Women’s Health Investment: Top Trends, Issues, and Opportunities (2022)

Women’s Health Investment: Top Trends, Issues, and Opportunities (2022)

Women’s health is finally starting to get more attention from innovators and investors—but there’s still a long way to go. As a female-founded company, we’ve long been focused on the urgent needs in this area. After speaking with numerous women’s health investors, innovators, and advocates at the Current State of Women’s Health Roundtable (sponsored by Goodwin’s Women’s Health+Wellness practice) and within our own network, we’re encouraged by the small wins, but know there are large opportunities and challenges that still need to be addressed.  Here are some key takeaways. 

Women’s health is for life—not just for reproduction.

An article by our webinar moderator Chrissy Farr, principal at OMERS Ventures, points out that a woman’s reproductive years make up only about 30 of a typical 80-year lifespan—yet that’s where most investment tends to focus. 

Farr and other webinar panelists emphasized that there are big unmet health needs all through a woman’s life, and that innovators and investors who take a broader, more holistic view of women’s health will find many more opportunities to make a difference. Yet in the first nine months of 2021, only about 7 percent of venture funding in digital health was directed to women’s health.

Investors and innovators should look for the “white space.”

This phrase came up often during the Goodwin Roundtable; it refers to areas that have traditionally been underfunded but which offer major possibilities for improving health and meeting market needs. 

Menopause care is one “white space” that is ripe for disruption. There are 50-some different symptoms that women may experience, which means that there are many entry points for improving care. Other major areas of unmet need include behavioral health, osteoporosis, endometriosis, and cardiac health. 

Early detection of ovarian and uterine cancers is another white space; many of the companies focused on early cancer detection (e.g. Grail, Exact Sciences, Guardant) focus primarily on colon cancer. Women’s health needs its own early detection solutions. 

To pitch women’s health to investors, focus on normalization and storytelling. 

On normalization: It’s natural for investors to relate most easily to innovations that address issues that they’ve experienced personally—which can be problematic when most investors are men. (And unfortunately, that remains the case: Last year, only 2 percent of venture funding went to female-founded companies, the lowest amount since 2016.)

Successful founders find ways to make women’s health issues relevant to men. “Even if men can’t relate to a particular health issue personally, surely they know that it affects them by way of the women in their lives,” said Kaitlin Christine, founder and CEO of Gabbi. 

On storytelling: Showing how a solution can affect individual lives is important, but so are numbers:  Emphasizing the market potential in areas that an investor may not be familiar with can break through a sense of indifference or irrelevance, said Marina Pavlovic Rivas, founder and CEO of Eli Health. 

Involve clinicians early and often 

As in other areas of digital health, it can be challenging to introduce a new women’s health technology into a clinical environment. “It’s step by step,” said Pavlovic Rivas, of Eli Health. “If it’s not on the market, you need to validate that there is an unmet need. Then involve clinicians in evidence generation for the technology, and for application of the technology into the environment where it will be used. And you need to do that work pre-market.”

Remember that women’s health affects everyone.

“I think we are on the cusp of a transition to a broader recognition that women’s health issues are human health issues and affect all of us.” – Paxton Maeder-York, founder and CEO of Alife Health. 

Mona Schreiber

Mona Schreiber, VP of Marketing, MDisrupt

Mona is a marketing leader with over 15 years b2b experience developing new healthcare markets. Prior to joining MDisrupt, she was an early marketing lead at Invitae Inc, where she helped scale the company from small startup to market leader in the nascent genetic testing industry. She brings with her a deep understanding of global markets from her international marketing work at Invitae and Affymetrix.

At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it market quickly. We do this by uniting digital health companies with experts from the healthcare industry to help them accelerate their time to market responsibly.

Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development: This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.

Breaking Down Barriers to Care

Breaking Down Barriers to Care

Aaron Shapiro

MDisrupt Expert Aaron Shapiro, MD, MPH, EDAC, is a primary care physician focused on improving health equity. In a world where many people lack access to appropriate care—whether because they live in underserved areas, face discrimination in accessing care, don’t have the right technological resources, or have been systematically excluded from clinical trials and genetic databases—he is working to bring down the barriers experienced by marginalized populations.

Building multifaceted expertise

MDisrupt: Tell us about yourself.

Aaron Shapiro: I’m a primary care doc finishing up my residency in Primary Care Social Internal Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. I grew up in Maryland, went to medical school at Brown University, got my Master of Public Health focused in Healthcare Leadership and Management at Johns Hopkins, and got my Evidence Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC) from the Center for Health Design. EDAC is a professional certification awarded to practitioners who have demonstrated competency in applying evidence-based design principles to healthcare contexts.

I’m moving home to the DC area to settle in as a primary care doctor at an inspiring Federally Qualified Health Center in a high Health Professional Shortage Area, about half of which will be through their Health Care for the Homeless branch.

