Last week I spoke to Mitzi Krockover, MD, Managing Director and Co-Chair of the Health Sector Committee at Golden Seeds, an angel investment collective that invests in early-stage female-led companies in the United States. An internist (‘a medical specialist in internal diseases’) by training and practice, Mitzi has had a fascinating journey to Golden Seeds meandering through various academic, clinical and corporate posts, though she “never stopped being passionate about women’s issues and their health”. We spoke about her life and the future of FemTech at the ungodly hour of 7am Pacific Time (thank you): her breadcrumb trail through all things women’s health, how the attention on FemTech is indicative of women’s desperation for targeted and integrated solutions, and the changing role of physicians in a market shifting to B2C.
“I didn’t go to develop a women’s health centre, I wasn’t looking to be an academic or corporate officer, and I never thought I’d be an angel investor; it just fell in to place because of my interest and being open to things. It’s all about timing and being open”Mitzi Krockover
Mitzi was on faculty at the UCLA School of Medicine in the mid-90s when she encountered any academic’s dream. Iris Cantor, a well-known philanthropist and women’s health enthusiast, expressed an interest in founding The Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center. Mitzi was soon drafted in to build the business plan and subsequently direct it. The centre garnered a lot of attention due to their calibre of world class researchers and physicians and their unique approach to integrating the delivery of women’s health primary-care with specialty care. Mitzi says of this time that it was “professionally the most gratifying of her life”, and in 1997, it was recognised as a ‘National Centre of Excellence in Women’s Health ’ by the Department of Health and Human Services.“We were very lucky, we provided an exemplary women’s health centre to our patients, making it as simple as possible”.
The centre was trailblazing. They were able to provide an integrated clinical care and education for both their patients and the physicians and researchers. Dr Susan Love, an esteemed surgeon, author and head of the Breast Centre, said to Mitzi ‘I want you to come and teach at the breast centre so you know what we’re doing, and we want our residents to come to you to know what you’re doing’. The result: a one-stop shop for patients to access world-class women’s health expertise, and a faculty of world-leading researchers and physicians all learning from each other.
It was an instant hit: “women were hungry for a female physician and for someone who was focused on their lifestyle. It was the perfect storm – we had an incredible faculty, financial support, and it was a need that wasn’t being met, and what’s amazing to me is that it still hasn’t been met 25 years later.”
Mitzi then considered how business could transform women’s health, using her clinical expertise to fund, provide resources for and mentor female entrepreneurs. She wasn’t just emotionally invested in women’s health; as an angel investor she could become financially invested in this space too. There are 3 areas that Golden Seeds tend to fund: B2B enterprise technology, B2C and healthcare, “everything from life sciences to consumer wellness and everything in between”. She says Golden Seeds has “increased her perspective exponentially” and aligns with their philosophy of combining investment with her own philosophy of “educating women about women’s health and connecting the research that’s going on around it”.
There is a lot of undoing our society needs to do. Through books like Invisible Women, investment firms like Golden Seeds, and the innovation we’re seeing in the FemTech sector, we are beginning to spotlight and undo the ‘unthinking’ of a history of ‘male-as-default’ thinking. The effect of having a backdrop of biased medical trials and gaps in education and data around women’s health is that women are distrustful of a medical system, a proponent that should exist to support. As a result, Mitzi tells me, women have been so frustrated that they have turned to alternative health such as homeopathy and acupuncture: “women are more likely to take something that is not tried, true or vetted but are open to it because somebody was listening to them”, and because it wasn’t coming from a seemingly exclusive medical system.
“Women have always taken less than optimal options because the medical establishment has been either unresponsive or in some cases even abusive”Mitzi Krockover
The Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Centre’s success was due, in part, to women being hungry for solutions and voting with their wallet for products and services; one of the many reasons FemTech is experiencing its current boom. Mitzi worries that people will exploit this willingness to spend as this is what has caught the attention of the investors: “I want to make sure we don’t exploit women to make shortcuts. It doesn’t mean everything needs clinical trials, but I’d love to educate consumers and have some kind of metric for that”.
As the menu of options widens, she believes there needs to be a piece alongside to vet these options. She mentioned The FemTech Collective in Oakland who are actively stocktaking FemTech products and have plans to evaluate them for the public. “There needs to be services to sift through things. If you have enough things on the shelf and you know which is the best, you can make your own suite of services”.
We discussed where physicians play in this space, especially one that is moving increasingly towards a B2C model. “Physicians are historically slow adopters. They will become less important unless they’re knowledgeable. They need to always be thinking how they can adopt new technology into their practices and how they can vet solutions”. Mitzi thinks that HealthTech in general, like AI, should enhance doctors rather than replace them. We are seeing COVID propelling unprecedented change in the healthcare system; Mitzi thinks that “women’s willingness to use these products and services because they’re not getting it elsewhere is pushing things forward” in FemTech in a similar way.
“There is a changing role for physicians; they should be enhanced by technology, not replaced by it”Mitzi Krockover
We will still need procedures, educated diagnoses and someone with a knowledge of the whole menu of things rather than what’s being sold to you via the market. “There’s always room for good science, and [a physician] with good knowledge but also the humility that they don’t know everything”. The beauty of the women’s health centre was integrating delivery and education of women’s health, and she hopes that physicians will do the same.
Mitzi is in a relatively unique position: she bridges the worlds of investment and science which don’t necessarily always align. I asked what it was like to spend your life campaigning for more of a focus on women’s health, and to be watching the world finally wake up to its importance. Although “delighted in a lot of ways about what’s going on in FemTech”, Mitzi says she’s somewhat apprehensive too; “You’re always looking at products and services that can be monetised and, though important, if we’re looking at FemTech as an indicator of women’s health, it scares me because it can be defined that narrowly”.
Though FemTech has homed in on particular areas such as reproductive health and incontinence, Mitzi believes more light needs to be shone on primary care.
“I hope that we’re more expansive in looking at where the pain points are; we need to look at issues that are there from a systemic and process standpoint that need to be addressed. FemTech is one tool to do that, but it’s not THE tool.”Mitzi Krockover
We finished by discussing the activity in FemTech across the world, and how much it varies inter- and even intra-nationally. In Israel, for example, it’s nascent. It has gained traction in Western areas because we share a common language, but our culture is definitively more open in this area than Eastern counterparts; “even within America, it’s fascinating how differently a Hispanic individual may talk about reproductive health vs an Asian individual, for instance”. We agreed that one undeniable positive to FemTech is that it gives women permission to speak about things in public that were unthinkable even a few years ago. Mitzi attributes Western FemTech adoption to our momentum behind closing the diversity gap in the workplace: “The more we get women in leadership positions, the more this stuff becomes less taboo.” In destigmatising the culture around women’s health, FemTech can address systemic issues and, we hope, contribute to a global push for gender equality.