After a grueling journey through fertility treatment, Jessica Bell van der Wal and Corey van der Wal set out to reinvent the process for others.
“We didn’t know at the time if there was anything we could have done ahead of time,” Jessica Bell van der Wal said in an interview. “But in reflection, after we were finally at that point where we had a child, we started digging into the research and talking with clinicians and researchers about how this could have gone differently.”
The result is a startup company called Frame Fertility that landed $2.8 million in seed funding in late April.
Founded in 2021, the San Francisco-based company offers a coaching service grounded in research and designed to help people take early action on health and wellness issues that can impact fertility. Jessica is the CEO, while her husband, Corey, is the chief product officer. They both have experience in digital health: Jessica on the marketing and customer-facing side, Corey in product engineering and analytics.
Frame’s approach represents a departure from what people often hear, which is that they should start trying to have children and then seek help if they have any problems conceiving.
“Part of what makes it so challenging to deliver what we’re doing is because the research and the clinical knowledge is sort of fragmented,” Corey said. “We spent a lot of time bringing that together into a cohesive body of knowledge that can be applied to many different situations.”
To help people even before they try to conceive, Frame assesses their health and family-planning status using a digital questionnaire and a proprietary clinical algorithm. People are then paired with certified coaches who support them in planning and taking any next steps. The platform is designed not just for women but also for men and for the LGBTQ community.
Coaches may help Frame users engage in preventive care, manage underlying conditions that impact fertility or take steps in general to improve their health, Jessica said. “We actually tried to plan ahead and were told not to worry.”
Patients come to Frame through one of two channels: physicians who offer it as part of their practice or employers who offer it as a workplace benefit.
Frame is not currently covered by insurance, Jessica said. But, she added: “Reimbursement overall is something that we’re digging into right now.”
Other companies offering fertility benefits include Carrot Fertility, Future Family, Ovia Health and Progyny.
Frame differs in that its platform strives to accommodate both women and men, as well as LGBTQ people and racial and ethnic minorities, Jessica said. The company also is focused on early intervention and fitting into existing physician workflows.
Dr. Annelise Swigert, an OB/GYN at Southdale OB/GYN in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been referring patients to Frame for several months and is now a clinical adviser to the company.
She sees the platform as a trusted source of information for patients who otherwise would turn to “Dr. Google.” The product also offers busy doctors a way to engage and educate their patients, particularly younger people who are already adept at using online tools.
“There really wasn’t another product like this,” Swigert said. “We were left to try to give information in a 15-minute time slot to our patients that covered everything from managing a healthy weight and dieting to understanding the full hormonal cycle .”
The new approach is resonating with investors, as well.
“There is nothing else like it out there when it comes to treating people’s fertility health journeys holistically, and the potential impact across stakeholders, ranging from patients to providers to payers to employers, is vast,” Adam Besvinick, founder and managing partner at Looking Glass Capital, said in a press release. Looking Glass led the $2.8 million seed round.
Other investors in Frame include Flare Capital Partners, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Healthworx and Brand Foundry Ventures, as well as several angel investors: Christine Hsu Evans, chief marketing and strategy officer at Headspace Health; Julie Cheek, founder and CEO of Everly Health; Jonathan Hirsch, founder of Syapse; and Giovanni Colella, founder of Castlight, OODA and Brightline Health. Jessica worked previously at Castlight, while Corey worked at Syapse.
Frame plans to use the seed funding to expand its staff to support work with new customers, add new functionality to its product and conduct research on the product’s impact. Initial results show that 80% of Frame’s users report seeing their health improve as a result of the platform.
“We’re working right now on a couple clinical research studies in partnership with other players in this space, in particular, academic medical systems, to prove out the outcomes of our product,” Jessica said.
Photo: Iryna Shkrabaliuk, Getty Images