How to Build Women-Led Healthcare Businesses

When women lead companies, they outperform others without any female leadership, but only two percent of venture capital goes to women CEOs and just 13 percent goes to a company with one woman on the senior leadership team. But women make 85 percent of consumer purchases and 80 percent of health decisions, so why isn’t there more investment in women-led businesses in the healthcare field? True Wealth Ventures partner Kerry Rupp cited the statistics above in an effort to answer the question while sitting on a “Health by Women for Women” panel at Dallas Startup Week, hosted by Health Wildcatters.

Rupp was joined by Lauren West, COO of Consortia Health, Gail Page, Executive Chair at NX Prenatal, and Dr. Lindsey Harper, Founder and CEO of startup Meet Rosy.

The goal of the panel was to discuss how women-led healthcare businesses can tap into funding and grow, discussing the challenges and opportunities for expansion. Harper discussed the prevailing opinion about women’s health, especially as it relates to sexual health. “Traditionally, society, and us as women, say it is just part of life and to get over it. But when it comes to men’s sexual dysfunction – the world is going to end, because men are making those decisions. ‘I will give you all my money to fix ED,'” she said.

One major hurdle is helping the men who control the funding to understand women’s health issues and the great opportunity they have. “Venture Capital is heavily male driven, and it is hard for them to relate to something that doesn’t impact them,” said West. “They aren’t experiencing the physical or medical issue, and it’s hard to explain what it feels like, or embarrassing. Men don’t understand it or believe it is an actual problem.”

Page recounted her time working on Wall Street and being outnumbered by men. “I never had to wait in line for the bathroom on Wall Street,” she says.  She described how she had to shape her pitches to appeal to the men making the investment decisions. “I couldn’t get through two slides because no one cared. I had to adjust the way I talked about it. How do I approach them in a manner in a way that reached them?” she said, describing how she showed an image of a cut open women’s body while fundraising for a company that addressed ovarian cancer. “It was up me to change how I was approaching and get their attention to get them to invest. At the end of the day, we all care, but those people are investing because they feel like they can get a return for their investors.”

She further described how an emotional connection could benefit a pitch. “I would ask if they have pre-term babies, and I never had to talk about the technology. I focused on the data and the market. It is all about learning how to connect with your audience,” she said.

Rupp described how she looked to local investors in Austin, where her company is based, before trying to convince VC firms in New York or San Francisco. “We showed that the local market supported us. 90 percent of our funding was in Texas, and 80 percent were women investors.”

The reality is that women-led businesses are often seeking funding from male decision makers, and an audience member asked how to avoid merely imitating men and making the pitch and the company authentic. “Women set realistic projections and overdeliver, but when fundraising and selling, it’s time to talk about best case scenario,” Rupp says. “It’s not lying, but selling best case scenario. Spin the answer to how big it can be.”

Page once thought about getting rid of her southern accent when making pitches, but was advised to be true to herself. “Embrace who you are, use it to your advantage,” she says. “What is unique about you? You know more about what you are talking about than anyone else.”