FemHealth Founders’ pilot accelerator taking off

by Lauren Lamb ([email protected]) 825 views 

FemHealth Founders, from left, Natalie Shew, April Roy and Elizabeth Prenger.

FemHealth Founders (FHF), a female-led organization in Northwest Arkansas looking to help other women’s healthcare startups in the heartland, is eager to host its inaugural eight-week pilot accelerator.

After the three founders met through accelerator programs and business connections in Northwest Arkansas, they realized they shared the same pain points in women’s entrepreneurship and female healthcare. FHF has set goals for women to solve their own medical problems with startup businesses.

FHF is accepting applications for the eight-week accelerator that begins in the spring of 2023. They will choose five female-led cohorts to participate and receive a $10,000 non-diluted grant gifted from the Walton Family Foundation.

The FHF team includes co-founders Natalie Shew, Elizabeth Prenger and April Roy. They feel connected by all being mothers while juggling businesses they lead in a male-heavy ecosystem.

“We came together to create our own accelerator programs,” said Shew, the group’s managing principal and the founder of a consulting business, 3P Creative. “We’re coining the new term of ‘femhealth’ because ‘femtech’ can be a little confusing because we’re not just tech platforms.

“FemHealth is anything that uniquely, singularly or differently affects women in terms of healthcare … We created something that we would’ve liked to have, but we’ve never seen or had access to this. We’re starting with this pilot accelerator program because it will give us a chance to know a small group of women founders who already have an idea or early-stage business, and they’re looking to scale and access capital.”

Prenger is the startup’s marketing and public relations lead. She is also the founder and chief brand officer of Prose Creative, a brand messaging, copywriting, editing and creative writing company.

“About a year ago, I was going through an accelerator program for an idea that I had around a postpartum recovery product,” she said. According to Prenger, many of the subject matter officials were men who had not experienced postpartum pain.

“I kept running into frustrating barriers. My mentor was a man whose background was in medical devices,” Prenger said. “But he was very conscientious about the issue. He was frustrated with the number of devices created by men that were intended for women.”

Prenger said the mentor introduced her to Roy, the founder of femPAQ Inc., the state’s only femtech company. She created emergency menstruation packs in 2018.

“We take the ‘oops’ out of unexpected periods,” Roy explained.

She won the accelerator and was eventually connected to her FHF entrepreneurs. “I came for a boot camp as part of a sales challenge that the Waltons were a part of. Energy brought us together. It’s been a year since we got together and said we’d do this. All being moms and juggling our businesses also brought us together.”

After meeting every few weeks, the founders began to build FHF. “We decided we should solve our own problem,” Shew said. “We really wanted to feel like there is a place curated for us as women entrepreneurs.”

The FHF pilot accelerator program is designed for women-led, early-stage businesses working to provide solutions for women’s healthcare issues. Examples are menstrual, maternal, postpartum and other health problems that do not get much attention from current healthcare solutions. They are partnering with StitchCrew, a female-led business accelerator in Oklahoma City.

“We’re taking a scale approach,” Shew said about the startup’s finances, using a Walton Family Foundation grant and the StitchCrew partnership. “As our fiscal sponsor, StitchCrew has the playbook for this. Our goal as a nonprofit is to bring around $200,000 in additional funding in early 2023, so we can finish this first pilot accelerator.”

FHF plans to expand the program to include more cohorts and women founders.

“We want to ensure that we’ve got expansive partnerships globally, not just here in the heartland,” Shew said. “It will take resources and capital to get this rolling, but we hope to be this connection.”

The roundtable discussion, Funding for Founders, at The Collaborative in Bentonville on Sept. 27 continued to help unpack the startup’s financial plan.

“We had an amazing panel of speakers,” Prenger said. “The purpose was to explore various funding sources available to founders, not just immediately go into venture capital, but to demystify the fundraising process.”

FHF wants to partner with organizations already in maternal health. “We’re in the bottom three of maternal health outcomes and pregnancy-related deaths in Arkansas,” Shew said. “We want to see grassroots and initiatives pop up that are not just nonprofit, but also innovators in those communities crop up businesses then financially empower them as women to solve problems for other women.”

Shew explained that less than 1% of the healthcare pipeline is based on women’s health solutions.

“There’s a lot of data out there, but it hasn’t been centralized in one space,” she said. “Getting more data on women’s health is another milestone we would like to hit. One example is cardiac issues. There’s documented research that says women’s symptoms differ from men’s when having a cardiac episode. Unfortunately, there’s so little research.”

FSF’s long-term goal is to have 50 women-led healthcare companies by 2026.

“We debated that metric,” Prenger said. “For a while, we thought there was no way. As we started talking to more stakeholders engaged in the startup and entrepreneurial world, we recognized a massive interest and opportunity gap to fill. I think being in Northwest Arkansas in a blazing hot entrepreneurial environment is an incentive to work here.”

If we can’t do that here in the heartland, in the backyard of Fortune 500 companies with a lot of funding and retail opportunities, I don’t know if we can do it anywhere.”

“We have a real opportunity here to be the blueprint of how we engage and treat women’s health,” Roy said. “I’m hoping that once we do that in the heartland, we’ll be able to expand that throughout the nation. If we can have 50 companies, think about what we can do after that. I imagine that so many women will apply for the accelerator… I’m excited to see that number because I think people don’t realize that female-led businesses are out there. They didn’t realize I was here.”