Seven women-led healthcare startups lined up against a panel of windows inside the Full Frame Theatre in Durham during a cocktail reception for the Kayo Roundtable: Women in Healthcare Investing event Tuesday night. 

Since the focus of the event was around women investing in healthcare startups, it was fitting to have seven different representations of the industry exhibit their products too. Each startup shared an underlying theme though—they’re all working to break down boundaries and barriers between patients and doctors, in addition to being led by women.

This theme is relevant because data is showing that more women-driven startups might make for a new and better healthcare industry. A digital health venture fund, Rock Health, released a report last year that showed more healthcare startup success when women are on the leadership team.
Eighty-five percent of dying digital health startups don’t have a single women on their executive teams and all digital health startups that closed down in the year studied were led by male CEOs.

These statistics indicate that women are good for business. Seven of the top 10 Fortune 100 healthcare companies have a board with at least a quarter of its members female.

Venture capital hasn’t seen the same success, though. Only 10 percent of partners (those making final investment decisions) in digital health investment firms are women and 75 percent of those firms lack a single female partner.

The Kayo Conference Series is working to change that. In 2013, the series was formed by Kayo Advisory, a financial services firm in Charlottesville, Va. Kayo promotes and supports women in finance roles through a series of three conferences.

The Women in Healthcare Investing conference is one of them. Held on the American Tobacco Campus on Tuesday, it included a panel and Q&A with five female executives in startup investing, banking or advisory roles—Cindy Whitehead of The Pink Ceiling (former CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals), Cody Nystrom of SJF Ventures, Kapila Ratnam of NewSpring Capital, Theresa Sexton of Claritas Capital, Mara Huntington of Square 1 Bank and Amy Risseeuw of Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton. The discussion was not open to the media, but an open reception and exhibition followed. 

Here’s a snapshot of each exhibiting company:


Standing apart from the rest of the exhibiting companies is PPD ACT, which isn’t a startup but a research project. The study’s objective is to measure the degree genetics can play in postpartum depression and psychosis. The researchers hope to collect data from 100,000 participants worldwide through its media darling mobile app, available now on iOS. Users take a questionnaire about pregnancy and postpartum depression and, if their answers line up with the requirements to be eligible for the study, they submit a DNA sample to the researchers. 

Gastroenterologist and former professor at the Duke School of Medicine Dr. Marybeth Spanarkel partnered with her sons James and John Hathorn to invent the device in 2011. They have a series of angel investors involved too, including Thundershirt founder Phil Blizzard.