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.

------

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.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

University of Houston lines up entrepreneurship course featuring Taylor Swift's billion-dollar career

Cougar Red (Taylor's Version)

By any measure, Taylor Swift put on a masterclass with her Eras Tour this year — her Houston stop was a study in three-hours of pop-culture-perfect brand execution and fan frenzy.

Now, University of Houston is taking Tay studies to the next level with a new biz class.

Appropriately dubbed “The Entrepreneurial Genius of Taylor Swift,” the new class is part of the curriculum at coming to the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston next spring. Swfities who’re super “ready for it,” however, can get a jump on enrollment now.

Study “the 1” at a No. 1 institution

Though Swifties and Tay (and Travis) fiends will surely soak up every class hour, the program isn’t just for fans, the prof notes in a press statement. And Bauer College offers serious cred for current and new students, as its Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship has long ranked No. 1 in the U.S.

“You definitely don’t have to be a hardcore fan — a Swiftie — to learn and appreciate the entrepreneurial genius that has made Taylor Swift an international phenomenon,” notes Kelly McCormick, the Professor of Practice leading the course, citing Swift’s expertise in marketing, fan engagement, community building, and brand strategies.

Don’t hate, hate, hate, hate, hate on this Tay tutorial

Sure, Swift haters night hate on a Taylor course. But before they do, they should consider that at age 33, Swift boasts an estimated net worth of $1 billion, according to Forbes . And her aforementioned Eras Tour? Swift earned more than $780 million on the U.S. leg alone this year on the tour, which — by current estimates — cues her up to become the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time.

Her Eras Tour concert film also just became the highest-grossing concert film in North America, raking between $95 million to $97 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend — alone.

Taylor Swift Houston 2023 Eras Tour
Swift can flex a $1 billion net worth, per Forbes. Photo by Marco Torres/Marco from Houston


And then of course, her music acumen and savvy. In 2021, Swift smartly re-recorded a version of her album Fearless and launched a series of releases of her back catalog, in order to secure ownership of her first six albums.That move came after the masters (the original recordings) sold for a reported $300 million in 2019.

Here in Houston, as CultureMap reported , the Post-Tay Effect (we’re making that a thing) had a lasting economic effect, notbaly for areas pet and food nonprofits.

Hardcore business aside, the class Still, the course will be Taylor-made for Swifties. McCormick, who also serves as managing director for the university’s startup accelerator RED Labs , has themed each session around a different album — or Era, obvi for fans — of Swift’s career.

What to expect on the “mornin' of your very first day”

So, when students take a deep breath and walk through the door of their very first day (obligatory “ Fifteen ,” callout) they will score friendship bracelet gifts — a huge Swiftie phenomenon — and will be treated to surprise songs during breaks and even Easter eggs hidden in class content. (That’s a clever nod to Swift, who regularly hides clues, callbacks, and “oh yeaaahhhh” moments for fans in her music videos, album artwork, and social media posts).

As for the Tay inspo, McCormick says she has been a Swift fan since the early days of mega-hits “Our Song” and “Love Story.” But like so many who were blown away by the sheer Tay Machine during the Houston Eras Tour stop in April, the professor quickly noted entrepreneurship lessons to be learned over Swift’s in her 17-year career.

Taylor Swift Houston
The professor says Swift's dazzling Eras Tour stop in Houston inspired the class. Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images/Taylor Swift Twitter


“I saw the show and loved it,” McCormick adds. “And I realized I actually didn’t know that much about her career. I became absolutely enamored basically overnight and started getting into her whole discography. Taylor is truly impressive!”

She added: “Never have I ever — like ever — been so engrossed in someone’s career after so little time.” (Should anyone doubt all the Tay references, McCormick’s “never have I ever — like ever” comments is shoutout to Swift’s most popular singles, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Very clever.)

Travis-Tay included?

But perhaps the top Tay lesson is how to ensure satisfied customers.

“The number one business lesson students can learn from Taylor is the way she treats her fans,” McCormick notes. “She is beloved because she truly does so much to make sure they are happy, appreciated and feel like they are important to her. If every company acted that way about their customers — they’d have way more customers.”

Oh, and, no word — and we didn’t ask, for the record — if Kansas City Chiefs tight end/Swift squeeze Travis Kelce is part of the curriculum. Also no word if, to quote “ Fifteen ,” students will “sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail.”

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap .

Coworking concept delivers 28,000-square-foot expansion in the Ion

move in ready

The coworking space in the Ion has increased by 50 percent thanks to a recent expansion project.

Dallas-based Common Desk has officially delivered on its project to expand the coworking space in the Ion that it originally opened on the second floor two years ago. Now, coworkers have access to a total of 86,400 square feet of space, including newly opened space on the fourth floor. The company has agreed to a 10-year commitment to the Ion with the expansion.

“This expansion of Common Desk at The Ion was designed specifically to complement the existing amenities and serve remote and hybrid work styles," Austin Gauley, head of design at Common Desk says in the news release. "There's a variety of video conferencing room types—from multiple individual private rooms, to a large group presentation-style room—all equipped with state-of-the-art technology that is also user-friendly.

"We doubled down on outfitting our space with more art from local artists and creative works that reflect the community," Gauley continues. "Altogether, we've built a range of workspace solutions to fuel creativity and productivity."

Common Desk has grown in Houston over the past few years, opening its sixth location earlier this year. The Ion location is home to many Houston startups and entrepreneurs. Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space.

"Common Desk's expansion at the Ion is a testament to the community and experience we've created here," Jan Odegard, executive director at the Ion, says in the release. "Accessibility to connections and an array of amenities and resources continues to drive traffic for us, and we are thrilled to welcome the anticipated growth of new like-minded individuals coming to the Ion daily."

Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space. Photo via thecommondesk.com