them to better understand the story told, increasing the chance the product will be funded and brought to market. To fund life-changing inventions for women, we need to have women involved, which means we need women to step into the investment community. Until more women get a seat at the investment table, women in femtech who are looking for investors need to be prepared to share real life stories and provide as much information as possible to have a better chance of securing funding.

The femtech industry is growing, and we will continue to see innovative devices and apps brought to market. With more education, a better understanding of other issues that affect women, and more female investors, the industry has the potential to take its growth to a new level.

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Isabella Schmitt currently serves as the director of regulatory affairs at Proxima Clinical Research Inc.
Brittany Barreto launched FemTech Focus to help call attention to women's health and wellness, as well as to help accelerate companies with tech solutions within the field. Photo courtesy of FemTech Focus

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneur launches femtech nonprofit and accelerator partnership

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It's about time women's health and wellness took center stage, in Brittany Barreto's opinion, so she's launched a nonprofit to make that happen.

Houston entrepreneur Barreto recently left her position at Capital Factory to focus on FemTech Focus, an organization dedicated to increasing attention on femtech and providing resources and support for founders in the space. The nonprofit launched its podcast in April and has garnered over 5,000 subscribers across 40 countries.

"What we're focusing on for 2020 is awareness," Barreto says, adding that the podcast is key to that mission.

Barreto says next year, however, it's the her plan to create a 12-week virtual accelerator program and venture fund. The first iteration of the program is going to focus on health care — digital health, medical device, and therapeutics — for companies between seed to series A stage.

"Femtech startups actually need a little bit of different advice — that's why I'm very bullish on creating a femtech accelerator," Barreto says. "In femtech, we have some unique barriers. If you just go to a general accelerator, they might not cover these issues, and you'll be blindsighted."

Barreto says, based on the interviews she's done for the podcast, that some of these unique challenges include working with the Food and Drug Administration, creating referral programs that are extremely successful among women, and approaching "taboo" topics, which a lot of femtech companies have to deal with.

While Barreto continues working her plans for the program, she says she came across an opportunity to work with The Guild, a a woman's professional networking platform that has its own accelerator, to create a femtech-focused virtual program this fall. This partnership, Barreto says, will allow her to get her feet wet in the virtual acceleration field while also getting to help femtech entrepreneurs sooner.

Applications for Guild Academy - Femtech Edition, powered by Femtech Focus, are open online and will close September 18. The 8-week program will then wrap up mid November ahead of Thanksgiving. The program is not limited to female founders, and the cohort is looking for around 25 companies.

If you're interested, apply online and check out Barreto's Ask Me Anything event today, Thursday, September 10 at 1 pm.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for June

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Despite much of the state returning to some state of normalcy, larger groups are still not encouraged to gather quite yet in order to avoid an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

With that in mind, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

June 2 — How Fashion Brands Optimize E-Commerce and Sustainability During a Pandemic

Kim Roxie, founder of LAMIK Beauty, moderates a panel of e-commerce startup founders for The Ion to discuss modern issues the female founders are facing.

Details: The event is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2. Learn more.

June 4 — Startup Growth After COVID-19 with Sputnik ATX

Curious about what business and startup growth may look like post-COVID-19? Join Sputnik ATX Partner Joe Merrill via General Assembly for a discussion on how to grow a business and raise a round during a pandemic.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 4. Learn more.

June 6 — Enventure Basecamp: Business Building Workshop

Our community-driven business building basecamp series returns this June to support a local innovator construct their healthcare venture.

Details: The event is at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 6. Learn more.

June 9 — Pulse Check-Today's Funding Landscape

Today's current crisis has changed the mindset of many industry strategic partners, investors and overall stakeholders. From pivoting investment priorities, to identifying new areas of innovation, the investor landscape is constantly shifting.

For small to medium sized biotechs, it can be hard to keep up with promised milestones while also planning and anticipating the future of their companies. How could companies be preparing for not only the short-term but for years to come? What should be prioritized in the coming months? Who is still investing? How can they find the right partners for them as they move forward?

Details: The event is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9. Learn more.

