Like many entrepreneurs, Claire Tomkins knows how it feels to struggle for a dream. But her dream was of a family, and her attempts to achieve it changed everything.
She’s the founder and CEO of Future Family, a San Francisco firm she launched in 2016 to improve access to fertility treatments by making them easier to afford and understand. She and her staff serve as liaisons between patients and fertility clinics throughout the country, collecting monthly payments on their behalf to cover services selected by patients to meet their specific needs.
Part of its success, Tomkins says, comes from the fact that her ideas for fertility assistance solutions are rooted in personal struggles. She reports paying over $100,000 to conceive her now 4-year-old daughter through several rounds of in vitro fertilization. Her mission, she says, has been to spare other families that financial and emotional struggle.
The other part of Future Family’s growth simply comes from good timing: Fertility is a rapidly growing industry that investors are clamoring to break into.
Entrepreneurship in an Emerging Market
Studies show that the fertility market is expected to be worth $36.2 billion by 2026. The most recent research available indicates that IVF in particularly is growing in popularity, with more than 61,000 babies conceived in 2012 in the United States through the process — a record number. As of 2014, more than 8 million babies throughout the world have been born through IVF since the first “test tube baby” decades ago.
Reasons for this range from age-related complications as more women put off child-rearing in order to advance their careers, to male infertility. But whatever the cause, there is a noted, expanding need for access to fertility services — and Tomkins is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs trying to meet it.
Before starting a family — and starting up — she was a director at SolarCity, a renewable energy services firm and subset of Tesla based in San Mateo, California. But then, she and her husband went through six rounds of IVF in all to conceive their daughter, Natalie. After a few years, they went through IVF again, and after one cycle, welcomed twins 18 months ago.
“There are a lot of young kids at my house now,” she says with a laugh. But she’s very serious about the difficulty of getting her loud, toy-filled dream home, and the toll it took on her and her husband. “IVF was the way we started our family. And after that experience — particularly with our daughter, which was such a long, difficult journey — I really stepped back and looked at what I was pursuing” professionally.
Rather than continuing on with her career at the time, she imagined starting a business that helps families struggling to conceive. Her motivations for starting up may have been personal, but there is real money in the work she’s now doing. Every year since her 2016 launch, she has completed a successful fundraising round. Most recently, her series A fundraising round yielded $10 million. It was led by Aspect Ventures, and backed by iNovia, BBG, LaunchCapital and others.
“There’s a huge demand for these services right now. You see so much momentum,” she says, pointing to the growth in the market and investors’ subsequent interest. “What a great moment this is to be working in women’s health.”
Helping Women and Families
Firms like Tomkins’ are thriving because more families than ever are in need of their services — fertility rates in the U.S. alone are said to have reached a 30-year low. Yet only 15 states require insurance providers to cover such medical care, and IVF costs pile up quickly.
Future Family aims, first and foremost, to address the issue of access to IVF, by giving patients a way to pay in more comfortable monthly installments. Price is “a major barrier today, and where a lot of the stress resides,” she says. “We’re taking that upfront cost and simplifying it into something manageable. Instead of $21,000, you pay [as little as $275] per month, and all plans are customized to offer the services [a given family] needs.”
Tomkins says she also aims to offer “support along the way” through a nurse concierge service that stays with a client throughout their journey. This service assists in everything from aiding in decision-making to helping prepare materials for upcoming appointments at patients’ respective clinics. That way, “it’s not something they have to go through alone.”
And part of that information campaign involves offering clarity on what, exactly, the money is for. “I’ve been through this, trying to navigate it solo. The questions about the complexity of treatments and medical care carry an emotional burden,” she says.
The staffers who assist families are comprised of both full-time employees and consultants. (Tomkins declined to say how many employees she has.) “We’ve essentially gone out and recruited some of the best [registered nurses] and fertility experts,” she says, adding that many of them have at least 8 or 10 years of experience in fertility services.
And, “we have built a network across the U.S. with premiere fertility clinics,” making it easier for families throughout the country to turn to Future Family.
Tomkins is able to cast such a wide net because all of her services are rendered digitally or by phone. “We have the tech to help support people,” she says. And Future Family is working on new tools — the specifics are presently embargoed — that, they hope, will better assist clients and “push boundaries around support and access” to IVF.
It’s all to achieve her long-term mission: “to support everyone on their path to building the family they want to have. Same-sex couples, women who go it alone, families who unexpectedly struggle to get where they want to be — we build a pathway” for them, she says.
Though her business has serious investor power behind it, and her industry is rapidly expanding, her mission and measure of success remain far more personal. After all, she says, “I remember those dark days, when I wasn’t sure exactly how I would build my family.”