Andrea Zitna joins Speedinvest as Principal on our Health investment team. Andrea was most recently the Chief Revenue Officer at Elvie, which she helped build from pre-revenue into one of the most iconic Femtech companies worldwide. We asked her to reflect on the operator-to-investor switch and why she decided to join us.
I realized some time ago that I am someone who thrives during the early, messy, all-consuming years of the startup journey. I obsess about business models, execution, and about turning an initial vision into a reality. I like the fight to bring structure to chaos.
Nowadays, Elvie is all grown up. It is one of the best-known names in Femtech, a 200-plus person, post-Series C business on track to hit $100m in revenue this year. I am so proud of what we built there and I can’t wait to see what Tania Boler and the extraordinary Elvie team does next.
But (and there is a but) more than six years into the Elvie journey, I found myself missing that difficult, problem-solving phase when questions vastly outnumber answers; when you straddle multiple roles; and when you have to do a lot with very little. How do we launch? How do we price? How do we sell? Do we have enough cash? Who do we hire next? Will we be able to raise capital? What’s our plan B, C, D, E…?
I wanted to be part of that critical phase all over again.
I knew I wanted to stay in Healthtech. Healthcare remains one of the least digitized industries, which, as a consumer, can feel frustrating today, but represents a huge innovation opportunity for tomorrow. It is also where the latest scientific breakthroughs can have the most striking impact – vaccine development during the pandemic being a case in point.
As someone with a science background and having worked on products that span the medical device and consumer categories, I have long found the intersection of technology, science, and health fascinating. I am also a strong believer in the power of direct-to-consumer brands to de-stigmatize difficult health topics and accelerate innovation, bringing a more consumer-centric approach to the way devices and solutions in healthcare are designed. Elvie has done this incredibly well, breaking taboos around incontinence with Elvie Trainer and completely reimagining breast pump design with Elvie Pump.
There are many predictable answers I could give to this question, but one big driving factor was actually a kind of FOMO. Biotech and digital health markets are booming and there is simply too much exciting activity going on to focus entirely on one business. Early-stage VC is the best possible way to partner with founders at scale and is a natural evolution of my working in, advising, and angel investing in startups. In many ways, VCs are extraordinarily privileged. They have access to the most cutting-edge innovation and the opportunity to select and fast-track the most impactful businesses.
Luckily for me, operators-turned-investors are increasingly common in VC. I believe that operators can bring empathy and highly relevant experience to founders and a complementary network that supports deal flow to the fund. Many successful tech scale-ups produce new waves of founders and investors and I believe the Elvie community will continue to found, fund and lead many more disruptive tech businesses in the UK, which gives me an extraordinary foundation to build on.
I was involved in Elvie’s fundraising process from the very early days and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from that side of the table. I have also seen many great founders struggle to get their foot in the door. Diversity on the other side of the table matters and I want to play a small part in changing the odds. It’s not virtue signalling, it’s good business sense. (The percentage of capital going to female-only founded teams has been stuck at 2-3% for over a decade and that’s despite those businesses typically returning more than ~2x the revenue per dollar invested).
When it came to deciding which fund would be the best fit, I knew I wanted to focus on the earliest stages; to be that go-to, first VC partner for new businesses.
Strong fund performance and a great reputation among founders were must-haves, but I also knew I wanted to work with a team that is bullish on Europe and has offices on the ground to back it up. It was also important to me that the team sees the talent and innovation potential of CEE (I was born and raised in Bratislava) and was ready to look beyond the traditional European tech hubs for deals. I was also looking for a fund with strong expertise in health, but also in consumer and deep tech, as I believe the magic often happens at these intersections.
Having applied these filters, it was all down to the people, the timing and gut instinct – in a way very similar to early stage investment decisions!
I am excited about how dramatically better healthcare outcomes and access could be for my children’s generation. I believe the future of care will be personalized, preventative, predictive and will extend well beyond the walls of the clinic. I get excited about businesses and technologies that will power and accelerate this new reality. The list is long, but at the top would be genomics; AI applications from drug development to diagnostics and treatment; neurotech; and the IoT and data infrastructure needed to deliver healthcare “anywhere.”
I believe consumer behaviors and the big trends that have reshaped the retail sector will permeate into healthcare. People will begin to play an increasingly active role in managing their health and will be better informed and more demanding of their providers. In fact, I believe this change is already well underway, driven by retail giants entering the space (hello Amazon!) and the Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are accustomed to convenience, efficiency, and transparency. Direct-to-Consumer models will become much more prevalent across Europe, especially in areas where demand continues to outstrip supply, such as mental health.
Lastly, I am excited about new approaches to close the huge data gaps that exist in healthcare and turning those insights into novel treatments or care models. Women’s health is a prime example and one I am passionate about. Not only are there substantial historical gaps in clinical data driven by a lack of female participation, there is also a limited understanding of the female body. This combined with the lack of investment has throttled innovation in PCOS, endometriosis, menopause… the list goes on.
If you are a founder working on any of these topics, or simply someone who obsesses about the Future of Health – I’d love to hear from you! You can get in touch via LinkedIn.