Sometime last spring, the stress of the pandemic caused Katara McCarty’s pressure gauge to tick into the red. But when she sought out digital tools to deal with the emotional toll, she found there were very few resources developed by or designed for people with experiences similar to hers.
“As I was reaching for apps to manage stress, anxiety, and trauma, I realized that they were out of touch with what I was experiencing as a Black woman,” says McCarty, who went on to create the wellness app EXHALE. “So I created what I needed at a time when my community was suffering greatly.”
In the tech startup world, where women are still a C-Suite minority and leadership opportunities are even rarer for women of color, WellTech is emerging as an area of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. Leaders of high-profile companies like Ariana Huffington of Thrive Global, a media consultancy dedicated to ending the “burnout epidemic,” and Urska Srsen of Bellabeat, a wellness tracker startup, are being joined by a new crop of female founders like McCarty. Many of these women are identifying gaps in the market based on their own experience, launching new wellness-focused apps, online communities, employer-sponsored programs, and digital platforms.
“As a result of the pandemic, tailwinds support female founders who have developed technology to better serve physical and mental healthcare needs,” says Erika Cramer, a general partner at How Women Invest, a venture capital firm that supports women-led startups.
Overall, the pandemic resulted in a surge of innovative new platforms focused on health and well-being, and according to McKinsey, the first half of 2020 saw record levels of venture funding for digital health-focused startups, to the tune of $5.4 billion.
Cramer sees wellness as a leader in the current investment climate. “We have seen female founders lead in a challenging environment, demonstrating their ability to be more capital efficient, and therefore, drive higher returns for their investors,” she says.
We spoke with six WellTech founders about what wellness means to them, what inspired them to launch their businesses, and the challenges they set out to solve.