Tess Cosad, CEO and co-founder of Béa Fertility, recently raised $1m in funding for her start-up’s pioneering at-home fertility treatment. Here, she explains how to overcome the challenges associated with raising VC finance for so-called ‘taboo’ ideas.
Béa Fertility is creating a world-leading product to help people trying to conceive. It’s an at-home fertility treatment that uses a technique called ‘intracervical insemination’ to help boost people’s chances of conceiving without the hefty price tags associated with clinically-based treatments. As such, I’ve had to stand up in front of many investors, many of whom are men, and talk about sperm, the cervix, and ovulation. And whilst it’s something I’m passionate about, investor audiences I’ve spoken to have had mixed levels of prior knowledge, interest or experience in this area.
This is an all too common reality for entrepreneurs pitching for VC investment in spaces considered ‘taboo’. Fertility issues, a struggle one in seven couples will encounter, continue to be shrouded in secrecy and communicated about in whispers. Start-ups dealing in spaces such as these, as well as others such as menstruation, pleasure, and menopause, will have had similar experiences. Having just raised $1m in pre-seed funding, here’s what I wished I’d known before starting out:
Prepare for misunderstandings
Securing investment for non-mainstream products or issues that are poorly understood means your audiences won’t necessarily be clued up on the space. This can create misunderstandings. Make sure you’re hyper-clear in all your pitch materials about the problem you’re addressing and how your product specifically addresses it.
Assuming any knowledge on the part of your audience (particularly in cases such as ours where there were anatomical realities to what we were pitching) can be risky. Be prepared to build education into every approach and take your potential investor on a journey towards a better understanding of the problem at hand.
Get comfortable with people getting uncomfortable
When people consider something to be ‘taboo’ it’s inevitable that they’ll get uncomfortable when you tackle the issue head on. You need to get comfortable with this. You are there to champion your product and cannot let someone’s else discomfort throw you off course. If you’re able to speak openly, passionately and intelligently about a topic, it will help put people at ease.
You might need to hedge which questions they’re too embarrassed to ask and answer them yourself, as well as prepare for fluffy language or creative attempts to avoid saying ‘taboo’ words. The antidote to people’s discomfort is often your own comfort; speak clearly, use the correct terminology, and make it clear that every conversation is an opportunity for education. The more comfortable and scientific I became using words such as ‘vagina’ during pitches, the more I felt audiences reflect that comfort back at me.
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It’s ok to laugh
Sometimes there will be genuine moments of humour along the way, and that’s a good thing. Fundraising is tough, and being able to laugh with your potential investors makes it a more human process.
I was once demonstrating how our insemination device would work for a virtual pitch; at just the wrong moment the prototype fell off my desk and broke, the funnel flew out of my hand and hit the wall behind me, and the whole demo fell to pieces. It was mortifying but quite funny, and laughing about it with the audience made the moment pass.
Just be careful to avoid using humour to ease your own discomfort, and learn how to spot those who are using humour to mask their discomfort.
Learn how to spot investors who ‘get it’
Not all investors will want to write you a cheque and that’s a good thing. Not all investors are right for your business. When you’re pitching something considered non-mainstream or taboo, the investors who squirm or avoid eye contact aren’t going to be best placed to champion you and your business as you grow.
Instead, those who engage with the tricky questions from the get-go and demonstrate their understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve are the investors you want to partner with.
Learn how to spot the red flags in VCs who don’t ‘get’ what you’re building – and listen to your gut when it comes to who joins your cap table. Good VCs bring more than just money: they offer advice, networks, experience and, crucially, belief in your vision. When you finally find those who get it, it’ll be worth every squirm or eye roll you’ve encountered on your way.