Female-focused telehealth startup, Teal Health, is popping up today to announce an $8.8 million seed round with a roster of heavy hitting investors on board — including (Serena Williams’) Serena Ventures, (Chelsea Clinton’s) Metrodora Ventures, and (Laurene Powell Jobs’) Emerson Collective.
The February 2020-founded San Francisco-based startup’s first product will be a service that supports women to collect their own sample for cervical cancer screening in the comfort of their own home.
It wants to tackle the problem of women not getting screened — either because the traditional route of going to a doctor’s surgery for a pap smear (using a speculum) is uncomfortable or inconvenient or both.
Teal has developed a novel device for women to self collect a sample to mail off for lab analysis. Its websites refers to this device as a “collection wand” — and we gather there’s a sponge involved — but details of what exactly it looks like and how it will function remain under wraps as the startup is still in the process of applying for FDA clearance, per Teal’s CEO, Kara Egan.
She also can’t say when exactly they’ll be able to launch a service — as that depends on its application for “de novo” FDA clearance. “We hope to be in the market soon,” is all she’ll say on that.
The startup previously raised $1M in pre-seed funding, back in early 2021, which it used to refine the design of the product — working with the IDEO design agency.
“What makes our product unique, I would say, is the idea that it’s designed to be very intuitive and increase confidence and the accuracy of the sample,” Egan tells TechCrunch. “And that it gets pap smear — it gets cervical cells.”
After a chat with her team members, to confirm what else they can say at this point, she also offers: “This design makes it simple for a woman to collect her own sample quickly and comfortably. The device is inserted similarly to a tampon, the device contains a soft sponge tip which is rotated to collect cells. The whole collection from undressing, reading instructions, collecting, and packaging to send to the lab via the mail should take less than 5 minutes.”
Another important detail she can disclose is that Teal’s collection method will allow for samples to be tested for primary HPV and Pap cytology triage — meaning the startup will be able to support follow-on triage of women who do test positive for HPV (aka, the virus that’s linked to cervical cancer). So it can provide a fuller service for cervical cancer screening care.
While it’s starting with cervical cancer, the broader mission for Teal is to build out a women’s telehealth platform in the US — which will offer a range of services that traditional healthcare might be happy to hand off to a dedicated female-focused provider. So the core focus for the startup is on developing a fully attentive, female-friendly service wrapper.
Egan argues there’s huge potential to create a compelling, modern telehealth service for a population that’s typically been underserved by traditional healthcare.
“We know that self collect will increase adherence — without a doubt,” she says. “But there’s an opportunity here to actually create something that women are missing… So much of healthcare is an inconvenience for people — and especially for women who are working and are mothers. They just put themselves last. So we’re kind of like hey — let’s design this and fully cater it to women.”
“So many things have been designed by men for women,” she adds. “Women have hated this experience [smear testing] — you run the spectrum of hate it, fear it, literally don’t go because of it and tolerate it, but there’s no one who’s like oh that felt good or that was fine… So we have this opportunity to be like, hey women, for once we’ve built something for you — and also be like let’s design an experience that brings that back into their healthcare, that makes them feel trusted.
“Don’t just throw it in a plastic bag and mail it to them. Use this as an opportunity to open the door back up and say it can be better from here on out — and that’s kind of what we think about. This is such an incredible opportunity to do something so important. Truly you can eradicate cervical cancer — with screening coupled with vaccine it doesn’t have to exist. That’s a goal; that really can happen. But — simultaneously — we can actually build something that helps the key decision maker in the household stay healthy and make healthier choices and do it in a modern way.”
Egan used to be a VC and she also talks up the sheer commercial opportunity in smartly addressing women’s health.
“I spent my time in healthcare investing before too and I’ve never seen an entry point like this. I’ve never seen a situation where it’s all women — 25 to 65 mandated screening — a universally disliked current experience and then an experience that the doctors are also willing to say if you can do it another way for them I’m happy to,” she says. “And it’s something so big and meaningful. It’s cancer — and we can really make a dent in it.”
So how did Teal land such a line-up of high profile women investors for its seed round? What tips does she have for other female founders looking for help to get a great idea off the ground?
“Having more women out there as decision makers in these funds, obviously, is so helpful,” she notes. “A lot of times women’s health is considered ‘small’ — like, are you kidding?! It’s half the market… So it’s just finding people. And then just like the general advice — it takes a while. Until you find your ones. It does take time even if you have a great [network].”
As she chews over the question a little more, Egan lands on another tidbit of fundraising advice for pitching traditional VC that boils down to: Remember you need to pitch a company, even if (maybe especially if) the cause is great…
“Truthfully, the big reason I think I was very successful at it is I was a VC before. So I understand how to create the slides that tell the story from the viewpoint of an investment. And I think that especially, for things like this that can be misconstrued as like a charity effort… So the point is when it comes to investing what I was lucky about is — and why I know this opportunity is do incredible is — I was able to frame it as an investment even though it’s also something so important,” she says.
“And I think, sometimes founders, when they’re really working on something so important, it can come off as more of ‘a cause’ than a company.”
Commenting on Metrodora’s investment in a statement, Clinton added: “Solving massive and critical health issues, including adherence to a national cancer screening, requires innovative solutions with expertise across the entire healthcare landscape. Teal understands this complexity and is well positioned to take on the challenge through its dynamic team and strategic partner base, which spans health policy, cancer research, technology, consumer brands, and more.”
Women keen to be first in line for Teal can join its waitlist to get details about a future product launch — via its website: www.getteal.com.