According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one in eight couples struggles to get pregnant after over one year of trying. And 1/3 of those issues are because of problems in men (1).
Recently, a small but growing number of startups are bringing innovation and technology to the male fertility market. It has given a surge to the emerging fertility tech market, digital products designed to support people looking to get pregnant.
Last year, Octopus, a venture capital firm, released a report (2) highlighting the opportunity for the industry, discovering that fertility-focused startups have bagged more than 2.2 billion USD in investments in the past few years, between 2014 and 2019.
“The trend is clear. As fertility rates keep declining, demand for fertility treatments will continue to rise. However, not everyone who wants treatment can access it,” says Kamran Adle, Octopus Ventures’ early-stage investor in the Future of Health team. “That is where we see big opportunities in the coming years, with new services and technologies enabling new treatments that are scalable and cheaper. It offers a huge opportunity to transform outcomes and make having a baby more accessible for everyone.”
The report discovers that the average deal size for fertility startups grew from 4.1 million USD in 2014 to 7.73 million USD in 2019. While these industries are rising in popularity, the report noted that the investment in the area has remained low compared to other health focuses such as cannabis tech, telemedicine, and medical records.
“Significant technological and scientific advances mean it has now started to change, and some talented entrepreneurs are creating very exciting companies in the market. We believe that several of them have the potential to change the industry, and backing from venture capital firms will be essential to drive the change,” notes the report.
Why It Matters
According to a 2019 TOI report (3), in over 50% of infertility cases in India, the reason is male infertility. As more than 15% of men in the country suffer from male infertility, it has been the need of the hour to focus on the issue.
Doctors of AIIMS, All India Institute of Medical Sciences have noted that more than 12 to 18 million couples in India are diagnosed with infertility every year. They also reported that while the sperm count of an average Indian male was 60 million/ml thirty years ago, today, it stands at around 20 million/ml.
Notably, western countries are also observing higher male infertility rates in the past few decades. Swan and other researchers had concluded four years ago that the sperm count of an average male in Western countries had fallen by 59% from 1973 to 2011 (4).
While the industry has been historically female-focused, entrepreneurs have now started realizing the untapped potential in male reproductive health.
The global fertility market is on track to surpass 47 billion USD by 2030 (5). And as male fertility solutions become more scalable and affordable, it offers several lucrative opportunities for businesses.
Sperm Tests and Freezing
Men can now check their sperm count and speed on their smartphones and even watch videos of their sperm sample motility.
Sperm freezing is another lucrative and high-growth area.
Until recently, most men chose to freeze their sperm for medical or practical reasons such as military deployments and chemotherapy. However, today, they seem to be thinking more proactively about their fertility.
Companies like Reprotech (6) hold frozen sperm for an average of 275 USD to 500 USD a year to offer peace of mind over future infertility.
It is also worth highlighting that both are uncomfortable businesses for consumers as samples need to be frozen within 30 minutes. It means that they have to race off to the lab or produce their swimmers at the doctor’s office.
Meaning, entrepreneurs who can circumvent these hiccups will tap into a climbing market.
Pioneer Data, a startup aiming to democratize the male fertility space, has recently bagged 7 million USD (7). It offers a kit with preservatives to allow at-home sperm collection with no rush.
Another startup with a similar solution, Legacy, recently secured a 10 million USD Series A funding in April this year (8). This Y Combinator-backed startup offers a mail-in kit for men to have their sperm tested and/or frozen. It prepares a thorough analysis report, including data-driven recommendations to improve consumer’s sperm quality.
ExSeed Health, a Danish startup, also relies on Home testing. However, there is no need for semen collection. The company delivers the answer to its consumers with a device and a smartphone.
Entrepreneurs can foray into the market while still in its infancy and compete with discreet and modern solutions as the demand skyrockets.
Businesses can also offer solutions in collection and delivery, tech support, branding, and packaging for startups in the market. One can also niche down with storage facilities as the sample number starts growing.
Sperm needs to be stored, frozen at -196℃ or -320.8℉ (9). Businesses can focus on smart software that ensures optimum storage conditions and offer clients app-based updates.
There likely will be a high demand for compliance and regulatory software.
Historically, regulations for sperm banking were made (10) to treat men with cancer or heterosexual couples with infertility. However, as sperm banking’s clinical landscape changes to incorporate single men and LGBTQ+ communities, startups and compliance solutions will need to evolve.
Erectile Dysfunction and Contraception
Entrepreneurs have increasingly been visiting Men’s health in the past few years, leveraging the D2C trend. Hims and Roman are the most notable startups. They offer products targeting erectile dysfunction and hair loss, among other things.
