UC Berkeley Founder Tackles Women Healthcare Head On, Starting with Accessible, Tech-driven Birth Control

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UC Berkeley student Amy Fan is passionate about women’s health: it’s the reason she quit her job and pursue a double master’s in public health and business. Now, she has joined forces with a healthcare expert, Bruno Van Tuykom and co-founded Twentyeight Health, a women’s health start-up that aims to make birth control, and ultimately healthcare, more accessible for women. Having previously seen technology disrupt the health space, Amy and Bruno are using an online platform to make birth control easier, accessible, and a more enjoyable experience for women.

 

Tell us about your background and your co-founder.

Before I came to UC Berkeley, I was the general manager of a direct-to-consumer beauty brand in New York. My passion is understanding people and putting myself in the shoes of those we are trying to serve. That is what I loved about working in the beauty industry - our consumers were so passionate about our products! As the GM, my role was to be empathetic, understand our users’ pain points and how our products could alleviate them. From the user insights, I translated the learnings into product development, marketing, and communications strategies. I wanted to take this passion and apply it in healthcare, an industry where nearly every individual has had a friction-filled experience, to improve the experience of using healthcare services and ultimately impact patient outcome. So, I came to Haas to transition into women’s health and am doing a Master’s of Public Health and an MBA.

I met Bruno and we realized that we have complimentary backgrounds. He was a Principal at the Boston Consulting Group where he worked with healthcare clients in biopharma, and he also spent several years at the Gates Foundation with a focus on healthcare access in developing markets, including reproductive health. He’s seen how technology can disrupt and provide healthcare in more accessible ways in developing markets, and was inspired to apply this for women’s health in reproductive health in the US. Thus, Twentyeight Health was born.

How did your startup come to be?

Our mission is to increase access to healthcare for women. Birth control is central to women’s health. We want to start talking to women, building a trusted relationship between our users and Twentyeight’s physician partners. Eventually, we envision expanding into a larger range of services and products related to women’s reproductive and sexual health. We want to become a health companion for women, especially those who need better access to healthcare.

What problem(s) are you tackling?

We’re tackling a couple of components: there’s the challenge of access and convenience when it comes to healthcare and birth control that contributes to adherence. Access to birth control isn’t as easy as it seems, even with the Affordable Care Act. People lack access to affordable clinics -- be it time, money, you name it. And having insurance doesn’t make birth control 100% accessible either. There’s a relationship between access, convenience, and adherence.

The other problem we’re trying to solve is the education piece. You don’t know what you don’t know, and there are some eye-opening statistics out there: 43% of adolescent females are uninformed about birth control wen becoming sexually active.

All these issues can lead to unintended pregnancies, which is at an astonishing 45% rate of all pregnancies in the US. Ultimately, we want to empower women make the best decisions for them and give them an easier access to birth control, if that’s what they decide to do. 

What product or service have you developed?

We have an online platform where women can get/re-fill a prescription, have birth control home delivered, and securely message with physicians for any follow-up questions. In practice, it starts by filling out a short medical questionnaire and have an (optional) audio consultation with a physician. It takes about less than 10 minutes, then the hard work is done. Physicians review the submitted information, communicate securely with women, then we work with an online pharmacy partner to deliver the birth control medication. Birth control is delivered directly to your door so you don’t have to go to the pharmacy or worry about pills running out.

Our key differentiator is that we are mission-driven. We focus on younger women (18-24 year olds for now, and soon younger) as there’s a bigger need for access and education. Younger adults don’t have much experience in navigating the healthcare system, so they have a lot of questions. We found that younger women struggle to find trusted sources of information, so we want our brand to resonate with their lifestyle but still provide trusted content and an easy connection with a physician. This is why we have invested in a trusted education platform and secure messaging with physicians (in addition to the online prescription and home delivery). We are also affordable and our service can be completely free for most people with insurance, or as low as $18/month for those paying out of pocket. Finally, we donate 2% of our revenues to NIRH and Bedsider, non-profits that work on increasing access to women’s health.

What is your pricing?

We charge a one-time $20 doctor evaluation fee, then there’s a monthly prescription fee; we take insurance, so, often, the co-pay is $0. The monthly fee includes delivery and secure messaging with doctors for follow up care. If women aren’t covered by insurance, costs are as low as $18/month.

What impact do you envision achieving?

We believe all women have the right to high quality healthcare, and our goal is to improve access to health education and care.

What is your basic roadmap and what does the future hold?

We launched a beta in New York and New Jersey with a goal of improving the customer experience. After that, we’ll look at a product line expansion beyond birth control pills, as well as geographic expansion.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced thus far and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge has been with regulation, as with any healthcare company. For both myself and Bruno, we’re going through a learning curve with respects to regulation even though we’ve both had previous experience in the industry. Regulations differ by state for telemedicine and pharmacy delivery. Thankfully, we’re partnered with top healthcare law firms and advisors to get things set up correctly.

What resources within the UC system have been beneficial to you and why?

The Berkeley Entrepreneurship Center has been helped us tremendously to understand the resources available within the UC system, and to navigate the right opportunities. We went through NSF I-corps, which propelled us to do a lot of customer interviews and to really define our customer segments more. We’ve leveraged a lot of alumni connections and gained advisors and mentors.

What’s your funding status?

We have closed our pre-seed round with investments from angels, friends and family. Early next year, we will look to do a large seed round.

What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Talk to your users! Truly understand what their pain points are: do not assume! Even if you are the target demographic yourself, get a diverse perspective. Talk to people outside of your network to make sure you are not in an echo chamber. There’s a lot of diversity across America – whether it be race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender-orientation, … – and it’s important to be thoughtful about who you are serving. This is a continual process. Feedback is a gift, and we appreciate our users for sharing their perspectives so we can make the experience even better!