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The Kind of Company, and Entrepreneur, That Inspires Us
At CNote, we a believe in underdogs. Our mission is to deliver financial empowerment, both to savers, and to financially underserved communities. Your investment in CNote drives community development projects, and provides the funding female and minority entrepreneurs rely on to get their businesses off the ground.
Often, its hard to envision what these companies might look like, who runs them, and how they impact the world. Today, we highlight Pandia Health and its CEO, Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, as an example of the kind of change that can occur when a motivated entrepreneur is given the capital to execute on her dream.
Dr. Sophia Yen has over 20 years of experience in medicine. She serves as a clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford Medical School. She graduated from MIT, UCSF Medical School, and UC Berkeley with a MPH in Maternal Child Health. Dr. Yen co-founded Pandia Health and enjoys educating the public and other physicians about birth control, acne, weight management, and other adolescent health issues.
The Pandia Health Peace-of-Mind, Taking The Pain Out of Reproductive Health
For the vast majority of the women who use it, birth control can be a real pain in the uterus. It’s a pain to swallow a pill every day. It’s a pain to drive to the pharmacy once a month to refill the prescription. But most of all, it’s painful to stress over the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy and the life-altering impact it can have.
Dr. Sophia Yen, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health, calls it “pill anxiety.”
“You’re going through your pills and you get to that last week; and if you don’t get to the pharmacy, there will be a dire consequence. And so you have that stress in the back of your mind every single month,” she explains, speaking of her own experience as well as that of millions of other women. “And so that is the goal of Pandia Health…to cure women of this pill anxiety.”
“Set it and forget it; don’t run out on our watch.”
Indeed, when it comes to birth control, Pandia Health has taken over the watch. Through its website the company offers two main services: 1) monthly deliveries of birth control to the customer’s door, billed to insurance; and 2) telemedicine prescriptions costing a flat rate of $39, valid for a year. By taking over the responsibility of refilling birth control, Pandia Health has cured pill anxiety with what Dr. Yen dubs “Pandia peace-of-mind.”
Pandia Health’s Mission, and Drive, Comes From its Founder
From the way Dr. Yen speaks of her company, it’s clear that it is a source of pride and joy to her: “We are busting open access, and that’s what makes me happy: saving women stress, preventing unplanned pregnancy.”
An MD and MPH in Maternal Child Health, Dr. Yen has a demonstrated passion for women’s health and reproductive rights. Pandia Health is a natural extension of that focus. Indeed, it was in preparing for a talk about birth control that she conceived the idea of Pandia Health.
“I came across this statistic that one of the top three reasons women don’t take their birth control is they don’t have it on hand,” she recalls. “And I said, ‘This is easily solvable.'”
But her passion to solve such problems began even before that.
When Sophia Yen was 15, she ran a pregnancy test. The test wasn’t for her, but for her 13-year-old client in a pregnancy counseling program. And it came back positive.
“That was life altering for that patient forever,” Dr. Yen recounts. “It just made me sad to see the two different trajectories: I was going to head off to college and off to medical school, and she was going to head off to a life of teen pregnancy. And so I realized then how critical it is that people have access to birth control and comprehensive sex ed.”
The joy is clear in the way she treasures her customers. Admiring their initiative to prevent unplanned pregnancy and make their lives easier, she calls them all “beautiful” and includes “fun things, randomly” in their shipments, such as chocolates, sunglasses, and condoms. On the rare occasion that there’s a problem with a refill date, she contacts the patient’s pharmacy to make sure patients have access to a new prescription before the pills run out.
In the end, the personal and professional commitment that characterizes Dr. Yen’s work comes from a passion to empower women to control their own destiny. She’s said that her life’s work is to make women’s lives easier by saving all the unnecessary effort that goes into getting and using birth control. Her commitment to reproductive health is consistent, from the bumper sticker on her car, to the playful uterus-shaped pendant that adorns her necklace.
Turning Challenges Into Opportunities
In the early stages Pandia Health’s founding, the passion was there, but the money was not.
“The financial part is always ugly in the beginning…Funding-wise, you just have to bootstrap it or suck it up until you get money,” says Dr. Yen.
But her efforts to “bootstrap it” and secure funding at investment pitches were met with some resistance: namely, the barrier of many potential investors not understanding the problem because they had never experienced it personally.
In addition to uncertainty in the cause, there was also some uncertainty in Dr. Yen herself as a potentially successful entrepreneur. From the female founders before her Dr. Yen quickly learned to “never bring your male CTO or co-founder next to you, because they [investors] will be looking to him to approve, even though you’re CEO, even though it’s your idea, even though you brought the whole team together.”
Aside from gender bias, there was the perceived disadvantage of her being a physician (who are not traditionally credited with good financial intuition) and being a mother (who are not traditionally credited with having much time on their hands).
But rather than being weaknesses, Dr. Yen argues these unique life experiences helped her succeed. As a physician and mother, she was accustomed to working hard. And as a woman entrepreneur, she was able to anticipate being judged on accomplishments rather than potential. She knew she had to work harder and be more proactive than most if she wanted Pandia Health to succeed. So, she arranged a team of five multi-disciplined founders to make sure that they “could absolutely do it” before they asked for money.
Talk about weaknesses being turned into strengths.
It turned out that the “weaknesses” perceived by some investors became Pandia Health’s saving grace in other circles of investors. Namely, the cause for accessible birth control that turned 70-year-old male investors away, was admired and supported by organizations who liked to invest in social entrepreneurship, like OneWorld and Women’s Startup Lab.
Through such organizations, Dr. Yen was able to not only secure investments, but also access networks where she could exchange resources with other “femtech” companies for the mutual benefit of both.
Pandia Health’s Impact
Now, three years after her initial idea, Dr. Yen continues to strive for solutions to the women’s health issues she is passionate about. With an adaptable mindset picked up from MIT, and a work ethic refined in medical school, she pivots her business in directions best suited to her customer’s needs: starting an ambassador program to increase awareness on college campuses; raising money to expand services nationwide and establish Pandia Health’s own pharmacy.
Of her company’s growth, she says, “We see a future where we start with birth control, we gain women’s trust, and we grow with them as they grow. So there’s huge potential, and you have to be flexible, you can’t be in a set mindset.”
But although the growth path is open to change, one thing is constant: The company will adapt itself to respond to women’s needs. It has done so from the very beginning and will continue to do so. And that is what women can count on for continued Pandia Health peace-of-mind.
Dr. Yen has shown us the impact a dedicated entrepreneur can have on the world. The money invested in Pandia Health has been a force for good in the lives of the women the company has served. Because Pandia Health predates CNote, we have not deployed any investment dollars in Pandia Health directly, but we will continue to work to drive dollars to entrepreneurs like Dr. Yen and share their inspiring stories, regardless of their funding source.
Pandia Health Today
Pandia Health is looking to expand its services nationwide and continue serving women in the most convenient, pill-anxiety free way possible. Their work is more relevant than ever, now that affordable birth control has become even less of a guarantee given the recent defunding of insurance-covered contraceptives.
To find out more about Pandia Health’s services and impact, visit their website: https://www.pandiahealth.com
Dr. Yen encourages those interested in women’s health and advocacy to support the Silver Ribbon Campaign. That charity serves as an advocate for the respect of women’s reproductive rights.
Additionally, Pandia Health has created a Birth Control Fund to provide “financial assistance to women in need of access to birth control.” You can read more about that program here.