Another similar company is Manual, a British wellness platform for men’s health issues, including erectile dysfunction and hair fall. The founders of the company believe that as many women need to find more about their health issues, men also do. The company has secured more than ￡5 million in seed funding from Felix Capital, Cherry Ventures, and Cassius Capital.
However, the risk is it encourages businesses with healthcare experience to enter into the market, focusing more on website design and packaging than creating a responsible healthcare product.
Still, there are several medically viable startups that base their research on scientific data. One such example is YourChice Therapeutics, which is aiming to create a men’s contraceptive pill.
YourChoice team had initially started on a non-hormonal contraceptive for women, which they are still working on. But, they soon realized that they could also create a contraceptive solution for men.
As per Akash Bakshi, Co-founder, and CEO of YourChoice Therapeutics, they have discovered ways to decrease sperm energy production and prevent motility patterns needed for fertilization.
Apart from NIH’s grant, the company claims that it has raised millions of dollar funding round from venture capital firms, including 8VC, SV Tech Ventures, Reproductive Health Ventures, and Blue Bear Ventures, Reproductive.
While no studies prove a link between harmful health effects of radiation emitted by mobile phones (11), some men are wary of these wavelengths’ potential harm on their swimmers. Lambs, formerly known as Spartan, is one such startup targeting this group. It manufactures radiation-blocking underwear, starting at 29 USD.
According to Arther Menard de Calenge, Lamb’s CEO, “phone radiation decreases male fertility because they significantly reduce sperm velocity and motility.”
Founded in 2016, the company has developed a silver-lining technology, WaveStopper, inspired by NASA suits. Menard adds that the efficiency of their technology is certified in both the US and Europe, affirming that their technology blocks 99.8 to 99.9% of mobile phone and Wi-Fi radiation.
Another such similar startup is CDLP. It is a Swedish startup firm. It doesn’t exactly market itself as a solution to low male fertility, but they sell men’s underwear that is supposed to breathe much better than cotton underwear and hence keep the package fresh and cool.
Not Just Freezing
While several businesses are focusing on freezing and analyzing sperm, there are also others looking to help male fertility more generally.
One such Polish company, Coolmen, concentrates on the fact that keeping testicles cool seems to affect the semen positively.
Notably, research done in a hospital setting in 70s Germany suggested that cooling of men’s testicles positively affected sperm. It is something that Coolmen’s founders believed can still work but with an easy-to-use wearable, says Dorota Partyka, Coolmen’s project manager.
She added that the founders found a huge gap in the market as female fertility is well researched while male fertility is still in the dark.
According to Partyka, the wearable is attached to the testicles and will cool them down after wearing them for about eight hours a day for best results.
Another startup, Comphya, a Swiss company, also offers wearable but as a solution for erectile dysfunction. The company has developed a solution for people who don’t get desired results with Viagra and other oral treatments; a neuro-stimulator implant in the pelvic cavity, which users can switch on and off by wireless remote control.
There are countless apps for women to maximize their fertility; why not for men?
Swimmers provide men online fertility assessments with personalized fertility-increasing tips and supplements.
Don’t Cook Your Balls, not a recipe blog but an online resource for men’s reproductive health. As per SimilarWeb, it had more than 100k visits in January alone.
While several such resources are available online, no one has yet rolled out a seamless end-to-end mobile app men-specific solution.
Offering fertility guides and information with direct access to health professionals, fertility tracking (yes, there is such a thing as a men fertility cycle) (12), and personalized D2C supplements have huge opportunities.
According to Keywords Everywhere, Google search volumes:
- “How to increase sperm count,” over 74k searches a month
- “Foods to increase male fertility,” more than 8.1k searches a month
- “Sperm count increase tablets,” over 5.4k searches a month
- “Best male fertility supplements 2020,” more than 2.9k searches a month
Fertility as a Service
Bea Fertility, a startup that offers insemination at home service, recently secured 1 million USD in a pre-seed funding round (13).
It offers a monthly subscription for double insemination kits, involving “placing a small cup of semen adjacent to the cervix for two consecutive days in a month.”
Early studies hint the process raises the conception chances by 40% to 60% (14), offering an alternative to costly, in-clinic processes such as in-vitro fertilization.
If there are successful clinical trials, it will be revolutionary in the fertility market. Direct competition is an option. However, creation opportunities remain a hurdle.
According to Tess Cosad, co-founder of Bea, “One cannot ship an artificial insemination device to people’s doors and expect them to use a paper instruction pamphlet; they need more support.”
As more businesses look at the fertility space, entrepreneurs can build digital health experiences to complement these at-home medical treatments.