U.K.-based Fertifa has bagged a £1 million (~$1.3 million) seed to plug into a fertility-focused workplace benefits platform. Passion Capital is investing in the round, along with some unnamed strategic angel investors.
The August 2019-founded startup sells bespoke reproductive health and fertility packages to U.K. employers to offer as workplace benefits to their staff -- drawing on the use of technologies like telehealth to expand access to fertility support and cater to rising demand for reproductive health services.
Challenges conceiving can affect around one in seven couples, per the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS).
In recent years fertility startups have been getting more investor attention as VC firms cotton on to growing market. Employers have also responded, with tech industry workplaces among those offering fertility "perks" to staff. Although the access-to-services issue can be more acute in the U.S. -- given substantial costs involved in obtaining treatments like IVF.
In the U.K. the picture is a little different, given that the country's taxpayer-funded NHS does fund some fertility treatments -- meaning IVF can be free for couples to access. Although how much support couples get can depend on where in the country they live, with some NHS trusts funding more rounds of IVF than others. There can also be access restrictions based on factors such as a woman's age and the length of time trying to conceive.
This means U.K. couples can run out of free fertility support before they've been able to conceive -- pushing them toward paying for private treatment. Hence Fertifa spotting an opportunity for a workplace benefits model around reproductive health services.
It signed up its first employers this spring and summer, and says it now has a portfolio of corporate clients with an employee pool from a few hundreds to >10,000 -- although it isn't breaking out customer numbers. Rather, it says its services are available to around 700,000 U.K. employees at this point.
"At Fertifa we want to make fertility services more widely accessible to people," says founder and CEO Tony Chen. "Some levels of fertility services can be provided by the NHS but every single NHS trust is different with eligibility, requirements and resources, and so unfortunately it can too often be reduced to a "postcode lottery".
"We believe that everyone should have easy access to information, resources, education and services relating to fertility -- and that working with workplaces is one way to start. With our efforts and partnerships we hope to normalise the conversations about fertility at work, just as other forms of health are openly discussed and provided for."
Passion Capital partner Eileen Burbidge -- who is joining Fertifa's board (along with Passion's Malin Posern) -- has been public about her own use of IVF and takes a very personal interest in the fertility space.
"The unfortunate fact is that over recent years, even though success rates have increased and of course more and more patients are exploring the benefits of IVF, NHS funding has been declining and the number of patients using the NHS for their first cycle has also been decreasing," she tells TechCrunch.
"This doesn't take away from the fact that it's brilliant what we get from the NHS here in the U.K., but there's clearly a lot more which can be done to further increase accessibility and affordability -- given less and less funding for the NHS in the face of increasing demand of both the NHS and private routes."
Fertifa says its model is to provide direct care and support to employees -- rather than being a broker or acting as part of a referral system. So it has two in-house clinicians at this stage (out of a team of 10-15 people). Although it also says it "partners" with clinicians and clinics across the U.K. So it's not doing everything in-house.
It offers what it bills as a "full range" of fertility and gynaecology services -- from assisted reproductive technology such as IVF, IUI and more; fertility planning such as egg, sperm and embryo freezing to donor-assisted and third-party reproduction such as donor eggs and sperm; as well as surrogacy and adoption.
Its doctors, nurses and "fertility advocates" are there to provide a one-to-one care service to support patients throughout the process.
"We use technology in a number of ways and are ambitious about how it will help us to maintain an advantage over others in the sector and provide the best customer experience," says Chen, noting it has developed "a full end-to-end" app for patients to guide them through the various stages of their fertility journey.
"On the employer side we have a full employer portal as well which provides educational resources, support options and access to services for HR/People teams to use and share with their workforces. Additionally, we use telehealth to enable more efficient, convenient (particularly in the age of COVID-19 restrictions) and immediate consultations with clinicians and nurses. Finally, we are refining our machine learning algorithms to help drive more informed decision making for patients and clinicians alike."
It's not currently applying AI but says that over time its in-house medical experts will use artificial intelligence to aid decision-making -- with the aim of reducing clinic visits, enhancing the patient experience and yielding better clinical pregnancy rates.
Chen points to the U.K.'s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority having already made its data publicly available on more than 100,000 couples and their treatment and outcomes -- suggesting such data-sets will underpin the development of new predictive models for fertility.
"With additional insight and data sources [we] could more accurately predict probability of success for a patient -- or the best type of treatment for them," he adds.
While Fertifa's current focus is U.K. expansion -- targeting workplaces of all sizes and scale -- it's also got its eye on scaling overseas down the line. Although it will of course face more competition at that point, with the likes of Y Combinator backed Carrot already offering global fertility benefits packages for employers.
"Fertility and reproductive health is important to people all over the world," says Chen. "Globally one in four women experience a miscarriage, every LGBT+ individual requires support to become a parent, and everyone needs to be increasingly empowered to take control of their reproductive health through fertility preservation treatment."