What can tech really solve?
Growing up, there was a disconnect between what Priyanka thought technology could solve and the problems she wanted to tackle, which seemed to be the exclusive purview of nonprofits and charity. From a young age, Priyanka took action, including working on building a school for girls in Afghanistan through helping set up the UN Foundation’s Girl Up while still in high school.
Despite having an entrepreneurial father and brother, Priyanka thought of tech and science squarely in the realm of things like goods manufacturing and lab equipment. But her mindset about the scope of tech solutions changed when she attended Singularity University’s summer program, which focused on using fast-growing technologies to solve big-scale problems. The program convinced her of their ability to address humanitarian issues that she cared about.
“This was the first time I realized that fast-growing changes in science and technology could actually be an incredible opportunity to impact these very important humanitarian issues that I cared about. Ever since then, I've been excited about using technology to solve bigger problems.”
Priyanka started addressing those big problems the day after she graduated from Stanford University — by joining pymetrics as an early employee. The talent and job matching platform is powered by ethical AI and behavioral science to eliminate bias in hiring, resulting in more diverse teams. Priyanka saw firsthand how data and algorithms can be harnessed to create better decision processes.
As pymetrics grew, so did Priyanka’s leadership role with it, growing into the role of Head of Product. And while she loved leading a team of 70+ with purpose, she began missing the hands-on experiences of an early-stage startup. She left after four years at pymetrics, in July of 2020 and decided she would focus on some ideas of her own.
Setting out to bridge the gender health gap
Priyanka had realized that the use of fair and transparent algorithms, which seemed so obvious in her day-to-day experience, were failing to catch on in other industries, such as healthcare. She was appalled by the glaring, one-sided lack in datasets, stemming from the fact that women weren’t required to be in clinical research until 1993. This wasn’t just a problem on paper, it directly translated to the baseline of care options offered to women, and how disadvantaged female patients are by the lack of information and data supplied by existing research that goes into personal health decisions.
“I think every woman has her own story of feeling misdiagnosed, under-diagnosed, or misunderstood at the doctor's office. COVID-19 only exacerbated that for many people. I thought that there must be ways that we could use many of the forward-thinking data approaches we employed at pymetrics to help women better understand our bodies and health.”
Priyanka decided to pursue building something to address the gap in research focused on understanding the female body. She found that talking to and learning from knowledgeable people in women’s healthcare was invigorating, but also isolating. Having just left a team that focused on aggregating information to create better products, navigating a big processing and decision-making phase on her own was daunting.
Developing through On Deck
After initially delaying joining On Deck to concentrate on her ongoing ideation and planning process, Priyanka joined ODF7 in October of 2020. She quickly understood that the delay was unnecessary; in fact, the On Deck community would have enriched the research and ideation processes.
“I didn't realize the value that having a support system would have brought during that time in my journey. By the time I joined On Deck, I was already building and I thought ‘I should have done this before, I should have come earlier and let myself ideate here.’”
With that stage already in the past, Priyanka chose to fully focus her attention during the Fellowship on the building process ahead with the resource-rich community and On Deck team at her disposal. She attributes questions and resource sharing from other Fellows as heads-up flags for things she hadn’t yet thought of but should be oriented for.
“As I was building, the next stages felt less like a black box, because I was constantly seeing people right ahead of me and right behind me. The person who's ahead of you — you can learn from them. When you're past that stage, you can be helpful to the people behind you.”
That collaboration with other talented and driven Fellows gave her the support she had been missing during ideation. Even though Priyanka was in full head-down building mode, the shared experiences of the Fellow community made her feel as though she was fully plugged into the ecosystem — despite being alone in her apartment.
The added benefits of On Deck Health
During her ODF experience, Priyanka was especially proactive in collaborating and learning from and with Fellows who were focusing on health technology. The healthcare sector has aspects that don’t apply broadly to all startups, for example, considerations about onboarding a science advisory board or deciding if a co-founder should be a medical person or consumer person when the company is a consumer healthcare business.
