Ollipsis Fertility is on a mission to expand fertility choices through education, options, and access. My colleague Wendy Wang previously wrote about Ollipsis last spring as part of StartU’s coverage of Booth’s New Venture Challenge Competition. With spring upon us, I wanted to catch up with Co-Founder & CEO Albert Mikkelsen to hear about the team’s progress over the past year and future plans. Albert spoke with me about Ollipsis’ vision, changing the fertility industry, and what’s next for the startup after Booth.
Hatching the Idea
Booth second-year student Albert Mikkelson started Ollipsis Fertility because he recognized a white space in the industry: a growing number of women are postponing motherhood, creating an increased demand for egg freezing, and at the same time, a growing number of families are seeking egg donors. His idea? Offer donors egg freezing services at no cost by giving them the opportunity to donate half of their eggs retrieved during the procedure to help a family struggling with infertility.
After receiving enthusiastic feedback about the idea from a medical advisor, he decided to pursue it during his first-year at Booth by assembling a team, working on an MVP and competing in the 2020 NVC. With $50,000 in NVC winnings, a $15,000 investment from an REI nurse with 20+ years experience in fertility, and a $30,000 check from a lawyer who believed in the vision, Ollipsis went to work over summer 2020 and into Albert’s second year at Booth.
The core team consists of five Booth students including Cofounders Albert Mikkelsen, Anne Tong, Alex Lin, Jim van Horne and Head of Finance Paula Ghisalberti. Ollipsis also brought on David Cohen, MD, FACOG, to serve as a Medical Director, who is the former Chief of Reproductive Endocrinology at University of Chicago Medicine, in addition to Maria Arqué, MD, PhD, who serves as the REI Expert.
Ollipsis’ Unique Program
Ollipsis’ revolutionary program offers egg freezing for free to eligible women willing to donate half of their retrieved eggs to other patients in need, which are often families trying to overcome infertility. The startup partners with reputable clinics to conduct the retrieval procedures following ASRM and FDA guidelines and regulations. In addition, all candidates take psychological, physical, clinical, and genetic tests prior to retrieval.
Ollipsis is improving access not only by being the first company in the U.S. to offer egg freezing for free, but also providing a range of different options for egg freezing — whether that’s Ollipsis’ unique free egg freezing program, traditional paid egg freezing services, or medical tourism. There is no one-size-fits-all, but unfortunately, many women are left with very few options. The goal: if everyone can have access to more options, then individuals and families can make the best decision based on what they truly want.
Original Sources: https://www.businessinsider.com/average-age-of-mother-having-first-child-going-up-2015-6 ; https://www.familyequality.org/resources/building-lgbtq-families-price-parenthood/; https://www.gayparentstobe.com/gay-parenting-blog/lgbtq-family-building-in-2020/
Building a Proof of Concept
Over the last year, Ollipsis has focused its efforts on building a proof of concept and increasing awareness with its core demographic: women in graduate education. With 54% of women with graduate degrees having children after age 30, the group is the most likely to have children into their thirties and therefore is an ideal future participant.
Original Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/15/for-most-highly-educated-women-motherhood-doesnt-start-until-the-30s/#:~:text=The%20data%20show%20that%20more,children%20earlier%20in%20their%20lives.
According to Albert, misinformation and a lack of education are huge roadblocks for those seeking fertility services, which is why high-quality fertility education is core to Ollipsis’ mission. Thus, the startup has sought an education-first approach to connecting with prospective donors in an authentic way.
Over the past year, Ollipsis has hosted a number of webinars in partnership with Women in Business Clubs at top Business Schools, including HBS, Booth, Sloan, and Wharton. The webinars are conducted in partnership with Maria Arqué, MD, PhD, Ollipsis REI Expert, who educates students, as well as an egg donor who shares their journey.
As of March 2021, Ollipsis is currently working with one of Chicago’s top fertility clinics with the support of clinics in Los Angeles and Boston to conduct retrieval procedures supporting 8 participants across various points in the process. The startup has also received 26 signed Letters of Intent with the first egg retrieval slated for this April.
Shaking up the Industry
The FemTech industry is red hot, with new startups aiming to solve issues across fertility, sexual wellness, chronic health issues, menopause, pregnancy and maternal care, and menstruation. However, according to TechCrunch, just 4% of healthcare R&D is invested in women’s health, demonstrating the huge opportunity for growth in the space.
A true pioneer, Ollipsis is hoping to rewrite the traditional donor process and shake up the fertility industry. Rather than paying an individual $5-10,000 per donation, as is usual with most egg banks, with Ollipsis’ unique program, an intended family’s fee goes towards the costs of helping that person freeze their eggs for free. Women who choose to freeze their eggs can pursue their career, education, and relationship goals and come back to motherhood on their own time.
“Many intended parents don’t feel great [accepting the donation] knowing that their donor did it for the money. With Ollipsis, we’re helping a young person achieve their goals and dreams.”
In the future, Ollipsis aspires to streamline the egg donor matching process. The startup envisions modernizing the process through a very user-friendly app that allows you to schedule appointments, view results from all of the necessary tests, and get your questions answered quickly by a medical professional.
In addition, the team wants to develop a better system for matching donors with intended parents. At the moment, intended parents must rely on digital catalogs to hand-pick donors, a process that Albert describes as “icky.” In the future, Ollipsis hopes to reverse that process by having intended parents tell them a bit about themselves (as well as a photo) so that they can recommend the best donor matches. The matching process will leverage cutting-edge technology: facial recognition (Fenomatch) and NLP with AI to interpret intended parent's and donor's descriptions to match their characteristics.
On the Horizon
The Ollipsis team is currently gearing up to raise a $1.3 million seed round this spring, timed to align with the startup’s first egg retrieval. The funds will help the startup move from proof of concept to scaling its egg bank in 18 months. The startup has received interest from 5 surrogacy agencies and clinics to work with Ollipsis as their egg bank, as well as 2 clinics interested in partnering for screening and procedures. These new partnerships will help Ollipsis expand access to four new cities later this year, including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.