Photograph by Corbis Images
By Gwen Moran
August 5, 2015

When Gina Bartasi was looking at fertility treatments in 2008, she was frustrated at the lack of available information. So, like any good entrepreneur, she founded New York City-based Fertility Authority as a resource.

What started as a content company quickly grew into a matching service, connecting patients with the best doctors. In 2014, it launched packaged treatment plans, as well as treatment financing, in an attempt to help users compare pricing and pay for treatments.

In March 2015, the company merged with Auxogyn, a Menlo Park-based fertility tech company. The resulting firm was renamed Progyny and bills itself as the “Uber of the fertility industry.” The company sells egg-freezing and IVF cycles directly online, negotiating with providers for better rates. Patients can use the Progyny app to find doctors, book appointments and arrange financing. The company also offers infertility treatment and fertility preservation benefits to large, self-insured employers, which then offer the services to their employees. Funding information site CrunchBase reports that Progyny has raised $78.3 million in five rounds, though the company will not confirm that figure.

A tech baby boom

It’s no surprise that a wave of tech companies is cropping up in the fertility sector. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in eight couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. And Allied Market Research projects that fertility will be a $21.6 billion business globally by 2020, so if you develop the right product, there’s clearly money to be made.

Max Levchin, co-founder and CTO of PayPal, believes in the industry’s potential. He is one of the founding team members at consumer-focused Glow, a San Francisco-based company launched in 2013 that’s using big data to improve women’s health, including fertility. Its eponymous fertility tracker app is available for iOS and Android, while Glow Nurture is a pregnancy companion, tracking everything from doctor appointments to the baby’s due date.

The company also offers Glow First, a nonprofit arm that allows app users to pool money for fertility treatments. Users chip in $50 per month for up to 10 months while they’re trying to get pregnant, along with everyone else who’s participating. At the end of that period, those who end up needing fertility treatments are eligible for a portion of the pool. The first Glow First cohort concluded at the end of July 2014, with 50 people participating. The company reports that those who received payouts got $1,800 per person, totaling 3.5 times their contributions.

“Through that process of logging and entering information about various aspects of [users’] lives, we apply our data science strengths to analyze the data, look at trends across the anonymized crowd, and potentially start to discover perhaps even new learning about what actually effects one’s fertility,” says Jennifer Tye, VP of partnerships and marketing.

The company has raised roughly $23 million in two rounds of funding.

Then there’s New York City-based Celmatix, which works with fertility clinics, using big data and predictive analytics to help individuals understand and maximize their fertility potential. Founder and CEO Piraye Yurttas Beim, says her company’s key differentiator is the clinical data on which its models are based. The company has access to hundreds of data points per treatment for more than 200,000 individual treatment cycles. The goal is to be able to help physicians recommend the best course of treatment based on what’s worked for the patient’s demographic peers. Beim says Celmatix models are up to 80% accurate.

“When you do the math, even though there’s a handful of [possible treatments] in the beginning, the way you might put those together over the course of the treatment journey, it actually adds up to 46,000 different choices a couple could make,” says Beim. If you can provide the patient with even a small amount of information about which treatment is most likely to result in a pregnancy, you’ll save her a great deal of money and stress, she adds. Celmatix has raised $13.5 million in funding to date.

Following opportunity

Fred Cohen, partner and managing director of TPG Biotech in San Francisco, says these companies are attractive investments because it’s clear that there’s room to improve on the experiences of most women and couples who seek fertility treatment. He believes that data and imaging technologies can help families have better outcomes. His firm, along with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is an investor in Progyny’s embryo imaging technology, which helps identify the best candidates for implantation. Stronger embryos can mean greater success and reduced numbers of twins and triplets, and cut back on the accompanying risks, Cohen says.

“This will hopefully get us to the level of a 60% to 65% chance that an embryo will take,” he says. The current IVF success rate of the best candidates at 40% per cycle, with the majority of women having a 20% to 35% success rate, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).

James Toner, president of SART, which is an affiliate of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), says he’s seen a rise in fertility-related tech companies and welcomes the innovation. He says many clinicians are too busy running their practices to develop such technology, but agrees that such data-driven approaches could help improve outcomes. He says ASRM and SART have been moving toward collecting and analyzing more data, but mostly in the area of IVF. Tech companies can fill in some of the gaps, helping to predict what the likelihood of pregnancy through various methods.

But even though there are some relatively well-funded players in the fertility tech space, no one has emerged as a clear leader. Toner says that will come with time, likely helped along by the consolidation that’s starting to affect other areas of the industry, such as the clinics themselves. Those offering financing options also have an edge, because fertility treatment—which ASRM puts at an average of $12,400 per cycle in the U.S.—isn’t covered by many health insurance policies, he says.

“I think it’s sort of akin to the tech industry 30 years ago. There are more and more people proposing strategies, and they all have a kernel of a good idea behind them,” says Toner. “But who wins and who loses in the battle is hard to predict.”

This story has been updated to correct the sources of two statistics: the number of couples who have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy and the current IVF success rates.

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