Jane Van Dis, Assistant Professor Obstetrics & Gynecology
Can you introduce yourself and tell me about your current role?
I’m Dr Jane van Dis; I’m a board-certified OBGYN and an Assistant Professor in Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. I’m also an advisor to multiple start-ups in the health tech space, a FemTechII Lead at Portfolia and an Advisor to the London accelerator, FemTechLab.
I started advising companies in 2016 with FLEX, a US-based period product company. They have successfully redefined period products, giving women more options than the traditional tampons and pads. After working with FLEX, I went on to advise the Maven Clinic, which is the largest U.S. women and family virtual telemedicine platform. Maven provides over 25 different types of practitioners in a virtual telehealth setting. The majority of Maven’s business is B2B, given they sell into employee benefits, but they do have a D2C option as well. I started advising Maven in 2017 and I became Medical Director in 2018, and I was in that position until June of this year.
Working in that capacity was an incredible learning opportunity in digital health, especially considering how nascent the field of women’s digital health is, thus, great opportunities for thinking through clinical ROI and product integration of key principles in women’s and maternal health.
I have been working in telemedicine since 2011. I was one of the initial health practitioners at HealthTap. In 2018, I started advising Modern Fertility, an incredible women’s health tech start-up that offers ‘at home testing’ for hormones relating to fertility, ovarian function, and thyroid. They were recently acquired by Ro, a leader in pharmacy and direct to consumer health. Ro also announced last week they had acquired Kit, another home testing company.
Bobbie Baby, Bea Fertility and more…
In 2019 I came on with Bobbie Baby, a US-based infant formula company. Bobbie’s recipe is a European-style organic formula that not only meets FDA requirements, but is organic and sourced. This is a style of formula that a lot of women in the U.S. are importing, and now Bobbie has given them the opportunity to have a U.S.-based manufacturer, at a lower price point. This is the formula I wish had been available when I had to supplement my twins due to insufficient milk supply.
I also advise Beá Fertility, based in London; a medical device company helping couples that are going through a fertility journey. The device has the potential to provide a lower cost and lower tech solution for couples before heading directly to IVF. I am also a Lead at Portfolia’s FemTechII fund. This year so far we have invested in Joylux , Madorra, Nest Collaborative and others. It’s an outstanding experience and my colleagues are incredible.
Last fall, I joined FemTechLab, based in London. This is an accelerator programme that started in January of 2021; our first demo day was in May of this year. We were able to help many great companies, a lot of them from the UK, but I was particularly excited about Fertility Circle. We have another cohort that will be starting in fall, in September. Applications are currently open for that cohort. I also have another company in Singapore that I am advising which is a medical device company that is coming into the US that helps with foetal monitoring.
I have two companies myself, I have Equity Quotient which is an equity analytics company. We have developed a tool to measure equity analytics in healthcare, but we have also taken our tool outside of healthcare; and we provide equity consulting. Our clients have included large medical groups with 500 to 700 physicians, a non-profit outside of healthcare, as well as pharmaceutical companies who are looking at how to build and provide metrics for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Lastly, I have a company called OB Best Practice, which with OBG Project, an online research tool for OBGYNs. We write chapters and provide information that ObGyns and Midwives need at their fingertips. The product is designed for the phone, and has the latest updates for our specialty.
What inspired you to begin advising start-ups?
In 2015 I was at home on a Sunday with my kids, and a friend posted on her Facebook page that she had used an app called Heal. This is an app in the U.S. that brings a doctor to your house like a traditional house call. I thought this was so fantastic! Let’s say you’re like me, a single mum and you have one kid that’s got a cough or sick and you don’t want to bring your whole family to urgent care – it’s so much easier to bring a doctor to your home.
So, I contacted the founder of Heal and asked if she needed any OBGYNs, she didn’t; however she was at a tech conference a few weeks later and she recommended me to Lauren Schulte who is the founder of FLEX. So, I interviewed for that position, and I got it. I really loved entrepreneurism and I love the idea of bringing innovation – especially to Women’s Health products. This is a sector that is oftentimes ignored and dismissed; I love that we bring women options.
What challenges do you think startups face in the FemTech space?
Without sufficient numbers of women in the ecosystem, I think that oftentimes women entrepreneurs struggle with getting traction around addressing the needs of women. There is this element of having to ‘convince’ the audience – whether VCs or the public – that the problems women face are true and real. One in 10 women in the U.S. suffer from endometriosis, and yet it is a disease that often is poorly misunderstood – even by ObGyns – and women tend to wait a long time before their symptoms are heard and treated. There are limited products and therapies that are available for women who have endometriosis. You have something that affects millions of women and yet for reasons of our culture, lack of research dollars, gaps in medical education, the patriarchy, we haven’t had enough funding, treatments and therapies for this condition.
The same is true for incontinence and pelvic floor, the list goes on. We also have a healthcare ecosystem that sometimes doesn’t listen effectively to women’s problems. I think it’s a complex pipeline issue where we need our funders to pay for research and give researchers the ability to test hypotheses. We then need companies to come forth from that and then ideally create products or therapeutics that improve women’s lives based on science and evidence.
How has the increase of digital health affected the way that you work?
At the moment I have a unique experience in that I work clinically at night-time. I help women who are on labor and delivery, which is most of the time the happiest day of their life, though sometimes, sadly, there can be tragedy as well. So, my clinical practice is solely in the hospital. When I think of innovations in the area where I practice clinically, it’s in improved safety for women on labor and delivery, procolization and process improvement. Protocols, algorithms and standardization on labor & delivery go a long way to saving women and infants’ lives
At Bea Fertility, what was your main work there?
They’re working very hard at the manufacturing components and getting the device exactly how they want it. I have worked with them to help them find connections, and obtain a market here in the U.S. So, right now, going through the FDA process, I’m helping them with their study design for U.S. sites so that we can validate the safety of the device in our application to the FDA.
One thing I think that attracts people to founders is that I’m a networker; and have a background in business, public speaking and writing. I feel sometimes that in the femtech industry, there can be ‘predatory entrepreneurship’; meaning ideas are put forward that don’t have any – or limited – scientific support for their claims; that are not based in evidence.
I think it is really important to have medical experts who will make sure that if we’re going to be talking about a supplement, a cream, a therapeutic, a new device, it isn’t just adding cost and confusion to women and the healthcare system. Importantly, does it have real clinical value? While it’s really important that thought leadership make sure that new products and services in women’s health have a chance to get funded and supported, it’s also essential that we make sure these services and products and therapeutics have scientific evidence behind them.
What would you like to be doing in your career over the next few years?
I really enjoy working in venture; the professionals and colleagues I meet are inspiring, and, importantly I love meeting new entrepreneurs. I’m fascinated by their journey, how they started and what obstacles they’ve overcome; and how they’re solving problems in women’s health. I can see myself staying on the investor side and helping companies grow. I find it fascinating and really rewarding, personally, so that’s the direction that I would like to move in. My advisory roles are the highlight of my day. And I love my own companies too, I think that I am making a difference!
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