June 11 — Energy and Utilities: Drones, Connectivity, and Operations of the Future

Preparing for the future can be confusing. How can you keep up with industry and regulatory advancements, or know when to invest in new technology? That's why we teamed up with Southern Company to share how they're preparing — and how you can, too. Join Skyward and Southern Company for a discussion about energy and utility operations of the future and practical steps you can take now to prepare your enterprise.

Details: The event is at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 11. Learn more.

June 11 — Venture vs The Virus: Texas Halo Fund IV

The Houston Angel Network presents Episode 3 of Venture vs The Virus. During this virtual event you will hear from the managing directors of the Texas Halo Fund on the launch of their new fund and the investment opportunities they are seeing as a result of the health crisis.

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 11. Learn more.

June 11 — Intro to Fundraising in FemTech & AMA with Juliana Garaizar and Dr. Barreto

Are you raising capital for your FemTech startup? Join us VIRTUALLY for an overview from venture capitalists and investors at Intro to Fundraising in FemTech & Ask Me Anything!

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 11. Learn more.

June 16 — Women in Tech Summit presented by Accenture

Capital Factory will host a virtual Women In Tech Summit dedicated to increasing diversity in the entrepreneurial and tech community while making its coworking space an inclusive environment for all.

Attendees can look forward to a special keynote guest, insightful fireside chats, discussion sessions, a startup showcase, Epic Office Hours, and panels on relevant topics facing the tech ecosystem.

Details: The event is at noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16. Learn more.

June 16 — VC Ask Me Anything Virtual Event featuring The Artemis Fund

These livestreams, which will include audience Q&A, will tackle the big questions on everyone's mind, like how founders should adjust in the face of the pandemic and what fundraising will look like once the pandemic loosens its grip. Click here to stream.

Details: The event is at 2 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16. Learn more.

June 17-19 — Virtual Rice Business Plan Competition

This year's Rice Business Plan Competition, which was planned for March 26 to 28, was canceled due to COVID-19, but the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has decided to offer up an alternative: A virtual RBPC. Forty two student teams will compete over three virtual events.

Details: The event is from June 17 to 19. Learn more.

June 23 — Virtual Fireside Chat: Fredrik Tukk, Maersk Drilling

Join The Ion for a chat with Fredrik Tukk-Head of Innovation Scouting at Maersk Drilling about how organizations can benefit from innovation

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23. Learn more.

June 24 — The Ion Startup Demo Day

Top tier mentors, local investors, and personalized pitch feedback for participating startups -- nothing's changed but the address. Whether you're a serial entrepreneur or just looking to get involved in the community, this event is for YOU.

Details: The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24. Learn more.

June 30 — TMC Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics Info Session

The TMC ACT team will answer questions including who should apply to TMC ACT, what are the timelines, and what value to expect.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30. Learn more.

In this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Brittany Barreto discusses her passion for femtech domination as well as expert info for founders looking to get involved with Capital Factory. Photo courtesy of Brittany Barreto

Former founder wants to make Houston a major femtech hub

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 23

Brittany Barreto has had a rollercoaster of a year. She went from a startup founder in her second round of funding to sitting on the other side of that fundraising table.

Barreto, who is the venture associate at Capital Factory, has a Ph.D in genetics and founded the first nationwide DNA-based dating app called Pheramor. Last year, she had to close down the business due to changes in Apple's App Store's rules. Now that she's shifted from founder to helping founders, she's realized Houston needs more former-founder mentors like herself.

"I actually think Houston needs to figure out how to capitalize on these recycled founders and how to get them in more mentorship and leadership positions," Barreto says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're in Houston, Texas, and the second question out of everyone's mouths is, 'How can I help you?'"

But that willingness to help only takes mentorship so far for founders who can learn a lot from people who've been in their exact position.

While she wants to see more of these types of mentors emerging in Houston, she also wants to see more of something else: Femtech. These types of startups focus on technology that improves the health and wellness of women, and Houston is poised to be a great hub for femtech — mainly because, well, nowhere else is yet.

