Revolutionising digital healthcare: behind the scenes at Dr Fertility

Dr Fertility was created to support couples trying to conceive to find a simple and informative way to navigate through the conflicting and complex fertility information available online. Founded by Dr Lucy Buckley (PhD) and Kobi McCardle in 2017, Dr Fertility acts as a one-stop-destination for fertility; providing education, products and services to support people on their fertility journey.

We first partnered with Dr Fertility in 2019, as the first investment from our maiden EIS Fund. Our goal was to help the team to develop a full-service digital health platform. Since our investment, Dr Fertility has recruited a team, built a technology platform, gained Care Quality Commission (CQC) registration to become a digital health care provider, launched fertility services and made the transformation from an e-commerce business into a digital health provider. Revenue is now set to double year-on-year.

We’ve played a key role in helping Dr Fertility to achieve these milestones, by supporting Lucy and Kobi on managing the business’ financial and recruitment strategy. Here we caught up with co-founders, Lucy and Kobi, to find out why they chose Praetura Ventures as an investment partner, and what they’ve achieved in the last year.

Your story so far

Can you tell me a bit about your business?

Dr Lucy Buckley: We first came up with the idea for Dr Fertility when we shared a flat together. After experiencing many insensitive comments from people about our ticking biological clocks and needing to find a man, we thought ‘actually, where do you go to find out more about fertility?’ and the seed for Dr Fertility was planted. With my background in healthcare and Kobi’s background in digital marketing and e-commerce, we felt we had the right combination of skills to make it a success.

According to the NHS, one in seven couples in the UK are affected by infertility, and currently, there is no recognised central platform for fertility advice and support. We understand that trying for a baby can be a very challenging time for some people.

We set up Dr Fertility to help people navigate the complexity around fertility and to support people on their path to parenthood. To support us achieve our vision, it was important for us to find the right investment partner to help us transform Dr Fertility from an e-commerce website into a digital health business.

In June 2019, we raised £900,000 from Praetura Ventures as part of a £1m seed round. This meant that, in addition to offering fertility education and products, we could become an online primary care provider for fertility, offering remote healthcare services with fertility experts.

To reach our goal of becoming a digital healthcare provider, we needed to register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of healthcare and adult social care services in England.

Tell us more about the CQC accreditation, how did you achieve it and what does it allow you to do?

Dr Lucy Buckley: We obtained our CQC registration in June 2020, which was a landmark milestone for the business.

The purpose of the CQC is to ensure that healthcare providers give people safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care, and encourage healthcare services to improve. They regulate healthcare and adult social care providers in England, monitor, and inspect services and use legal powers to act where they identify poor care.

To achieve accreditation, we had to develop key areas of the business, including (but not limited to) our policies and procedures, our HR system, in-house staff training, health and safety, clinical and technology.

It took us six months to become ready for our CQC registration inspection. At times, I won’t lie, it felt like we were climbing a mountain – particularly with the bulk of the work being done during lockdown.

Becoming registered with the CQC has truly transformed our business. Prior to our CQC registration, we were only able to offer products and education, which was extremely frustrating, but now we can now provide medical advice and treatment. We are passionate about demonstrating best practice in this field and setting a strong example for high-quality healthcare in the industry.

The right investment partner

What made you chose the team at Praetura Ventures?

Kobi McCardle: The first step we took when looking to raise money from a venture capital partner was to do our own due diligence. We met with a huge network of people in the industry to gather their thoughts on which firms really provide exceptional support, and the feedback all pointed us towards Praetura Ventures.

Praetura Ventures is known for its extensive network and for backing exciting businesses across the North, but it didn’t just come down to this. Everyone we spoke to said the same thing – that the team at Praetura is committed to going above and beyond to support their portfolio companies throughout their journey.

We heard stories of how they’d helped businesses by injecting additional resource, shared their expertise to help businesses develop strategies for growth and given teams around the North the tools they needed to build a substantial network. It was the quality of the Praetura Ventures team, and their clear commitment to helping their portfolio businesses succeed that really clinched it for us.

How have the team at Praetura Ventures supported you so far?

Kobi McCardle: Dave and the team have been so good to us. In a nutshell, they’re amazing and have helped us at every step of the process. It’s no exaggeration to say that they invest more than money.

Over the last year, the whole investment team has stepped in no matter what we need – Pete Carway, has lent his expertise to help us recruit a finance director, Ben Hatton has brought us on board for some brilliant marketing workshops, Guy Weaver has been on hand to review some of our materials and Dave Foreman has been a fantastic sounding board for decisions.

It’s like having an extension of our own team. Whatever support we need, they will plug us into the relevant person. Over the last 12 months there have been high and low points as you’d expect when undergoing a rapid growth period, and what’s really telling is how an investor supports a business through the challenges. The team at Praetura is supportive, measured, and gives a practical approach, enabling us to smash our goals as a result.

The future of digital healthcare

How has the current crisis affected the business?

Dr Lucy Buckley: The pandemic has been a catalyst for the adoption of digital health, and we’ve seen both patients and healthcare providers adopt digital health much quicker than before. While digital healthcare acceleration is a silver lining in the current climate, it’s easy to understand the reluctance to adopt new ways of workings among both clinicians and patients.

Initially, the regulatory landscape was not well defined and there was a shortage of data to show the safety and efficacy of digital health technologies. Patients are also becoming more confident in accessing healthcare digitally and we are seeing increased acceptance.

During the lockdown, we’ve seen a big uplift in sales month-on-month. From March to April month-on-month revenue increased by 86%.

What does the future hold for the digital healthcare sector and fertility services?

Dr Lucy Buckley: The pandemic has had a huge impact on the transformation of healthcare and has really accelerated the move to digital. It is early days and data is still limited but I believe that both clinicians and patients are becoming more comfortable with the use of digital health technologies and understanding the benefits.

Through the Dr Fertility platform, we can provide people with quick access to fertility experts from the comfort of their own home. Many people can find a clinic environment intimidating so an online consultation is often a good starting point for them. Offering patient’s choice is very important to us and we have consequently developed our service so that our patients are able to choose their clinician (doctor or nurse), service and appointment time. We don’t want our patients to feel rushed during a consultation, so we allow 45-60mins for each appointment.

What’s next for Dr Fertility?

Dr Lucy Buckley: Our ambition is to become a world-leading digital health platform, and to continue to support people who are trying to conceive by providing high-quality education, products and healthcare service. The next part of our journey is to scale the business and develop of service offering further. We want to raise awareness around the complex issues surrounding fertility and tackle the fertility taboo.

As part a recent health awareness campaign called #cyclesavvy, we conducted a survey of 18,000 people, which showed there are gaps in understanding around fertility, so it’s important that we use technology to reach out to as many people as possible.

The CQC registration has been a vital step in our progression and it allows us to provide online primary care tailored to the needs of each patient. We can now provide medical advice, prescriptions, diagnostic testing and referrals. We want to build on this and further develop our service offering to include counselling, sperm testing and ultrasounds.

We’re looking to raise another round of investment in the future to support us in expanding our services and targeting new markets, including overseas.

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