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Women in VC

5 questions about women’s health and women with Lux Capital’s Deena Shakir

As the world marks International Women’s Day, we sat down with Shakir to discuss how VCs’ approach to women’s health and female founders is changing, how she discovered her investment thesis and the challenges of balancing an investment career with being a mother.

Deena Shakir, a partner at Lux Capital, has strong feelings about the state of women’s health. Women in the US, she says, are significantly underserved by the healthcare system. She notes, for example, that the nation’s maternal mortality rate is higher than in other industrialized nations, according to the World Health Organization. And the American Medical Association says that the issue is especially dire for Black women, who are at least three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy complications.

Shakir wants to do something about this by investing in health digital companies focusing on women. Over the last two years, she has invested in four startups that provide fertility, pregnancy, parenting care and menopause services. Last August, she co-led Lux’s investment, along with Dragoneer Investment Group, in a $110 million funding round for Maven Clinic. It was the largest deal on record in women’s health, valuing Maven at $1 billion.

As the world marks International Women’s Day, we sat down with Shakir to discuss how VCs’ approach to women’s health and female founders is changing, how she discovered her investment thesis and the challenges of balancing an investment career with being a mother.

PitchBook: Femtech seems to have become very hot over the last year or so. Why do you think investors are finally willing to write bigger checks to women’s health companies?

Shakir: It is a category that has traditionally been and still is, underfunded. This area was seen as taboo even though it’s VCs’ job to invest in large markets and the data clearly showed this is a big market. But recently women’s health has really taken its rightful place as a multibillion-dollar industry. It is no longer just about period tracking and reproductive health. It’s not just about the needs of 50% of the population. Women are responsible for 80% of all dollars spent on healthcare. This is a truly inclusive category. By the way, I don’t like the word “femtech” because it sounds like something pink, frilly and niche.

PitchBook: Your portfolio companies are primarily in digital health, but you have been especially active in women’s health. Why are you spending a lot of your time on this category?

Shakir: At Lux we are all generalists to some extent. For instance, I’ve also invested in Shiru, a foodtech company that is applying computational biology and machine learning to develop plant-based ingredients to replace animal protein. But my personal journey led me to invest in this category. I had a life-threatening situation with both of my pregnancies. Each time, I almost died and both times I almost lost my kid. And that was me in the most privileged position in Silicon Valley, with access to the best doctors. These situations let me recognize that people haven’t paid enough attention to this area.

I am unapologetic about bringing my experience to my investment thesis. The founders that I invest in are also unapologetic. Not only that, but I want to hear it, I want to know why founders are choosing to do this at the expense of any other thing that they could be doing. I struggled to find anyone I know who’s built a successful company in healthcare that doesn’t have some sort of personal connection to it.

PitchBook: What about female founders? Do more women have the confidence to start their own companies?

Shakir: I think trailblazers like Kate Ryder, who founded Maven, has had a huge effect on the next generation of entrepreneurs. I’m now getting seed pitches from women who may not have even thought about starting companies before. These are people who were technologists or researchers in a clinical setting.

PitchBook: There are still few women in venture capital, but that is slowly changing, and it is making a difference to the type of businesses that get funded. How are women in VC supporting each other?

Shakir: I have a close group of women’s health investors and most of them are also moms. We share ideas with each other. We talk about thesis development and the big news in the industry. These friendships have been very valuable. This camaraderie has been happening in venture capital for a long time, but it has mostly been men. I am now reading “The Power Law” by Sebastian Mallaby, a book about the history of venture capital, and you can read for hours without a mention of a woman.

PitchBook: You have two small children. How do you balance everything?

Shakir: I don’t do it all and I am very open about it. I feel like I’m stretched paper-thin and I’m struggling every day. I’m super lucky with my support system. marrying my husband was the best decision I’ve ever made. But I don’t like to glorify it and say, “You can do it all.”

It’s ultimately a tradeoff. And that’s why I love investing in moms. Nothing forces you to be more efficient and prioritize your time than when you are a mom. It makes you transcend your level of efficiency and productivity.

Featured image of Lux Capital’s Deena Shakir, center, at an International Women’s Day event in San Francisco, courtesy of Lux Capital

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