Healthcare has seen impressive advances in technology but what might come as a surprise is the number of women whose research and investment lies behind them. Here are just five.
By Bonnie Boglioli-Randall (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
Women in technology may remain a minority, but that hasn’t stopped them from flocking to the fast-evolving landscape of health tech. Bringing their own brand of savoir-faire to address a variety of issues old and new, they innovate, problem-solve and collaborate to create uncommon opportunities.
Given their penchant for helping others and the voids to be filled that an industry in flux presents, it’s little wonder that there are more female-owned businesses in healthcare than any other single industry.
The women below represent a slice of those tackling obstacles in wide-ranging areas including digital health, wearables and biotech. Though they are as diverse as the technologies they stand behind, their shared passions urged them into new frontiers – carving out pathways for themselves, their peers and ultimately for healthcare consumers.
Co-Founder & CEO of Lumo BodyTech Avid athlete and veteran entrepreneur Monisha Perkash has long known the benefits of a healthy posture. It wasn’t until technologist and back pain sufferer Andrew Chang discovered the rewards while taking classes from Perkash’s spinal physician husband that the light bulb went off in her head. “When I saw the profound impact that postural movement had on Andrew’s life,” she says, “I knew that Lumo BodyTech would be my next calling.”
Perkash and Chang joined forces with physician-turned-entrepreneur Charles Wang to found the company in Palo Alto in 2012. Following the success of a stellar crowdfunding campaign and its first wearable postural feedback product, the company’s second gen wearable – the sleeker, design-savvy and feature-laden Lumo Lift – is due out later this summer.
Like many women innovating in the health space, Perkash places an emphasis on heterogeneity. “I seek talent from a pool that extends beyond the typical start-up jockeys,” she explains. “Having a diversity of people is a competitive advantage because people who are different from one another bring more ideas to the table and challenge each other’s thinking.”
VP of Operations at Mango Health Leveraging her experience in the mobile gaming space, Caitlin Collins risked leaving an industry she knew well to join a budding health and wellness app targeting patients on a prescription and supplement regimen. She cites the diverse consortium of former game industry veterans, Googlers and healthcare platform developers as her biggest lure.
At Mango Health, Collins and crew whip up their gaming-meets-healthcare recipe to encourage deeper user engagement with medications vis-à-vis a slick smartphone app. Seeking to decrease staggering prescription non-adherence rates with classic gaming incentives, Collins cites better patient outcomes as the inspiration behind everything she and her fellow Mangos do.
“We believe that if you are taking medication or supplements, you should be both motivated and proud to take them correctly,” says Collins. “That's where better health starts for millions of us.”
M.D., Ph.D., CEO of OvaScience Coupling scientific know-how with entrepreneurial acumen, Dr. Michelle Dipp may be young, but she is one of biotech’s leading female innovators. A decade ago while Dipp was still pursuing her degrees at Oxford University, the discovery of egg precursor cells challenged the consensus on women’s biological clocks.
Following a successful track record in R&D at GlaxoSmithKline, Dipp leveraged her entrepreneurial skills to co-found OvaScience in 2011. The company’s patented technology (which is still in development) utilizes a woman’s own precursor cells to greatly improve IVF success rates, particularly for women over the age of 35.
In addition to her role at OvaScience, Dipp thrives off the many hats she wears. Offering her insight to several healthcare advisory boards, she serves as a founding partner of the Longwood Fund which invests in healthcare companies.
Dipp is bullish on what her female counterparts can offer to science and biotechnology. “The list of female CEOs is growing within and outside of our industry,” says Dipp. “I believe that speaks to the wide-spread recognition of the abilities and accomplishments of so many women today.”
Co-Founder & CEO of SweetWater Health Ronda Colliers pivoted away from her career as a senior director of engineering in the high tech sector in search of something fresh, challenging and altruistic. Cashing out old stock money to earn an M.A. in Psychology, Colliers studied the direct correlation between stress and our biochemistry. “Stress is the weak link in our chain,” explains Colliers. “90 percent of chronic diseases are related to it.”
Together with two fellow women geeks-turned-entrepreneurs, Colliers co-founded SweetWater Health in 2011. The company’s smartphone app helps uber athletes and everyday Janes alike monitor and manage their stress by tracking heart rate variability (HRV).
Colliers and others believe that HRV sheds light onto how we cope with stress, and may be a key indicator for a range of additional health issues. To Colliers, SweetWater Health’s bottom line extends beyond their financials. “We know we’re going to be successful any way we look at it,” she says. “We’re doing something good for people.”
Founder & CEO of Theranos The tale of the 19-year-old prodigy Stanford dropout who applied for a patent on a wearable patch that administered drugs and monitored the bloodstream is fast becoming Silicon Valley lore. Recognizing that advancements in old-fashioned phlebotomy could provide early diagnosis and detection along with greatly reduced healthcare costs and increased consumer access, Elizabeth Holmes is turning health diagnostics on its head.
Now 30, Holmes leads the helm of the company she founded in 2003 with technology that is considered revolutionary. Using infinitesimal amounts of blood compared to traditional draws, Theranos provides quick, efficient and full bloodwork results for hundreds of tests that can be run in combination, thus eliminating trips to the lab. The company also provides full cost transparency along with price tags that are a small fraction of typical hospital lab charges.
“We’re building the first consumer healthcare technology company,” Holmes told the Wall Street Journal last year. “Patients are empowered by having better access to their own health information, and then by owning their own data.” Expect to see Holmes’ brainchild at a Walgreens near you soon, where Americans from coast to coast will have access to fast, affordable lab testing for the first time ever.
What other women should we keep an eye on in healthcare tech?
About the author: Bonnie Boglioli-Randall is a Silicon Valley-based freelance writer with a predilection for covering the startup ecosystem, helping tell the stories of nascent technologies and organizations. She’s an enthusiast of non-fiction (of the sort that make most people’s eyes glaze over), running and her family. She’s always up for a good conversation. Follow her on Twitter at @BonnieBRandall.