Femtech has a lot of potential for investors and success because it's creating technology that's an aspirin and not a vitamin, Barreto says. People won't necessarily pay for and take vitamins, but when they need that aspirin, they'll pay what they can for it.

"Whenever I hear about new femtech companies, I think, 'why doesn't this exist yet?'" Barreto says. "That's why I'm really passionate about FemTech, because it's not something that's just nice to have."

Houston has several female-focused organizations that have emerged lately, but the next steps for the city as it develops as a hub for femtech is to establish a femtech-focused accelerator program and venture fund.

Barreto shares her thoughts on Houston, plus explains what makes Capital Factory different from other organizations in Houston. She also gives her advice on pitchdecks and how she's looking to better connect the dots between entrepreneurs and startup development organizations on the podcast. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston hospital joins the metaverse with new platform

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Houston Methodist has launched a platform that is taking medical and scientific experts and students into the metaverse.

The MITIEverse, a new app focused on health care education and training, provides hands-on practice, remote assistance from experienced clinicians, and more. The app — named for the Houston Methodist Institute for Technology, Innovation and Education, aka MITIE — was created in partnership with FundamentalVR and takes users into virtual showcase rooms, surgical simulations, and lectures from Houston Methodist faculty, as well as collaborators from across the world.

“This new app brings the hands-on education and training MITIE is known for to a new virtual audience. It could be a first step toward building out a medical metaverse,” says Stuart Corr, inventor of the MITIEverse and director of innovation systems engineering at Houston Methodist, in a news release.

Image courtesy of Houston Methodist

The hospital system's DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center has created a virtual showcase room on the app, and users can view Houston Methodist faculty performing real surgeries and then interact with 3D human models.

"We view the MITIEverse as a paradigm-shifting platform that will offer new experiences in how we educate, train, and interact with the health community,” says Alan Lumsden, M.D., medical director of Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, in the release.

“It essentially democratizes access to health care educators and innovators by breaking down physical barriers. There’s no need to travel thousands of miles to attend a conference when you can patch into the MITIEverse," he continues.

Image courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston doctors get approval for low-cost COVID vaccine abroad

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A Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

PT Bio Farma, which oversees government-owned pharmaceutical manufacturers in Indonesia, says it’s prepared to make 20 million doses of the IndoVac COVID-19 vaccine this year and 100 million doses a year by 2024. This comes after the vaccine received authorization from the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority for emergency use in adults.

With more than 275 million residents, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release.

Aside from distributing the vaccine in Indonesia, Bio Farma plans to introduce it to various international markets.

“The need for a safe, effective, low-cost vaccine for middle- to low-income countries is central to the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Bottazzi, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor.

“Without widespread inoculation of populations in the developing world, which must include safe, effective booster doses, additional [COVID-19] variants will develop, hindering the progress achieved by currently available vaccines in the United States and other Western countries.”

Bio Farma says it has completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials for IndoVac and is wrapping up a Phase 3 trial.

IndoVac is a version of the patent-free, low-cost Corbevax vaccine, developed in Houston and dubbed “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” The vaccine formula can be licensed by a vaccine producer in any low- or middle-income country, which then can take ownership of it, produce it, name it, and work with government officials to distribute it, Hotez told The Texas Tribune in February.

Among donors that have pitched in money for development of the vaccine are the Houston-based MD Anderson and John S. Dunn foundations, the San Antonio-based Kleberg Foundation, and Austin-based Tito’s Vodka.

“During 2022, we hope to partner with the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies to vaccinate the world. We believe that global vaccine equity is finally at hand and that it is the only thing that can bring the COVID pandemic to an end,” Hotez and Bottazzi wrote in a December 2021 article for Scientific American.

Houston research: How best to deliver unexpected news as a company

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According to Forbes, the volume of mergers and acquisitions in 2021 was the highest on record, and 2022 has already seen a number of major consolidation attempts. Microsoft’s acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard was the biggest gaming industry deal in history, according to Reuters. JetBlue recently won the bid over Frontier Airlines to merge with Spirit Airlines. And, perhaps most notably, Elon Musk recently backed out of an attempt to acquire Twitter.

