Sequoia’s Jess Lee Backs Maven, a Digital Health Startup for Women

September 26, 2018, 9:40 PM UTC

Sequoia Capital’s Jess Lee has made her fifth investment since joining the venture capital firm as its first female investing partner in the U.S. in late 2016. This time, she’s placing her bet on Maven, a digital health startup focused on women—and run by women, and funded by women.

“This is the first all-female board that I’ve been a part of,” Lee said in a recent phone interview with Fortune.

Sequoia’s investment is part of Maven’s just-announced $27 million series B round of funding, which was co-led by Oak HC/FT and includes Female Founders Fund and other investors. This new round brings New York-Based Maven’s total financing to $42 million and will help the company “enhance” its flagship product, a benefits platform for new moms that it sells directly to companies like Snap and Bumble.

“We are a virtual clinic dedicated to women’s health,” Maven founder and CEO Kate Ryder explains. “The heart and soul of the business is that we are the largest women’s health network in the world.”

According to Ryder, Maven offers access to vetted OB-GYNs, therapists, career coaches and other professionals. Increasingly, it is also providing companies with a more comprehensive, female, and parental-focused benefits platform that includes adoption, IVF and return-to-work benefits to offer to employees. As part of its funding announcement, Maven has also unveiled a breast milk shipping service that corporate customers can sign up for—a perk that more companies are turning to in an effort to retain new moms.

“The wage gap really starts after women have kids,” says Ryder. Indeed, more than 40% of women who give birth end up leaving the workforce, and Ryder attributes at least some of this attrition to the lack of support from employers and corporate health plans.

The entrepreneur, who was a VC herself before starting Maven in 2014, says she didn’t set out to have all-women investors on her board. Then again, that it turned out this way doesn’t surprise her.

“Yes, there has to be a business story and there has to be growth, but you also have to personally relate to what you’re investing in,” says Ryder. “A lot of people just don’t know what I’m talking about [topics like postpartum depression, for example].” Even if they do, Ryder adds, they wouldn’t necessarily invest in a company like Maven given other areas they might have more personal experience with. “Like if we’re up against erectile dysfunction [startups],” says Ryder.

Whether talking about solutions for erectile dysfunction or postpartum depression, investment in health-tech startups overall is growing fast: It reached a record $1.6 billion in the first quarter of this year, according to venture fund Rock Health. Of course, that also means increasing competition for Maven, whether on the digital medical network front or even when it comes to breastmilk shipping (see Milk Stork). What’s more, getting enterprise customers to sign up can be a challenge for any health-tech startup, whichever section of the employee base they cater to.

But Sequoia’s Lee says women’s health in particular is fertile territory. “Women make about 80% of healthcare decisions,” says Lee. “The partnership [Sequoia Capital] believes that it’s a massive opportunity.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to say that Oak HC/FT co-led the investment in Maven, and that Jess Lee was Sequoia Capital’s first female investing partner in the U.S.

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