Around 30% of women have a complex chronic condition like a hormone imbalance or autoimmune condition, and yet patient experiences across the board are being relayed as nothing short of “abysmal“.
Founded in 2020 by Jane Sagui and Sabrina Mason, femtech startup Pollie aims to change this. Their overall vision? To improve the health journey for all people with ovaries who are experiencing conditions catalyzed by imbalanced hormones like PCOS, endometriosis, hypothalamic amenorrhea, and more. They’re starting with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common painful and stressful condition that is misdiagnosed in 50% of cases, impacts more than 10% of people that menstruate, is the leading cause of infertility and increases the risk of developing other conditions.
The platform offers a personalised programme, including a dedicated care team, a variety of lab options, and educational content, all wrapped up in a personalised plan (with input from nutritionists, care coordinators, health coaches) that takes into consideration the goals, lifestyle, labs, and symptoms of patients.
This stellar femtech startup recently became a Growth Track finalist in the prestigious G4A Digital Health Partnerships Program, being selected from over 200 applications across 40 countries. We were happy to grab a moment to speak with Jane Sagui (CEO & Co-founder) and Sabrina Mason (COO & Co-founder), about women’s health, the ever-growing femtech sector, their Growth Track Finalist status, and their predictions for femtech and healthtech in the next 5 years.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Sabrina and Jane! Let’s start from the beginning of your journey with Pollie. What was behind your decision to launch?
Jane: When I was a freshman in college I was diagnosed with a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) after struggling with bad acne, hair loss, anxiety, and insomnia for over a year. My doctors at the time had no advice other than to try a different birth control pill and to return if I was having trouble conceiving in the future. After another year of extensive research and working with a PCOS specialist who was able to help me identify the cause of my symptoms I finally started to feel like myself again. While my PCOS is in control today, this experience catalyzed a passion for hormonal health. After becoming familiar with the digital health landscape during my time in management consulting and venture, I kept wondering why there was no startup solving for the problem of PCOS – so I decided to leave my job in March of 2020 to do this with Pollie!
Sabrina: I have many friends who have been diagnosed with PCOS throughout the years – and some continue to suspect they have it – but I never truly understood the implications until I dived into it with Jane. My background is in public health and my career has been focused on building programmes to improve quality and enhance the patient experience in healthcare. Once I fully understood how fragmented and confusing the patient experience was for PCOS (it takes an average of 3 doctors and over 2 years to get a diagnosis!), I knew that I wanted to join Jane to build something entirely new in healthcare to fix it.
Can you share some of the challenges you encountered when starting Pollie?
Jane: One challenge that excites us is reframing the conversation around PCOS and educating patients about the breadth in which it can impact our long-term health. People often define PCOS as a fertility disorder and while PCOS is the leading cause of infertility, it truly is a whole body chronic condition. It also gives people a 50% risk of developing diabetes by the age of 40 and increases risk for heart disease by 4x – 7x, endometrial cancer by 3x, and mental health conditions by 3x. Unfortunately, our medical system generally only treats it as an issue if a woman is experiencing infertility. When I was diagnosed there was no mention of these other risks, and we have heard the same experience from dozens of other patients. When it comes to chronic conditions, behaviour change really is king because these diagnoses do not just disappear for most people. Educating our members about the many ways PCOS can impact their life beyond family formation has been top-of-mind for us from the start.
Sabrina: There is a huge awareness issue! For example, 50% of PCOS cases go undiagnosed. That combined with misinformation makes it a very confusing patient journey for those who either know they have PCOS or are still trying to figure out a diagnosis. One of our main challenges and something core to our mission, is breaking down this misinformation and spreading awareness about PCOS. We are doing this through providing high quality evidenced-based information and creating safe spaces for people to share their experiences with one another.
As a healthtech/medtech startup that offers users connections with specialists and care teams, how did you manage creating these key partnerships and network, when starting out?
