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

femtech focus

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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Report: Houstonians lose days-worth of time each year due to rush hour

not in the fast lane

Traffic is a part of life in Houston. But a new study quantifies just how much time the average Bayou City dweller spends sitting in rush hour gridlock every year—and the results are eye opening.

According to a study released this month by CoPilot, Houstonians lose nearly four days of time each year due to rush hour commuting.

The report found that rush hour extends Houstonians' commute by an extra 22 minutes per day. Annually, that totaled an additional 91.6 hours commuting due to rush hour.

This earned the Houston area (including the Woodlands and Sugar Land) a No. 8 spot on CoPilot's list of cities where commuters lose the most time to rush hour.

Evening commutes saw the highest increase in time in Houston, with the average commuter spending 14 additional minutes on roadways due to rush hour. Morning rush hour in Houston added about eight minutes to commuters' daily drives.

Houston was the only Texas city to make CoPilot's list of the top 15 cities that lost the most time to rush hour traffic. New York drivers lost the most time to rush hour, which adds about 32 minutes to daily commutes and 132 hours a year, according to the report. Los Angeles drivers lost the second-most time, followed by urban Honolulu, Miami, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The report found that drivers in Houston spend about eight more minutes commuting during rush hour than the average driver in the county. That totals to about 30 more hours per year than the average U.S. driver.

Commute times have been dropping nationally, reaching a low of 25.6 minutes in 2021 compared to 27.6 minutes in 2019, as more workers have transitioned to hybrid schedules or working from home, according to CoPilot

In 2020, Houston drivers even witnessed a 33 percent drop in traffic compared to in 2019, according to a study from Rice.

Still, Houston roadways are consistently ranked among the most congested in the country. Last year, a similar study found that the typical Houston driver wasted 46 hours due to traffic congestion.

Portions of the 610 West Loop are notorious for being ranked as the state's most congested roadways, and other stretches of roads are known as some of the worst bottlenecks in Texas.

Houston-based creator economy platform goes live nationally

so clutch

An app that originally launched on Houston college campuses has announced it's now live nationwide.

Clutch founders Madison Long and Simone May set out to make it easier for the younger generation to earn money with their skill sets. After launching a beta at local universities last fall, Clutch's digital marketplace is now live for others to join in.

The platform connects brands to its network of creators for reliable and authentic work — everything from social media management, video creation, video editing, content creation, graphic design projects, and more. With weekly payments to creators and an inclusive platform for users on both sides of the equation, Clutch aims to make digital collaboration easier and more reliable for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to bring our product to market to make sustainable, authentic lifestyles available to everyone through the creator economy," says May, CTO and co-founder of Clutch. "We’re honored to be part of the thriving innovation community here in Houston and get to bring more on-your-own-terms work opportunities to all creators and businesses through our platform.”

In its beta, Clutch facilitated collaborations for over 200 student creators and 50 brands — such as DIGITS and nama. The company is founded with a mission of "democratizing access to information and technology and elevating the next generation for all people," according to a news release from Clutch. In the beta, 75 percent of the creators were people of color and around half of the businesses were owned by women and people of color.

“As a Clutch Creator, I set my own pricing, schedule and services when collaborating on projects for brands,” says Cathy Syfert, a creator through Clutch. “Clutch Creators embrace the benefits of being a brand ambassador as we create content about the products we love, but do it on behalf of the brands to help the brands grow authentically."

The newly launched product has the following features:

  • Creator profile, where users can share their services, pricing, and skills and review inquiries from brands.
  • Curated matching from the Clutch admin team.
  • Collab initiation, where users can accept or reject incoming collab requests with brands.
  • Collab management — communication, timing, review cycles — all within the platform.
  • In-app payments with a weekly amount selected by the creators themselves.
  • Seamless cancellation for both brands and creators.
Clutch raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Capital Factory, HearstLab, and more. Clutch was originally founded as Campus Concierge in 2021 and has gone through the DivInc Houston program at the Ion.

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch. Photo courtesy of Clutch