When On Deck Health kicked off its first cohort in April of 2021, Priyanka joined to power up her efforts further. ODH focuses on addressing the unique challenges and immense opportunities in the health sector by connecting experts and builders in the health tech space. It was pivotal in guiding a variety of Priyanka’s decisions, including those about clinical partners, balancing consumer and healthcare needs, and identifying the right customers within the healthcare system.
“I was able to learn from people who are on the corporate side of healthcare, people who are healthcare veterans, whether that's from the investing side or the operating side. I also had more peers who were building and dealing with so many similar challenges. I felt like it narrowed exactly what my challenges were into something that was very tactically helpful day-to-day.”
While ODF Fellows helped Priyanka navigate everything in the early days from setting up e-commerce infrastructure to fulfillment centers, ODH provided her with a group of other health-specific founders who could advise on the challenges ahead. That core circle helped her think through Evvy’s solution and go-to-market strategy. Effectively, On Deck Founders helped shape Evvy as a startup, On Deck Health defined its role in the healthcare space.
Fundraising for Evvy
While Priyanka focused on building with the help of other health tech founders, she brought in internal support with co-founder and CMO Laine Bruzek, a Stanford colleague. She was also set on bootstrapping the company. By forcing a resource constraint, the focus remained on listening to customers and building on that feedback.
“I was very adamant about getting to market first. I wanted to have a real product that had real customers before I had any investors influencing me on how to do it or what people wanted.”
That determination paid off. With a strategy and customer-centered product in place, Priyanka and Laine were subsequently able to fundraise $5 million based on that product and feedback. The round was led by General Catalyst, with participation from Box Group, Virtue, Human Ventures, G9 Ventures, BBG Ventures, and others. Margo Georgiadis, the former CEO of Ancestry, joined Evvy’s board.
The fundraising process went smoothly and much more quickly than expected. Priyanka attributes the pandemic to raising general awareness about opportunities in the healthcare sector. With the sector’s spot as the third-largest contributor to the U.S. GDP and women’s disproportionate contribution to that number, investors are taking note.
She also sees Evvy’s advantageous positioning as a research company. “Evvy being a data-centered company in women's health made it easier for people to understand.” Investment in data-focused companies has been prevalent in recent years. Evvy’s expansion of research and data into the FemTech space meant that investors were able to easily identify its potential from that perspective.
Setting up the product launch: Evvy’s at-home vaginal microbiome test
With Priyanka and Laine’s go-to-market plan in place, the fundraising served as fuel for Evvy’s July public launch of the Vaginal Health Test.
At launch, the test was already available in all 50 states and is done at home, through a quick, painless Q-tip-like swab. Evvy then leverages metagenomic sequencing to identify the entire makeup of the vaginal microbiome. In fact, it’s the first company to use metagenomics for vaginal health testing.
Results are received by the customer in two weeks via a private, online dashboard. The findings explain what’s going on in their vaginal microbiome, why it matters to their symptoms and health, and what they can do about it. Evvy offers certified health coaches to walk customers through their results, which are intended to inform rather than diagnose.
The future is female-focused research
Priyanka is set on empowering women with information. In order to get there, she’s focused on two main priorities.
The first is to better understand Evvy’s early customers. Historically, women haven’t been considered in medical studies, much less asked what they’d like to know about. So, Priyanka is focused on asking them exactly that and providing them with the resources and information to help them take control of their health.
Secondly, Priyanka is setting her sights on a bigger picture — women’s healthcare outcomes as a whole. For that, Evvy will be partnering with clinicians to integrate new testing and data in their evaluation of someone’s health, with the goal of improving diagnoses and treatments for conditions in the female body.
Priyanka’s mission is to demystify the female body, starting with the vaginal microbiome — because it shouldn’t take women four years longer than men to receive a diagnosis for the same disease.