Inspirational Woman: Tess Cosad | CEO & Co-Founder, Béa Fertility

Tess CosadTess Cosad is a femtech expert and CEO and co-founder of Béa Fertility: a fertility tech startup focussed on democratising access to safe, affordable fertility treatment.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve always enjoyed building businesses and supporting founders, starting in 2014 when I founded Emberson Ventures, a B2B marketing agency specialising in launching new products and producing creative campaigns in technology-led sectors. In 2018, I created Hers By Design, a female-led, female focussed FemTech brand, and later that year was the first woman to lead a digital marketing-focussed accelerator program in Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the Growth Velocity Academy.

Today, I am a co-founder and the CEO of Béa Fertility. Béa Fertility was born of a shared vision for a world in which everyone is able to access the care they need to start their families. We are building the first at-home fertility treatment of its kind in the UK, which will empower anyone who cannot conceive naturally to carry out ICI (Intracervical Insemination) at home, on their terms. Our treatment kit will deliver everything users need to carry out one cycle of ICI straight to their doors: including insemination devices, ovulation tests and pregnancy tests. The ICI treatment method is proven to increase chances of conception by 60% if used over six months. Our treatment will launch in early 2022 and you can sign up to our waiting list to be the first to hear when it’s available.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Having worked with lots of inspiring women in tech throughout my career, I’d always hoped that one day I’d have the opportunity to build something myself that would change women’s lives. I’ve always been really interested in femtech; and have long championed women’s health solutions designed by women, with women’s needs in mind. I was never set on entering the fertility sector specifically, but as soon as I started to recognise the gaps in our fertility provision in the UK, I knew this was a sector I wanted to transform.

Today, I’m actually quite structured about goal setting, but this didn’t start until I was 26, when I was at an interesting juncture in my life. I met an entrepreneur who taught me how to look ahead and dream of the career I wanted in 5 years, then walk it back to what would need to happen each year to make that dream come to life. Now, each year between Christmas and New Year’s, I take time to plan out the year ahead, always referring to the (now very crumpled, scrappy) piece of paper with that 5 year plan on it. I believe there is so much to be gained from knowing where you want to end up in life, and I credit where I am today to that goal setting system.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I think the most significant challenge I faced earlier in my career was getting on a flight to Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) as the first woman to teach a startup bootcamp out there. I’ve always forced myself to ‘say yes’, and accept challenges I’m not sure I can tackle. This was definitely the most significant challenge I’ve said yes to, and taught me that when I set my mind to something, I can do it. It helped me immeasurably when fundraising for Béa Fertility, a process that also was pretty challenging, and took determination and grit. I heard a mentor once say that he has more respect for the founders who get told ‘no’ 200 times rather than the founders who get told ‘no’ only 20 times. To his mind, getting through a tough round without giving up is a sign of true determination. I couldn’t agree with him more, and think that the challenge of raising our pre-seed shaped how I operate as a CEO today.

Building a medical device is also not without its challenges. It took nearly two years of prototyping and ideating before the Béa device as we know it today came to life, and even longer before we could begin fundraising. We went through nearly 90 iterations of the early prototype to get to the device we have today, and we’re still iterating.

Particularly in fertility, there is also a huge responsibility to build safe, clinically validated, effective treatments, and the regulatory hurdles that come with this can present challenges. We’ve had to practice patience, acute attention to detail and perseverance. But we’re almost at the stage where our product is ready to launch - and it has definitely been worth the wait.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m incredibly proud of securing Béa £800k in pre-seed funding, through both an equity round and an Innovate UK Smart Grant, which has enabled us to finish building our product and prepare to launch. It was also incredibly important to me that we had female investors on board, so it means a huge amount to me that the angel investors on our cap table are a 50/50 female-male split.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

I truly believe the 5-year/1-year goal setting system I talked about above has played a role in my success – not the system itself, but the act of writing down on paper what I want to achieve in life. Just by writing it down it becomes something tangible, something that you can reach for, even if just a little.

