Today in our Women in Tech series, we feature Tess Cosad, CEO & Co-Founder at Béa Fertility. Tess’s dynamic journey from leading a digital marketing accelerator in Saudi Arabia to pioneering in femtech exemplifies her dedication to addressing inequality in various realms.
Her rich background, which includes founding the B2B marketing agency Emberson Ventures and the FemTech firm Hers By Design, has greatly influenced her nuanced understanding and empathetic approach to business.
Venturing into the male-dominated VC space, Tess has often found herself as one of the few women in pivotal discussions. Yet, she persists with her commitment to bring transformative change and champion impactful solutions. At Béa Fertility, Tess places immense value on evidence-based strategies and fervently supports founders who demonstrate a blend of strong principles and adaptive methodologies.
For women aspiring to mark their territory in tech or venture capital, Tess emphasizes the virtues of resilience in the face of setbacks, harnessing one’s unique experiences, and the importance of thoroughly understanding the industry’s intricate facets.
As she peers into the future of VC, she anticipates a surge in diversity-focused initiatives but also acknowledges the imperative need to address foundational systemic challenges to sculpt a truly equitable ecosystem.
Hi Tess, it’s a pleasure to have you here. To kick things off, can you walk us through your journey from leading a digital marketing accelerator program in Saudi Arabia to diving deep into the world of femtech?
I cannot bear things that are not fair, and have always been passionate about working on companies and projects that address inequality. The deeper you go into the world of fertility and Femtech, the more you realise that it is full of inequity and unfairness. I really am so excited and motivated by the possibility of driving disruption and innovation in the space.
It’s exciting to be working at the forefront of innovation that’s empowering and unlocking new opportunities for women and families. This motivation drove me to found my own businesses – Emberson Ventures and Hers By Design – as well as becoming the first woman teaching a digital accelerator programme in Saudi Arabia. Throughout everything I do, working for and with women in a way that supports and empowers is always at the very core.
Your passion for building businesses with impact is evident. With Emberson Ventures and Hers By Design under your belt, what unique challenges did you face when founding Béa Fertility, especially in the male-dominated VC scene?
When it comes to getting a Femtech venture off the ground, within a predominantly male VC environment, it’s never going to be easy. I talk to a lot of male investors about a lot of female body parts, which can be a good combination of amusing for me and (sometimes) awkward for them.
One of the biggest challenges I faced when founding Béa Fertility was generating the level of understanding and buy-in we needed from those who hadn’t necessarily experienced infertility themselves. Some people get it straight away, others take it a little more convincingly. But in doing so we’ve been able to raise a great deal of awareness – not only of the need for a solution, but of the very real, and highly stigmatised, challenges so many of us (1 in 6) will face when trying to conceive.
Speaking of challenges, the path to funding is often a maze for femtech founders. How did your experience with seeking funding for Béa differ from your past ventures? Any lessons or insights you’d care to share with budding entrepreneurs?
Besides the challenge of communicating the need for an affordable fertility solution to those without lived experience, during our initial raise back in 2021, we were still very much pitching a concept. We hadn’t yet designed the finished product, as the Béa treatment was still going through development. This meant we had to get investors on board with our vision through understanding the scale of the problem and the necessity of the solution we were building to address it.
My advice for other entrepreneurs approaching funding is to find the investors who really understand what you’re trying to achieve and will get behind it. You need investors who are committed to helping you overcome the inevitable challenges you’ll face along the way because they truly believe in your mission.
They have to be in it for the long haul. My board director today, Brian, was one of my very first backers, and even to this day we speak frequently and make some of the hardest decisions in the business together. Some investors make the journey of building a company feel harder and lonelier. Find the ones that do the opposite.
Adapting and being flexible is a huge part of startup success. Can you share a time when you had to pivot or significantly adjust Béa’s product roadmap based on feedback or unforeseen challenges?
Feedback has been an essential part of the product building process for us. We were determined to build a product that not only provided a safe, affordable alternative fertility treatment for those struggling to conceive, but that was also sleek, easy-to-use and felt familiar to our users. This resulted in over 90 product iterations to get it exactly right. I tested most of them myself before we got to one we were happy with.
We constantly ran user research sessions, asked people to use the device on a medical model to see how they understood the experience, and asked continual questions to gain as much feedback as possible. It’s tough building regulated medical devices because the R&D and regulatory process is gruelling, but in the end you have a much better, safer and more intuitive product.
Given your extensive experience in femtech, where do you see the future of women’s health tech headed? What changes or innovations are you most excited about?
Women’s health tech remains ripe for innovation. One of the biggest ways I believe innovation will help drive forward change in women’s health over the coming years is in helping to close the data gap.
Traditional medical data and research is limited and largely biassed towards male anatomy and male health issues. Doing the research to generate richer, more nuanced data on women’s health will help to remedy gender inequality in healthcare. It will help build a stronger foundation for future innovation, which can use this data to improve and enhance health outcomes for women around the world.
I also get really excited about any kind of innovation that takes expensive, invasive procedures out of the clinical world, and re-designs the procedure to be done in a safe and simple way at home. If it cuts the cost and makes access to care easier, I’m excited about it.
As the first woman to lead a digital marketing accelerator in Saudi Arabia, you’ve broken barriers. In that light, what would be your advice for women looking to carve out their niche, particularly in fields where they’re underrepresented?
Years ago I decided to see what would happen if I said ‘yes’ to everything for just one week. In that week, someone asked me if I’d teach a digital accelerator in Saudi Arabia. I said yes. I was pretty terrified going into that experience but when I got there, I met the incredible female founders taking the course, and it changed my life.
What I learned from the women there was how important it is to be resilient. You’re inevitably going to meet a number of hurdles, hear a lot of ‘no’s’ and come up against a lack of understanding (or ignorance); but don’t let this deter you. It’s unfortunately all part and parcel of carving out space in an underdeveloped or underrepresented area.
Surround yourself with people who really ‘get’ the mission you’re on and use this support to bolster you as you tackle each of these hurdles. You have to keep picking yourself up and raising the voice for change – eventually you’ll get the answer you’re looking for.
Lastly, Tess, looking forward, how do you envision the growth of diversity in VC? What steps would you recommend to make innovation more accessible for women?
For capital to become more accessible for female founders and female-led teams, we need to see more female representation in senior VC positions. I have a love/hate relationship with the word ‘FemTech’.
I hate it because we don’t call technology for men ‘MenTech’, we just call it ‘Tech’. I love it because we still live in a time where the label is necessary; it shines a spotlight on the insanely high barriers facing female-led teams building technology for female-centric audiences – access to funding being one of those barriers.
Until women have a say in where investments are made, female innovation will continue to be passed over and deprioritised. Representation is everything, and it has to start at the top. When it’s performative, it won’t work. Venture firms must be encouraging and supporting more women to access more senior roles, and providing clearer pathways for the next generation of women to get there too. Only then will we start to see some diversity in VC, and improved access to innovation for women.