In these two next episodes we’ll be speaking with amazing women with a very big vision, about something that is relevant in a direct & indirect way to 100% of people - which is sex, sexuality, FemTech and other topics related to women’s health. This will be an open, honest & educating conversation that is important for every woman as far as she is a woman/investor/manager, and nor the less - for any man that has a woman dear to him in the business & personal world; and to investors - that needs to pick up the glove and invest money into this arena - because it relates to all of us.
Orit is an experienced lawyer in the financial sector. 4 years ago, Orit decided to pursue her two great passions: technological innovation and investments, and co-founded NEOME - the first Israeli female angel club. NEOME consists of 60 women investors from a variety of different worlds of content, background & knowledge.
Since then, they invested in 11 startup companies in the fields of HRtech, e-commerce, life science, digital health, EdTech, FoodTech - and these days, they are working on their first FemTech investment. 3 months ago, NEOME had their first exit, 3 years after they invested in Donde Search, which was acquired by Shopify.
Inbal holds aPhD. in immunology and is the Co-founder & CEO of Gina Life.
She has more than 10 years of experience in the worlds of drug development and diagnostics, mainly with an emphasis on cancer and autoimmune diseases, both in Israel and in the United States.
Inbal believes that there’s room for more impactful developments in the worlds of women’s health, and with her mission to fight cancer in mind, she partnered with Dr. Shlomit Yehudai-Reshef, the company's founder and Chief Scientist - in order to establish Gina Life and enable early diagnosis for a variety of diseases in the field of women's health, the first of which is ovarian cancer.
Rebecca is a strategic designer, senior lecturer in design thinking at Tel Aviv University School of Business, entrepreneur and Co-founder & CEO of Aquafit-Intimate, together with Vered Italiano as a CTO & Varda Messer as a COO.
Aquafit-Intimate is a company for products & services for women’s sexual health in self-care, that are desinged for 40% of women who expirience vaginal pain during intercourse, in all ages - young women, women of childbearing age, menopausal women, or after gynecological surgeries or estrogen-reducing cancer treatments. In their company they also combine applied science, usability & behavioral change to make sexual health approachable for women.
In an intimate & fascinating conversation, we talked about sexuality, sex and women’s health, on their life journeys as women entrepreneurs and early discovery of cancer.
>> Bursting the bubble
Orit shares about her discovery through her work at NEOME, that we as women are half of the population, and yet - we are not a part of the clinical trials. The tritments & the vaccines we get are not tested enough on women before to ensure their safety, and are not adapted in any way to a woman’s body. It hit her that - for her & her daughters’ future, she must find a way to change that.
She was then exposed to the concept of FemTech, which is any technological solution designed to improve women's health or quality of life.
A crucial thing to remember about the importance of FemTech, is that while they relate to women's bodies - it is not only about women.
When a woman is not healthy or feeling well, it hurts the employer financially as well, beyond the effect on the family. The effect it creates around it is much deeper and wider, and society & companies need to be aware and face this issue.
It’s not easy for us to discuss these topics. It's taboo. To talk about sex, about how we feel, even as women - we don’t feel comfortable speaking about it with one another, and sure enough after that with professionals, which a lot of them are men.
From the side view of an investor, Orit shares that when she speaks to other investors about startups that are trying to work through & solve issues in the field of women’s health, they look at her with misunderstanding - is that really a big deal?. “For years as women we haven't talked about these things because we were embarrassed, and how can you later find a solution when no one knows that there's an issue to begin with?”
Allegedly everything is already clear and known. But no! Women get to the ages of 30-40 and don’t understand what is happening to them & their bodies.
>> From a personal path to an entrepreneurial journey
Orit was still an attorney in the capital market, far away from FemTech. She had the privilege to bring companies to IPOs and it brought her to understand the lack of women in this industry, and after a thorough investigation with Inbal Polak, her first co-founder at NEOME, they realized that the shortage is not only in female investors, but also in the fact that the map for investing today reflects the taste and whishes of a very specific part of the industry. Even if we look at it from our human nature point of view, it’s natural for people to invest in others who resemble them & they feel they can connect with. We see a greater challenge for women in raising funds, to advance and become a unicorn. We also see studies today that show that women have better results when they are leading companies.
In NEOME, they invest in products & services that improve women's lives. VCs always say- “follow the money”, but sometimes women still don’t have the knowledge or courage to come to the front of the stage and take financial responsibility, and it’s one of the added values that are very crucial for driving the economy forward. These combined efforts, that NEOME takes part on, create the whole that is larger than the sum of its parts, a chain of value from helping women invent technologies, to women investing and women wanting to manage their money in a much better way.
