Ignite Healthcare Networks hosted its third annual Fire Pitch Competition at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute to showcase eight women-led digital health startup companies from Texas, California and Australia and provide support to the businesses through $220,000 in cash prizes and investments.
“These companies that are presenting are incredibly exciting,” said Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Networks. “We have been able to pull together an ecosystem that has just been remarkable. There’s been a void and there’s an opportunity in this space that we’ve only scratched the surface of.”
Ria Health, a San Francisco-based telehealth provider for alcohol addiction treatment, won first place at the October 17, 2019 event and received $15,000 from Ignite and $50,000 from TMCx. Sound Scouts, a hearing screening company from Sydney, Australia, and Savonix, a neurocognitive assessment company from San Francisco, placed second and third, respectively.
“We’re super-excited to have been a part of the Ignite program and meet all these other women who are leading these other businesses that have so much opportunity in front of them,” said Jen Douglas, chief financial officer with first-place winner Ria Health. “What’s special about this is that our problem—like a lot of these problems—are women’s health issues. Alcohol is a women’s health issue. It’s always been a women’s health issue. Our members are over 60 percent women, so to be able to be a female-led company addressing the needs of females in a health care space feels great.”
Houston Angel Network, an angel and venture capital investment organization, awarded $50,000 to Materna Medical, which develops technology to improve women’s pelvic health. Texas Halo Fund, an early stage investment pool, awarded two additional prizes: a $50,000 check to blood pressure monitoring company PyrAmes and $100,000 to PathEx, a blood filter device company that has been part of the TMCx accelerator.
Unique to this year’s Fire Pitch Competition is the addition of the Fire Pitch Customer-Partner Program, a 10-week mini accelerator program that paired 13 of the semifinalists with established organizations including Humana, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Gallagher, Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Pediatrics, DePelchin, Next Level Urgent Care, University of Houston College of Medicine, VillageMD and The Menninger Clinic.
“What we discovered is that a pitch is not enough,” McCracken explained. “The startups wanted feedback—not from one person in an organization—but they wanted to interact and collaborate with organizations that they could get feedback from that could lead to potential pilots or early customers. Investors said, ‘We want investible companies. Not a girl and an idea.’”
But raising funds for female-led startups is challenging. According to a report by PitchBook, a database for private and public equity markets, companies founded by women represented only 2.3 percent of the total capital invested in American venture-backed startups last year. However, research shows that women are a powerful force in helping the bottom line. Startups led by at least one female leader garnered 21 percent more venture capital funding than all-male companies, based on a recent study by Kauffman Fellows Research Center.
“Women are everywhere in health care, but not at the top,” McCracken said. “If you look in health care, 70 to 75 percent of health care workers are women. Thirteen percent of health care CEOs are women. … This was a galvanizing opportunity for us to talk about, build networks and strengthen our ability to give each other a hand up.”
Since its inception in 2016, Ignite has focused on providing female entrepreneurs with a launching pad for their startups by connecting them with industry experts, investors and potential customers. Its first pitch event for women innovators and leaders happened in 2017.
“What we hope to do is become the place where women innovators in digital tech and med devices really come to be discovered,” McCracken added. “If we’re really going to make a difference, this is a place that really aligns with what Ignite is about: giving women a hand up in advancing their careers professionally in health care, while at the same time, influencing the future of the industry, the delivery of care and who’s employed in the process.”
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