Editor’s note: This article is part of a series spotlighting female medical entrepreneurs who serve other women.
Dr. Sophia Yen is driven by a singular mission: “No one runs out of birth control on my watch.”
The CEO and founder of Pandia Health launched its online portal in 2016 to prescribe and deliver low-cost birth control pills. Yen was driven to start up when, as a physician, she saw female patients frequently skip birth control dosages because they had trouble getting to a doctor’s office or couldn’t afford medication.
Through her Sunnyvale, Calif., firm, Yen aims to “disrupt the monolithic, slow pharmacy system and appeal to young people who are used to getting stuff delivered.” She also provides a blog that features sexual health information as well as lighter, empowering fare. “Our goal is: no one runs out, and everyone gets their questions answered.”
Both components matter, she says, because like access, misinformation and social stigma surrounding birth control are significant problems that harm women disproportionately — and she wants to eradicate those roadblocks to wellness.
“Unfortunately, in our society people are very hesitant to talk about birth control, which is not good for us,” she says. “We should be proud we’re using it, that we’re preventing unplanned pregnancy, that we’re prepared.”
Yen earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993 and a doctorate from the University of California in San Francisco in 1997. Then, she embarked on a robust career in medicine and academia. Today, in addition to her work at Pandia Health, she is also a clinical associate professor at Stanford University and a doctor at the school’s Center for Adolescent Health.
It was at the center that she discovered how frequently young women were foregoing birth control because it was tough to access. She came up with the idea of a one-stop shop that provides “telemedicine and a pharmacy.”
In March of 2016, Yen launched with a simple model: Women could receive an online birth control prescription for pills and then have the medication shipped directly to their front doors. With insurance, the service costs nothing — without, it’s $39, and shipping is free. To get the venture off the ground, she pursued both angel investors and friends and family contributions. And to help fund operations, she partnered with a pharmacy for pills.
Her firm is just over a year old, and Pandia Health’s services are currently only available in California due to legal restrictions. But already her efforts have garnered accolades from Goldman Sachs and press attention from the likes of Forbes. She has also won opportunities to write for sites like Inc. and inclusion in two startup accelerators.
More importantly, Yen and her 11-person team have helped 878 customers get birth control, to date.
Now, she is pursuing a seed round of funding — so far, she has raised around $500,000 of the $2 million she hopes to ultimately secure. The money will help Pandia Health expand into Florida, Massachusetts, Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere by the end of this year, she says. Yen’s ultimate goal is to become a nationwide service.
How it Helps
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 16 percent of the United States’ 61 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 use birth control pills, or about 9.7 women. However, many more want the pill but cannot get it, either because they don’t have health insurance to help cover the cost or or can’t use relevant assistance programs because of a lack of federal funding — circumstances that are likely to worsen under President Donald Trump.
Not all women who want access to the pill are trying to avoid unwanted pregnancies, Yen points out. “About 14 percent use it for non-birth-control reasons such as heavy or painful bleeding,” she says.
As such, Pandia Health is designed to get medication to any woman with “the internet and a mailbox.” Its relatively low-cost services, online accessibility and even its packaging — customers can choose between “confident or confidential” delivery boxes — are designed with women’s comfort and convenience in mind.
Women who are uninsured or still cannot afford the medication for any reason, can apply for assistance from a fund that Pandia Health runs, and supporters can donate to it, if they have means.
Down the road, Yen wants to expand into offering a full range of prenatal care products. She also hopes to one day offer testing for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, provide condoms, and sell other items that “you don’t want to be caught dead in a pharmacy buying,” she says.
Why it Matters
In the current political climate, Yen expressed concern that new healthcare legislation could make accessing birth control more difficult, or shut down in-person clinics. “As they close brick-and-mortar [clinics], there will be a greater need than ever for my company,” she says. “We want to bust access wide open.”
Her commitment extends beyond building Pandia Health. Yen also proudly takes part in area marches and rallies for women’s equality, and advocates publicly for access to birth control. She is outspoken about the need for more comprehensive sex education as well as easier access to confidential, affordable healthcare overall.
Entrepreneurship is one important way for women in particular to make their mark in that fight, she says. “More people making it easier for people to take care of themselves is a good thing.”