Connecting clinicians with industry-changing innovators

MDisrupt: What’s your perspective on the state of digital health today?

Aaron Shapiro: I am constantly inspired by the advancements of health technology. But as a primary care doctor working in underserved areas, serving people historically marginalized by our government and capitalist-driven healthcare systems, I am regularly disenchanted that these innovations often don’t make it to the clinics I work in. There are many reasons for this, stemming from the disenfranchisement of communities of color through years of racist redlining policies and exclusively revenue-focused business models that do not identify low-income communities as sufficiently profit-generating.

MDisrupt: How do you see health technology impact your everyday work?

Aaron Shapiro: Health technology has become ubiquitous in healthcare. But my profession is slow to change. We still have vestiges of very old technology slowing us down. Our professional culture is far from one that embraces rapid adoption of new workflows. So even when a new technology is introduced, it’s often done in a very targeted, siloed way that mutes its potential for large-scale system wide progress.

As someone fascinated by healthtech and healthcare innovation, I get very excited learning about the inspiring, innovative work so many are doing to improve healthcare delivery. But so much of this work is done in a traditionally proprietary fashion. So very little makes its way to my patients in under-resourced health systems.

Bringing innovation where need is greatest

MDisrupt: Tell us about some solutions you’re working on to make a difference.

Aaron Shapiro: Nowadays I spend most of my time thinking about how we can adapt and implement high quality health service innovations for those who need them most.

So I founded an initiative called Differential Design, which seeks to harness the power of healthcare technology, management, and design as tools to advance health equity and justice. There’s this enormous potential to help existing healthcare providers provide better care. But there are so many barriers to them having the resources, time, and experience to be able to identify the appropriate tools to improve the efficiency and quality of their service delivery—let alone implement them, let alone imagine doing that on a shoestring budget. But I think there’s so much potential in this space!

For example, we recently launched clinici.wiki, a free crowdsourcing initiative to help primary care providers more efficiently practice patient-centered, evidence-based medicine, even in high-volume clinics with limited resources. And after implementing a huge Knowledge Management System project at the clinic I currently work in, we are now in the process of making that work accessible to everyone at no cost through The [Your Clinic] Wiki project, so that any and every clinic can adopt efficient health technology work-flow support regardless of budget, management capacity, or healthtech experience.

MDisrupt: What got you interested in MDisrupt?

Aaron Shapiro: I really appreciate MDisrupt’s focus on pragmatically getting tech and innovation-minded practitioners to join these potentially industry-changing teams with the hope to decrease harm and maximize impact.

And I do see the ecosystem starting to change. I see more and more companies adopting the triple aim—defined as improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita healthcare costs—as central to their innovation work. And I think large healthcare systems, including government payers, are starting to listen.

Toward a more inclusive future

MDisrupt: What do you see as the future of the healthcare system?

Aaron Shapiro: I see a future where health technology is used to ensure quality healthcare services for everyone, regardless of income, education level, or historical disenfranchisement by our government and capitalist healthcare-industrial complex. I see a future where health technology allows us to return healthcare to experiences of healing, safety, and comfort.

Find Aaron on twitter: https://twitter.com/aaronmshapiro

At MDisrupt, we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We connect digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our experts span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development: This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.

What makes a great CMO? Emergency medicine physicians are the answer

What makes a great CMO? Emergency medicine physicians are the answer

Douglas Bernstein, MD

Dr. Bernstein is the Director of Clinical Operations at the Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center Emergency Department, in Richmond, VA. He attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, followed by internship in General Surgery at Duke University Medical Center, and residency in Emergency Medicine at Yale New-Haven Hospital. His predominant areas of administrative interest include process optimization, clinical operations, billing and documentation, and regulatory compliance. He enjoys recreation with his family on the James River, and is making a quixotic attempt to learn guitar.


Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), whether in nimble health startups or mature companies and healthcare systems, are most effective when they command a broad set of organizational and communication skills. Of course, a qualified CMO must possess clinical experience and direct knowledge of the practice of medicine. What distinguishes an exceptional CMO is her array of executive and soft skills.

Does she communicate clearly and efficiently with different stakeholders? Does she inspire confidence, trust, and loyalty from her team members? Can she be relied upon to take responsibility for critical decisions, even with imperfect information? Will she demonstrate initiative, take ownership of multiple simultaneous projects, and meet deadlines?

Companies and organizations seeking a CMO should strongly consider physicians with specialized training in Emergency Medicine (EM). The clinical expertise, team leadership, and organizational proficiency necessary for both roles map well onto one another, making experienced EM physicians prime candidates for executive leadership positions. Here’s why.