As women in the workplace, we’re often told we need to get better at saying ‘no’, setting boundaries, protecting our time or our inboxes more. Whilst I believe this is true, somewhat paradoxically, I think my success today comes from taking the opposite approach: saying yes. When asked to do something I am not sure I can deliver, I’ll say ‘yes’ to the opportunity and then figure it out later. This forcing myself into accepting these challenges has actually allowed me to prove to myself, time and time again, that I can achieve brilliant things if I set my mind to it. This is the other key driver I credit my success to.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

Persevere. You will be told ‘no’ many times, but there will be people in the world whose lives will be changed by the tech you envisage. You have to persevere to find those people and bring your idea to life.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are definitely prohibitive barriers to success for women in tech. The biggest barrier is access: access to education, to capital, to mentors and leaders providing representation. Even today, the statistics on the venture funding that goes to female-led teams vs. male-led teams is depressing. But every new woman-led product that secures investment and comes to market helps pave the way for other female entrepreneurs.

The first thing we need to do to overcome some of these barriers is to offer women a seat at the table in tech-led sectors. Currently, there aren’t enough women on boards, in C-Suites or in VC firms. Women need to be included in conversations about tech from the very beginning, to ensure new products being brought to market include women’s perspectives. When we are involved in tech from conception through to launch (and beyond), we can set an example, lead from the front and build products that work for everyone. We can also start to normalise the presence of women in tech-led sectors - whether it’s femtech, fintech, hardware or software - setting a precedent and creating role models to inspire other women to enter the sector. When women are not at the table, Pinky Gloves happen. When women are at the table, intelligent solutions to problems that affect all humans are far more likely.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I would say that support is needed at every level, starting right at the very beginning - as a company, sponsor opportunities and education programs that encourage girls to get into STEM. Provide mentorship to young women seeking STEM careers, and support those students through their education if you can. Companies can also provide internships to female scientists and graduates – the critical idea here is promoting and supporting opportunities that empower young women to go into technical education programs.

It’s not just about getting women into technical careers – it’s about supporting those same women throughout the course of their career. Too many women leave the workforce when it’s time to start a family, and this is seen across all industries. Champion better shared parental leave policies, welcome breastfeeding in the office, support women as they come back to work, and make the workplace something that complements and supports their family time, rather than something that competes with their family time.

At Béa, our company handbook expressly welcomes breastfeeding in the office – in meetings, in a private room, at your desk. Wherever you feel comfortable. Small changes like this make an enormous difference to the women reading your HR policies, and show a commitment to supporting women throughout their entire career.

On a more tactical level, it all starts with hiring. As a tech startup, you have a responsibility to ensure your hiring processes are free from bias and are attracting a range of candidates. You should review the language you use in your job descriptions to ensure you’re not alienating women by using typically ‘masculine’ language. You could also put processes in place to root out gender bias in the way you shortlist CVs and assess candidates at interview.

When women take their seat in the C-suite, it adds to the blueprint for every other woman seeking to reach the top in their career. It’s tough to reach for what you can’t see, and for this reason, representation is critical.

There are currently only 15% of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

For everyone who says these changes take time, I say: look at how the world of work responded to COVID-19. Look at how quickly we all went online, working virtually, even taking board meetings online. When there is a clear need, change can happen quickly. I think there is a clear need to better support women as they enter and remain in technical careers.

Transparency is key: I would urge companies to publish their percentages: the % of their engineering team who are female, the % of their board who are female, etc. If it’s low, publish a plan to improve it. If it’s high, champion it so others can see that it is possible.

With a magic wand, I would want to undo the many years of damaging narrative so many girls heard back in school: ‘girls can’t do math’ and ‘engineering is for boys’ are two I heard too often. When we unpick these narratives and instead tell girls that they can do anything, they often do, going on to achieve the most amazing accomplishments. It’s our responsibility to re-write the stories girls hear. Things are beginning to change, and I truly cannot wait to see what the next generation of women achieve, reclaim, redefine and conquer.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech? 

I am obsessed with reading and learning, and believe that the best way to accelerate your career is to constantly seek to improve yourself and your mind. To this end, there are some classics that are on my shelf and that feature in every Béa new starter’s induction:

  • Radical Candour, by Kim Scott
  • The Great Unlearn, an education platform built and led by Rachel Cargle
  • Leadership and Self Deception, by the Arbinger Institute
  • The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
  • Everything Below the Waist, by Jennifer Block
  • Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup
  • Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
  • Burnout, by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski
  • Difficult Conversations, by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone
  • Brené Brown – her podcast, TED Talk, basically, anything she does.

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