Jane: As a behaviour change-first platform, our PCOS Program currently leverages the support of dietitians and health coaches who specialize in PCOS. These credentials are more flexible than MDs when it comes to working across state lines and are also more scalable from a cost perspective. Within the year we will be adding physicians in order to expand our scope into diagnosing and prescribing. In terms of recruiting, these relationships have formed organically to date. We have an Instagram community of several thousand and many of these people are hormonal health specialists who have chosen to practice adjacent to the traditional healthcare system. While there will always be a market for 1-1 care, we have found that our mission to provide care at a lower cost via leveraging technology resonates with them and we in turn are able to offer these “provider entrepreneurs” with supplemental income.
Sabrina: Pollie is built on a virtual care model and we firmly believe that virtual care is making healthcare more accessible, efficient, and leading to better outcomes for chronic conditions, but there will always be the need for in-person care. We are building a network of trusted specialists who are on the ground that we can refer patients to for in-person care when needed. We view Pollie as a partner and supplement to OBGYN / traditional primary care (and not a replacement) and when framed that way we find that providers are extremely excited to partner with us to serve patients in their community.
You’re now a Growth Track finalist in the G4A programme. Could you tell us what this means for your startup?
Jane: We are thrilled to be working with the G4A program and we know their network’s expertise will be invaluable when it comes to proving the efficacy of our PCOS Program and integrating with the broader healthcare system.
Sabrina: We are honored to be part of the G4A program and looking forward to working with industry experts to help clinically validate our programs.
Femtech is growing in acceptance and (dare we say it!) popularity recently. What is your opinion on the state of femtech in Europe, and the US, right now?
Jane: It has been so exciting to see the women’s health space receive more attention in the past several years with PR and funding. That said, there is much work to be done. One misunderstanding we frequently hear is the tech community’s tendency to limit femtech to just a single category, which can inherently have a pigeonholing effect of how people view this market. We do not think femtech is niche, and my wish for the space is that companies that happen to provide a solution for women start to be considered as to how they relate to the broader healthcare system. While we of course anticipate conversion in the future, women’s health simply cannot be a winner-takes-all market, and multiple solutions with a variety of value props must continue to exist to maintain a superior patient experience – particularly in the US, where the existing system is so fragmented to begin with.
Sabrina: We are thrilled to see how femtech has grown in terms of funding over the past few years. The fact that women account for half the population, make 80% of healthcare decisions, and still experience a lack of quality healthcare resources is not acceptable, and we are glad to see over the past few years healthcare companies finally addressing women’s healthcare needs. Unfortunately, like Jane said, at times it can feel like femtech is siloed from the rest of the health tech space. We’re excited at the potential of more partnerships between complementary women’s health players as well as femtech companies becoming more ingrained with large payer, provider, and pharma incumbents who have a powerful influence on today’s healthcare system.
What do you foresee for the sector in the next 5-10 years?
Jane: We seem to be seeing a new wave of virtual care solutions in the women’s health space. This is very exciting for us: complex conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid imbalances, and autoimmune issues require a different type of care than an annual visit with your OBGYN or a visit to an urgent care clinic. While integrative care models and quality on-demand care are both important, these earlier players have much to compete with in terms of physician network, health system, and minute clinic incumbents. Seeing solutions that are similar to Pollie validate that now is the time to disrupt this space, and we think their presence from a funding and traction perspective will only increase in the next 5-10 years.
Sabrina: I think over the next 5-10 years there will be a huge focus on diagnostic tools. This will make it easier, cheaper and faster to diagnose conditions that have often been underserved. These tools will be extremely complimentary to virtual care solutions like Pollie.
Finally, what advice would you give to yourself as an entrepreneur 5 years ago?
Jane: Don’t feel like it is too early to start working on something you are passionate about. Timing is never perfect to start something, and building is the best way to test and learn.
Sabrina: Continue to surround yourself with people who have different skill sets and expertise than yourself. These individuals will be the ones who will make all the difference when you start to build a company.