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These investors went through IVF. Now they’re putting $22 million behind an A.I. fertility startup

March 22, 2022, 1:29 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings continue, Naomi Osaka is getting into crypto, and personal experience with I.V.F led these investors to back a new fertility startup to the tune of $22 million. Have a lovely Tuesday.

– The future of IVF. Anarghya Vardhana had been looking to invest in the fertility space for some time. After her own journey with in-vitro fertilization, the Maveron partner wanted to back a startup that was truly looking to transform the fertility experience. Instead, she found that most offered surface-level improvements.

“For some existing companies, it was, ‘How do we make the fertility clinic look prettier, or nicer, or bring better cold brew into it?'” she says. “Versus how do we actually leverage technology and research to make the actual process—the freezing process, the selection process, or the transfer process—better for individuals and families?”

Her answer was Alife, a company that uses artificial intelligence to inform and advance IVF procedures. Led by founder and CEO Paxton Maeder-York, the company raised a $22 million Series A funding round announced today, investors tell Fortune exclusively. Vardhana co-led the round alongside Lux Capital partner Deena Shakir, known for her investments in the women’s health space, and Union Square Ventures managing partner Rebecca Kaden, who, like Vardhana, has a personal experience with IVF. Women’s digital health is a fast growing category, raking in $1.9 billion in venture capital funding in 2021—still just 7% of overall digital health funding but double 2020’s numbers.

Alife relies on A.I. software and large U.S. IVF datasets to analyze the results of IVF cycles. The company plans to use insights from data to inform patients of which treatments have worked best for others with similar health and demographic characteristics and to help doctors and clinicians develop treatment plans. Alife is also developing an A.I. tool to help clinicians retrieve the maximum number of mature eggs during the ovarian stimulation process; a mobile app for patients to organize their fertility treatment records and schedules; and an A.I. tool, still in its early stage, to analyze patient embryos and help embryologists prioritize them for transfer. Long-term, Maeder-York and his investors hope these technologies will reduce the high cost of fertility treatments—IVF cycles can cost up to $25,000 in the U.S.—and make fertility care more accessible to patients. Twenty-six percent of American women ages 15 to 49 with no prior births have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying to term, according to the CDC.

Left to right Deena Shakir, Partner at Lux Capital, Paxton Maeder-York, CEO and Founder of Alife, Rebecca Kaden, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures., Anarghya Vardhana, Partner at Maveron.
Investors Deena Shakir of Lux Capital (left), Rebecca Kaden of Union Square Ventures (second from right), and Anarghya Vardhana of Maveron (right) are backing Paxton Maeder-York’s fertility startup Alife.
Courtesy of Alife

Alife’s potential product offerings resonate with Vardhana. “It was incredibly opaque,” she says of her own IVF experience. “We price-shopped around a number of clinics, but it felt almost like a scam to be like, ‘We know you guys have money, so we’re going to charge you more.’ My IVF doctor was incredible, but we were still writing everything down with paper and pencil. I’m spending so much time and putting my body through this hormone torture—I don’t want to get it wrong and have to start over.”

Vardhana has a two-year-old and is pregnant with her second child, but few people in her life know about her experience with IVF. Kaden relied on assisted fertility to conceive her second child, and while Shakir conceived her two children without medical intervention, she has backed several companies in the women’s health space. “I don’t think it’s an accident three moms are funding this.” Kaden says. “You spend a few minutes in this category—let alone a few years—and you realize there’s a lot of work to do.”

Maeder-York, for his part, went into this fundraising round acknowledging his status as a male founder in women’s health. While the CEO says his parents’ conception of his brother via IVF was on his mind as he entered health tech (he previously worked on a lung cancer-related product), he actively sought out a cap table with women at the top for Alife.

Vardhana says in her investment search she sought out businesses that wouldn’t try to fight against the existing fertility medicine establishment, but would work with doctors. Driving down costs, while increasing access for a wider group of patients, is aligned with medical professionals’ needs, the investors argue. “You need to be able to fundamentally solve a problem for them,” Shakir says. “In so many other companies I’ve met, it’s just one piece of the pie.”

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- History in the making. The historic nature of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination was clear on the first day of her confirmation hearings yesterday. Still, several GOP senators used their opening statements to express grievances about Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process and the sexual assault allegations brought forward by Christine Blasey Ford in 2018. Jackson's hearings continue today with questioning starting at 9 a.m. ET. 

- Wage boost. Women's wages are growing faster than men's, an encouraging sign after two years of the pandemic's toll on women in the workforce. The tight labor market is helping working women recover from some of the wage and job losses of the past two years. The share of women participating in the labor force, however, is still below pre-pandemic levels. Wall Street Journal

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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- Senate seat. Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is a leading candidate in the race for the state's Senate seat. Greiten's ex-wife Sheena Greitens alleged in court records yesterday that he was physically abusive and demonstrated "unstable and coercive behavior." Sheena Greitens is a public affairs professor at the University of Texas, and she shared the allegations as part of a custody dispute. She filed for divorce after the 2018 sex scandal that led to Greitens's resignation as governor. He calls the allegations "baseless." Associated Press

ON MY RADAR

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PARTING WORDS

"I’m glad my kids don’t have the stressed, anxious, and insecure 30-year-old version of me. The peace and calmness that comes with age is a great thing for kids to see in action."

-Today anchor Savannah Guthrie on being an "older mom." Guthrie and co-anchor Hoda Kotb spoke to Good Housekeeping about their motherhood journeys, including Kotb's adoption of her two children and Guthrie's experience with miscarriage. 

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