Before 1993, clinical healthcare research was focused on men and women’s unique needs were ignored. The lack of investment in research carried forward to the underfunding of startups focused on women’s wellbeing. This leaves the needs of more than half the population unexplored and underserved.
Imagine the ROI if funding for research and startups aimed at women’s healthcare was available. Just one slice of the market is postpartum products, which are expected to reach $3.44 billion in worldwide sales by 2028, according to Grand View Research.
In 2017 three friends—Mia Clarke, Eden Laurin, and Aubrey Howard—gave birth and commiserated about how difficult their after-birth experiences were. “We were really let down and disappointed by the lack of recovery products to help us with our postpartum healing,” sighed Clarke, chief creative officer at Nyssa. “We’ve got to do something about this!” they decided.
The fourth trimester refers to the 12 weeks after pregnancy, and attention moves from the mother to the infant. Women don’t usually see their doctors for six to eight weeks after childbirth. It can be a very vulnerable time for new mothers. They experience substantial physiological, social, and emotional change without much guidance. Science has proven that chronic, low-grade inflammation can turn into a silent killer that contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions, writes Ilona T. Goldfarb, MD, MPH in Harvard Health Publishing.
In 2019, the three women launched Nyssa to address their needs after giving birth to their children. Ellen Kellogg, a business colleague of Clarke’s, joined in 2020 as a founding partner and became the chief strategy officer at Nyssa. The four used their money, and money from friends and family, to fund the development of the first femtech products. Later, Howard stepped away from the company in 2022.
The first product—FourthWear Postpartum Recovery Underwear—is pocketed under panties, enabling women to insert ice/heat therapy where postpartum bodies need it most.
“We hit the ground running in 2020 with a broad portfolio of products,” said Laurin, CEO at Nyssa. The portfolio included FourthWear Postpartum Recovery Underwear, FourthWear Postpartum Recovery Bralette, and three uniquely shaped ice/heat packs. Then the pandemic happened. “We couldn’t have all our eggs in one basket.”
“Whether it’s our product offerings, suppliers, distribution channels, shippers, marketing—diversification became paramount,” said Kellogg. “We view it as a protective measure for our business because things have been so volatile in the past couple of years.”
“Being so nimble has been extremely challenging with a lean team,” continued Kellogg. With limited human and financial capital resources, “we are constantly prioritizing.”
Nyssa’s products expanded to include body awareness and period comfort. Body awareness products include VieVision, written about in Forbes. The between the legs mirror is helping shed the longstanding taboos around discussing and understanding women’s body parts.
Fundraising in 2020 became more challenging than it had been, so generating revenues became more critical.
The original plan was to sell direct-to-consumer, seeking retail distribution later in the company’s development. They made the strategic decision to sell some products through CVS. In early 2022, Nyssa started selling Reusable Breast & Chest Ice/Heat packs, Reusable Uterine Ice/Heat Pack, and Reusable Between Legs Ice/Heat Pack nationwide. Its Organic Postpartum Pads are in a test run.
“Social media, advertising, and marketing all changed in a really short amount of time,” said Laurin. “Content is incredibly important,” said Clarke. “We have a huge opportunity to shape the conversation around unmentionables and all of these taboo topics in women’s health.” Podcasts and blogs are a way to connect women to experts. She writes as a journalist about women’s health issues, including her own traumatic experiences.
The social unrest caused by the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd awakened VCs to the opportunities that DEI should play in their portfolios. In 2021, VCs became interested in Nyssa, but all too often, the startup wasn’t a fit for the VC’s investment thesis. Fortunately, some VCs invested as angels and referred them to others. People involved in healthcare were particularly interested in investing in Nyssa.
Values alignment became a filter by which the Nyssa team evaluated relationships. As much as the startup needed capital, the team decided not to take money from a VC when the firm insisted that they had to be the only investor. Nyssa is all about diversification.
The team dropped male legal and accounting teams not because of their skills but because they didn’t understand the unique obstacles that female-founded startups faced.
How are you diversifying your company?