I have one big regret as an entrepreneur in women’s health: that I didn’t start sooner. There are so many deep female needs that can be translated into business opportunities that we can spend an entire generation – or two or three – addressing them.
I believe that we women have a duty to start companies that benefit other women. I didn’t always feel this way. When I was pregnant in a full-time MBA program, I was dissuaded from a “stressful” investment banking job by a well-meaning colleague – a tough, former Israeli fighter pilot – who told me that I was better suited for human resources. He went onto the trading floor and I was determined to succeed as a woman in my chosen profession of life sciences management consulting.
Here I am, nearly two decades later, telling female entrepreneurs that they should focus on women’s needs. Shades of the fighter pilot you may ask? Yes and No.
Yes, I have overcompensated for often being the only woman in a boardroom and in doing so, overlooked many great women-centred business opportunities.
No, because my message is different.
It’s not about things women can’t do, but about what women should do because we can.
There are so many highly neglected female needs that aren’t addressed due to taboos or societal biases. Subjects such as vaginal atrophy (shrinkage) after menopause, which is an issue that my company, Damiva, addresses with our product line. There are fertility and personal problems that women face as they seek to build careers and families. The topic of this article is from a talk I recently gave at a Women 2.0 Technology Meetup, started by Shaherose Charania in 2006, when she found herself the only woman at technology networking events. Women 2.0 is now a worldwide women-focused networking phenomenon, active in the U.S., U.K., Latin America and Canada.
I started Damiva because I knew little about aging and female health despite graduate degrees and a career in pharmaceutical drug development. I didn’t know that 85% of women in menopause have vaginal dryness or that atrophy can lead to a host of other problems, including intimacy, incontinence, pain during sex and annealing (closure) of the vagina. I thought that a business focused on a highly taboo topic and huge unmet need could be successful. Our rapid product launch and rise in the North American retail space has validated our business model. Every day, I am rewarded with stories of women who are able to live better using our vaginal product.
Satisfying women’s needs can be highly financially rewarding, witness the sale of organic baby food manufacturer Happy Family to Danone in 2014 for $250 million. Busy mothers are the true beneficiaries, as 69% of women continue to make the grocery buying decisions. Happy Family redefined “women’s work,” creating a profitable business out of making organic baby food.
There are many opportunities for women to improve their business and personal worlds. In a survey of 248 performance reviews across 28 companies, women were often criticized for being “abrasive,” a word never applied to men. These criticisms of women are highly entrenched and espoused by men and women. The “office housework” that is the subject of Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s article entitled, “Madame CEO, Get Me a Coffee,” is very familiar to many of us. In the health arena, despite the fact that over 200 million women in North America and Europe are nearing or post-menopause, there are very few good solutions for menopausal symptoms except for hormone therapy. There still isn’t a male birth control pill, 55 years after the female version launched in 1960. There are at least 18 FDA approved erectile dysfunction products for male libido and none for women.
History shows that inclusiveness leads to healthy growth in community and society. Satisfying women’s needs must play a central role. If you have a great idea that focuses on women, let’s get started!