Decisiveness with Imperfect Information

EM physicians operate in a unique environment within medicine. Critical information is often unreliable or scarce—patients are often unconscious or delirious and their medical records may be unavailable. Idiosyncratic social, legal, and ethical concerns frequently complicate the clinical scenario and require individualized problem solving. Specialist physicians, hospital beds, imaging, and various resources may be difficult to come by. Significant time pressure and constant interruptions typify the Emergency Department; extreme multitasking is the norm, not the exception. With patient stretchers lining packed hallways and an unrelenting stream of ambulance arrivals, EM physicians in a busy department don’t do two things at once, they do twenty. (Sound like a startup?) Within this dynamic and complex environment, EM physicians rely on heuristic reasoning, clinical expertise, and creative problem-solving to make diagnoses and treat every conceivable medical situation, with zero tolerance for failure.

Soft Skills Matter Most

Beyond being a well-trained and smart doctor, an effective EM physician is an expert in communication and leadership. Patients and family members are often experiencing one of the worst times of their lives and may be skeptical of a strange doctor, or have limited medical literacy. Yet, to forge a therapeutic relationship, the physician needs to be able to immediately assess their emotional and cognitive needs to put them at ease and earn their trust. Most of the time, this simply starts with open-ended listening (studies show that most doctors interrupt the patient’s history within about 20 seconds; with that low a bar, any physician can be a stand out listener).

Meanwhile, to lead a diagnostic and treatment process efficiently and safely, the EM physician must gain the loyalty of diverse team members: nurses, technicians, and other physicians, who may need to be cajoled or convinced into getting out of bed in the middle of the night to attend to a specific issue. And never forget the janitor (who may be the linchpin to getting a soiled room turned over), the secretary (without whom timely calls to consultants won’t be made, delaying patient care) and the late-night cafeteria worker (mine is named Theresa; I call her “Mother Theresa”).

An EM physician who is a courteous role model and instructor for the nurses will find himself valorized and exceptionally supported. When he needs the nurses to prioritize a task, they will be there for him (“Sure, doc, I’ve got her next in line for the CT scan.”) A physician who is haughty, aloof, denigrating, or unfriendly will find himself stymied (“I’m doing five different things right now—I’ll draw those labs whenever I can get to it.”)

Emergency Physicians Understand the Healthcare Landscape

Imagine a blind man in a room who walks endlessly, probing and exploring with his fingertips. Eventually, he will know every nook and cranny like the back of his hand, allowing him to “see” the room.

An EM physician starts as the blind man. As she treats tens of thousands of patients of every age, for every medical and traumatic condition, she will be forced out of necessity to explore the boundaries and contours of the medical system. She will figure out how insurance status affects outpatient follow-up and admissions. She will experience how regulatory metrics and billing practices drive documentation and medical decision-making. She will see how reimbursement rates and private practice contracts lead to access—or lack of it—from specialist consultants. In Emergency Medicine, figuring out who is going to manage a 10-year old boy’s testicular torsion, or the large abscess on an intoxicated man’s jawbone, or a wound dehiscence from a spine surgery that was performed at a different hospital, is part of the normal routine. No other medical specialty is like this. A cardiologist or gastroenterologist, for example, while possessing a depth of knowledge in a particular corner of medicine, does not have to contend with the broader landscape in this way.

The Emergency Department is a type of crucible. The infinite social and medical complexities, combined with the unyielding need to figure out solutions to complex problems, as more patients stream through the door 24/7, forces EM physicians to probe the nooks and crannies of our healthcare system. Out of that crucible are forged physicians with a unique set of problem-solving skills and a knowledge of how the American medical system actually functions (and sometimes, how it doesn’t).

The Right Tool for the Job

The Swiss Army Knife is famous the world over for its remarkable array of useful tools. There is something addictively charming about these tools, which stems from the aspiration built into them—to be prepared for every situation—which is probably why they have become a classic coming-of-age gift. I still have the one my father gave me on my Bar Mitzvah, which we clumsily engraved with “Doug” on the small blade, and “Dad” on the large blade.

It is also why EM physicians have come to be known, among all medical specialties, as the “Swiss Army knife of doctors.” EM specialists possess an exceptionally broad range of clinical, communication, and management skills, developed by necessity in a work environment where they must rapidly confront and overcome the infinite complexities of patients who may be 3 minutes to 103 years old.

Similarly, chief medical officers need command of a variety of skills to be effective and strategic executives. The CMO will be communicating with internal team members and external partners. He may be navigating complex regulatory and investment environments. He will review data and assign out tasks, and follow up on them. He will juggle multiple—and sometimes competing—stakeholders, while delivering on short term projects and long term strategic goals.

Given the need for parallel skill sets that combine hard knowledge of clinical practice, the landscape of the American medical system, and the soft skills of persuasion, multi-tasking, and team leadership, the Swiss Army knife of physicians is often the right tool for the role of CMO.

At MDisrupt, we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We connect digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our experts span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development: This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.