>> Taking control over our medical treatment
Rebecca shares that to some extent, her work in the field stems from a desire to establish some order in the world. In the field of women’s health, she realized that the world is not yet at the place she wants it to be.
Rebecca had uterine cancer at the age of 48 - she experienced on her own flesh the medical failures and their fatal impact, when in her case it was an abnormal pap smear, which the result was not passed on to her.
A few words about cervical cancer that are important for you to know - it is one of the only cancers that in early detection can be avoided. It starts with the papillomavirus (HPV) and has a range of strains - some of them violent. 80% of men and women have this virus throughout their lives, as we can be infected as soon as we start having sex. Sometimes it is in a "dormant" state in the body, and following such and other changes it erupts. Sometimes it passes on its own, and sometimes medical intervention is required.
In general, there is so much ignorance about the symptoms that women go through, and the conversation should start with talking about female physiology and health in the female segment, from menstruation to menopause. Today most of the discussions are concentrated on pregnancy & childbirth and much less on other physiological mechanisms. In Aquafit, Rebecca shares that they find that with some doctors, there's a treatment for a specific symptom, instead of searching and treating the root problem, and there's no exposure to the information of the consequences for the different treatments and their costs. There is a huge gap between what we need to know about ourselves, and what we actually know.
So what is our place in this given situation, as women? no one can take care of ourhealth, other than us. Each and everyone of us needs to simply decide the quarter of the year in which she does the tests for everything she needs, because the control over our life is in our own hands.
Inbal adds, that if something is bothering you - insist on it. Find the doctor that will go with your intuition & needs and will do whatever they can for you to be healthy. Because if it’s not done - it can cost lives.
And Orit points out that it’s not only that women don’t know, but also that the field as a whole has not been explored. There is a lack of information and access that starts from medical school - there is gynecological medicine, but there is no comprehensive women’s health department - it should be understood that just like a child is not a small adult, women are not like a little different men.
The more we raise awareness and bring women to key roles, the more we can change our reality for the better.
Rebecca shares about the medical procedure that she's gone through -
“They sent me home with a vaginal dilator that looked like plastic, and I needed to put gel on it and go home. As a product designer, I looked at it and thought to myself, that there wasn't any thought given to the consumer experience. And the options were - to use it, or I won’t have any sex life. I started searching for an alternative.”
When I asked her how she faced the complex experience of the treatments, Rebecca replied that it wasn’t difficult because she made sure there was always healthy communication she produced with her medical team, in a way that suited her. When she came across people who were less informative, she simply reflected that to them. She took ownership over her life & her treatment and was assertive to get to her wanted results.
This ability is relevant to every entrepreneur - if you're walking to a room, and you don’t know how to read the room and the people in front of you - it prevents you from stepping up as an entrepreneur. It’s not just assertiveness or being sensitive, it’s entrepreneurial maturity in every field.
>> From a personal loss to finding your inner fire
Inbal shares that when she was a child, her parents found out her older sister has Prader-Willi Syndrome. She grows up with her sister, where she's technically the younger one, but practically the oldest, and the gap between them gets wider and wider. They always had a very close bond, and Inbal realized that not only is she the big sister, she will also accompany her as a mother and grandmother.Her sister will always need her.
In 2010 her sister was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, she is 34 years old at age but 12 years old mentally.
Inbal had just finished her PhD,, and she understands that she wants to bring innovation to patients in her life. They go through four difficult years, which ends with Inbal giving birth to her youngest son and three weeks later losing her sister.
In her sister’s last days they sat in her room, listening to the song “Adama” by Ofra Haza, realizing that her sister will unite with it soon, and in that moment Inbal promises her sister that she will do everything she can within her power to avenge this disease, that took her too soon.
There’s the coping of the patient himself/herself, and there is also the family & friends around and their own coping with the struggles of their loved one’s disease. We have to accommodate and make room for those feelings and struggles as well, it’s another issue that we don’t talk about enough.
"She dies and I'm left with guilt and great sorrow, and I think of Newton's second law which says very simply - the force you exert on an object is the force acting back on you. There's what I feel - if I do not turn it into something good, it will kill me."
Two years later she connected to Shlomit, who shared her idea with Inbal for dealing with ovarian cancer - and Inbal just knew she’s in the right place.
Many times I find myself having this conversation with entrepreneurs, who avoid bringing their personal story into their professional life - because it feels uncomfortable, because there's this inner voice telling them that they are “using” their story, because raising money for the company turns their personal pain into commercialization. And it's crucial to understand and set the record straight - we are not commercializing something bad that has happened to us for our own profit. This is not our goal. What we do have as entrepreneurs is the opportunity to make an impact from our own personal experience, where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
In the next episode, we’ll continue with the journeys of Orit, Inbal & Rebecca.