After growing in Chicago and raising funding, Partum Health selected Houston to expand its femtech platform. Photo via Getty Image

A startup dedicated to comprehensive pregnancy, birth and postpartum care has expanded from its Chicago birthplace to Houston.

Last summer, Partum Health raised $3.1 million in seed funding, which makes it possible for the company to begin a nationwide expansion. That begins in Space City.

“We looked at states where there is work to do on outcomes for maternal health. Texas rose to the top and Houston, in many ways is fairly close to Chicago, our home city. The really thriving healthcare ecosystem attracted us as well,” CEO and Co-Founder Meghan Doyle tells InnovationMap.

As a mom of a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old herself, Doyle says that she experienced the gap firsthand in what’s available to women beyond what her obstetrician or midwife does.

“You had to work really hard to cobble together the care you needed. It was a matter of putting together my personal experiences of realizing it’s not just me, it’s systematic,” says Doyle. “I couldn’t get that problem out of my head.”

Neither could her co-founder and head of operations, Matt Rogers, a father of twins whose family had to navigate the NICU and life-threatening complications. They started working together on the business in earnest during the COVID shutdown and debuted Partum Health at the beginning of 2021.

Partum has begun partnering with obstetricians and midwives to help select complementary care that includes lactation support, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health services, nutrition counseling and doula care. What’s unique about the plan is that, from aiding in behavioral health problems to addressing nutritional issues, the user’s team is distributed around the Houston area and are fully virtual. Physical therapy and other services that must be done in-person may take place either in-home or at third-party locations.

“We’re still in the process of credentialing with insurance companies,” says Doyle.

In Illinois, Partum is already working with BlueCross BlueShield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna for clinical care, so Doyle says she is confident that those companies will soon follow suit in Texas.

While hiring a team in Houston that includes a client care lead, Doyle says that Partum is simultaneously providing services and getting to know the market better. They’re also building more bundled models of care to better assist users in their new landscape.

Doyle and Partum Healthcare participated in the Ignite Healthcare Network’s 2023 program, which concluded last week with a pitch competition. Ignite helps female healthcare founders to connect with mentors and other industry experts that will help them navigate the health tech ecosystem. Doyle was one of nine finalists, but did not place in the top three. But she says the program has helped prepare her for success nonetheless.

“In our world, you’re always pitching,” she admits.

The next steps for Partum include a 2024 rife with expansion. Because building relationships with insurance happens on a state-by-state basis, the company will be able to help women around Texas soon after the company is comfortably established in Houston. The Dallas-Fort Worth area will likely be first, followed by Austin and San Antonio.

“We know there’s a huge gap in access to care that may mean evolving a little bit and reaching out across the state,” Doyle says.

Last month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported that 90 percent of the state’s pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. With access to care like what Partum provides, those complications could become a thing of the past.

A Houston founder is introducing you to ema — a GPT-based chat platform and your new best friend in women's health. Photo via Canva

Exclusive: Houston startup rebrands to provide AI chat tool focused on women’s health

meet ema

Amanda Ducach set out to create a platform where mothers could connect with each other socially, but when she launched SocialMama just ahead of a global pandemic, she soon learned there was a bigger market need for access to information surrounding women's health — from fertility to menopause.

After pivoting her femtech platform to include women's health experts, she realized her technology wasn't able to completely support growing user base. The platform, which was called SocialMama, saw users engaging with experts in similar ways — and as Ducach looked into growing the platforms users, she realized that 24/7 access to experts was going to be hard to scale.

"We noticed that most of these conversations were repetitive," Ducach tells InnovationMap. "You had women asking an expert about tracking ovulation a hundred times a day. Having an OBGYN answer that question a hundred times a day was crazy and just not scalable."

Ducach says that about 16 months ago, her team took a step back to recreate the platform incorporating GPT technology. GPT stands for generative pre-trained transformer, and is a family of artificial intelligence language models most recently made popular but ChatGPT developed by OpenAI.

Now, after building out the platform, Ducach's company has rebranded to ema. The AI-based chat tool — named from the three letters in the middle of "female" — is meant to feel like texting "your childhood best friend who became an OBGYN physician," Ducach says. Not only can the chat provide crucial medical information, but it has a memory and can pick up conversations where they left off to be a constant resource to users.

The new platform, deemed ema, operates as an AI-based chat for women to engage with. Screenshot courtesy of ema

"Ema can answer everything from, 'how do I improve my baby's latch,' to 'how to I get a diabetic-friendly brownie recipe,' to 'give me an affirmation that's spoken like Snoop Dog because I'm feeling sad today,'" Ducach says.

Ducach first described the evolution of the company to AI-based communication last summer on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Now, the platform is gearing up for its launch next month and plans to raise seed funding this year to double her current team of 10 people to support the company's growth. Ducach, who was accepted into the Techstars Austin program in 2021, also says she's looking for more beta users in the meantime, and those interested should reach out to her or her team.

Ultimately, Ducach says the mission of ema is to democratize access to women's health care so that women feel supported and just a few taps away from important information.

"Barriers to care for women who face socioeconomic disparities is where you see the need for change," Ducach says. "For us, it's reducing those barriers of care. Ema is always in your pocket. You have access to her 24/7. The way that ema is really structured and her purpose is to catch red flags so that we can then help the female user get to positive health outcomes."

Amanda Ducach founded the company in 2019. Photo via Twitter

Houston-based Work & Mother is growing. Photo courtesy of Work & Mother

Houston-based femtech company announces first locations outside of Texas

growing tech

Houston-based Work & Mother, which outfits commercial buildings with lactation accommodations for working parents, announced this month that it has entered into an agreement to open two new lactation suites outside the state of Texas.

The company will open suites in two commercial office buildings in Boston, Massachusetts, and Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. The new suites are expected to be completed this summer.

Work & Mother currently has suites in Allen Center, The Jones on Main and Four Oaks Place in Houston, as well as East Lake at Tillery in Austin and Lincoln Centre in Dallas.

The Work & Mother suites allow parents to book time to pump in a private room in the comfortable, well-designed suites through the Work & Mother app. Each private room is equipped with a hospital-grade pump, milk storage bags, sanitizing wipes, and other supplies while the full Work & Mother Suite lounge area includes cleaning stations and refrigerated milk storage.

The suites also serve commercial properties and employers by providing them with the resources to adhere to federal labor laws—as well as reduce HR risks, and retain female employees—by having a dedicated space with lactation amenities for employees.

When founder and CEO Abby Donnell spoke with InnovationMap in 2021, she said that Work & Mother was planning for national expansion.

"We look forward to supporting more new mothers' return to work and providing the real estate services that office tenants and landlords need in a post-pandemic world to promote wellness, flexibility, and inclusion in the workplace," she said.

In addition to the new location in Boston and Arlington, the company is planning locations in San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and New York, according to Work & Mother's website.

The company is also adding new services for working and lactating parents through a recent partnership with Nest Collaborative, a national virtual lactation consultation platform, announced last month.

The partnership will provide Work & Mother app users with access to Nest Collaborative's board-certified lactation consultants through telehealth appointments, available seven days a week.

The services through Nest Collaborative are part of Work & Mother's resource center called The HUB, which also provides career and personal coaching, mental health resources, and downloadable guides.

"We are confident that our partnership with Nest Collaborative will have a measurable impact on the breastfeeding success rates of parents who work outside the home," Donnell said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to broadening our ability to support working parents at any time, anywhere."

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

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

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 98

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

guest column

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.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.