It can be hard to predict how markets will react to such high-profile deals (and, in Elon Musk and Twitter’s case, whether or not the deal will even pan out). But Rice Business Professor Haiyang Li and Professor Emeritus Robert Hoskisson, along with Jing Jin of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, have found that companies can take advantage of these deals to buffer the effects of other news.

The researchers looked at 7,575 mergers and acquisitions from 2001 to 2015, with a roughly half-and-half split between positive and negative stock market reactions. They found that when there’s a negative reaction to a deal, companies have two strategies for dealing with it. If it’s a small negative reaction, companies will release positive news announcements in an attempt to soften the blow. But when the reaction is really bad, companies actually tend to announce more negative news afterward. Specifically, companies released 18% less positive news and 52% more negative news after a bad market reaction.

This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a method to the madness, and it all has to do with managing expectations. If people are lukewarm on a company due to a merger or acquisition, it’s possible to sway public opinion with unrelated good news. When the backlash is severe, though, a little bit of good PR won’t be enough to change people’s minds. In this case, companies release more bad news because it’s one of their best chances to do so without making waves in the future. If people already think poorly of a company due to a recent deal, more bad news isn’t great, but it doesn’t come as a surprise, either. Therefore, it’s easier to ignore.

It might make more sense to just keep quiet if the market reaction to a deal is bad, and this study found that most companies do. However, this only applies when releasing more news would make a mildly bad situation worse. If things are already bad enough that the company can’t recover with good news, it can still make the best out of a bad situation by offloading more bad news when the damage will be minimal. Companies are legally obligated to disclose business-related news or information with shareholders and with the public. If it’s bad news, they like to share it when the public is already upset about a deal, instead of releasing the negative news when there are no other distractions. In this case the additional negative news is likely to get more play in the media when disclosed by itself.

But what happens when people get excited about a merger or acquisition? In these cases, it also depends on how strong the sentiment is. If the public’s reaction is only minimally positive, companies may opt to release more good news in hopes of making the reaction stronger. When the market is already enthusiastic about the deal, though, companies won’t release more positive news. The researchers found that after an especially positive market reaction to a deal, companies indeed released 12% less positive news but 56% more negative news. Also, one could argue that the contrasting negative news makes the good news on the acquisition look even better. This may be important especially if the acquisition is a significant strategic move.

There are several reasons why a company wouldn’t continue to release positive news after a good press day and strong market reaction. First of all, they want to make sure that a rise in market price is attributed to the deal alone, and not any irrelevant news. A positive reaction to a deal also gives companies another opportunity to disclose bad news at a time when it will get less attention. If the bad news does get attention, the chances are better that stakeholders will go easy on them — a little bit of bad press is forgivable when the good news outshines it.

Companies may choose to release no news after a positive reaction to a merger or acquisition, the same way they might opt to stay quiet after backlash. They’re less likely to release positive news when stakeholders are already happy, preferring to save that news for the next time they need it, either to offset a negative reaction or strengthen a weak positive reaction.

Mergers and acquisitions can produce unpredictable market reactions, so it’s important for companies to be prepared for a variety of outcomes. In fact, Jin, Li and Hoskisson found that the steps taken by companies before deals were announced didn’t have much effect on the public’s reaction. They found that it’s more important for companies to make the best out of that reaction, whatever it turns out to be.

The researchers also found that, regardless of whether the market reaction was positive or negative, as long as the reaction was strong, companies could use the opportunity to hide smaller pieces of bad news in the shadow of a headline-making deal. Overall, the magnitude of the reaction mattered more than the type of reaction. People tend to have stronger reactions to unexpected news, though, so companies prefer to release negative news when market expectations are already low.

These findings are relevant beyond merger announcements, of course; they also point to strategies that could be useful in everyday communications. A key takeaway is that negative information is less upsetting when people already expect bad things — or when it comes after much bigger, and much better, news. Bad news is always hard to deliver, but this research gives us a few ways to soften the blow.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Jing Jin, Haiyang Li and Robert Hoskisson.