Hot Flashes, Menopause and a Femtech Solution with Debbie and Markea Dickinson

As the old saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Well, sometimes it’s your actual mother…and sometimes it’s literally both! This was the case for femtech entrants and Thermaband co-founders, Markea Dickinson and her mother Debbie. After having what she describes as an “excruciating hot flash” while visiting her daughter at grad school, Debbie says she was inspired to develop a “tech solution” that was portable and discreet and could help manage her hot flashes from anywhere.

It Works…Until It Doesn’t

At 54 years old, Debbie Dickinson is still perimenopausal (meaning she still gets her period), but she says she didn’t really think about aging or menopause until she started getting hot flashes at the age of 51.

“After educating myself about how to manage the hot flashes, in retrospect, I realized that I’d been having other symptoms – like anxiety and trouble sleeping – for years.”

Debbie says that after speaking with her doctor about what she was experiencing, this led her down a path of trial-and-error treatments that included medication (which she doesn’t like taking) and suggestions to do “more yoga and meditation”. Ultimately, the best and most consistent relief she found for managing her hot flashes turned out to be…her freezer.

“I had come up with all of these ways to manage my hot flashes when I was at home” she says, “going between the freezer and the pool – with different things in between – to counter the heat with an immediate cooling sensation. I actually had it down pretty well during the pandemic because I was at home and it was fine. But then, I traveled…”

Translating Low-Tech Innovation to a Hi-Tech Solution

After being hijacked by a hot flash while riding in the car with Markea during a visit with her at grad school, Debbie realized that she needed (and deserved) better and more accessible options to manage her extreme thermal fluctuations no matter where she was.

“So, I’m in a car and I can’t get to all these great low-tech systems that I had mapped out for relief. And I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I know the cooling sensation that I need. I know what works, but it would be nice to have something that is portable, that is discreet – that wherever I am, can provide the comfort that I need.”

A serial entrepreneur and former Johnson & Johnson exec., Debbie had established multiple businesses and was accustomed to designing and building solutions to unique challenges. After having what she calls an “aha” moment during that hot flash in the car, she was inspired to solve for what was ultimately a femtech solution to her need for an on-demand, portable cooling device (that wasn’t a neck fan).

That’s when she began “really digging into the science” so that she could better understand thermoregulation and how it works. She’d heard about women who would freeze their pearls –both for the neck or wrist, which are quick-cooling spots on the body – and became focused on designing a contemporary, tech-focused version of frozen pearls.

“It’s 2022. Let’s just begin and end right there. We’re sending people into space and the best we can do for hot flashes is a fan we can put around our neck or jewelry we store in the freezer. The majority of women going through menopause experience hot flashes and that’s the best we have to offer?”

Her instincts around a portable, discreet, tech-powered solution were validated by a 2020 AARP study of women (and men) to understand the interest in managing menopause-related symptoms with technology-based solutions.

According to the survey, 80% women overall “cite[d] interest in noninvasive, technology-related solutions (e.g., a device that you wear, clothing, apps) to relieve or minimize menopausal symptoms. Among menopausal women, that proportion climbs to 93%.”

If You Build It, Make Sure They’ll Come

Although Debbie had created businesses before, she wasn’t a technologist and had never created a technology solution. She also wasn’t sure that there was a market for the type of product she was thinking about. This was where Markea came in…

As a second year MBA student at the Yale School of Management, Markea says she was “in an ecosystem of peers” that were in, or nearing, their 30s and focused on honing their business and leadership acumen. She was essentially able to incubate her mother’s idea in an environment ripe for workshopping. By doing this, they were able to identify different use cases beyond natural menopause (including social anxiety related to public speaking), and clarify product/market fit for their concept.

“A friend of mine was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment and was experiencing chemo-induced hot flashes,” says Markea. “In talking through the cooling concept with her, she expressed how helpful it would be for her and other women in her community of survivors as they navigate the realities of their changing bodies.”

In 2019, Debbie and Markea co-founded what is today known as Thermaband. While Debbie has had a full-time focus on their product “since day one”, Markea joined full-time in 2020 after graduating from her MBA program. Since incubating their idea, they’ve invested in building a network comprised of engineers, scientists, clinicians and menopause experts with whom they work closely.

After almost two years of rigorous researching, prototyping and beta testing their concept, Debbie and Markea are currently taking pre-orders on Thermaband’s first product, The Zone, which is an on-demand thermoregulating wearable. They’re on-track to begin delivering to homes in the U.S. in spring of 2022.

“We named it “The Zone” because it’s meant to help regulate your own personal climate zone, whether you’re experiencing hot flashes, cold flashes or night sweats,” says Markea. “It was also critical that it be both attractive and discreet in its design, so that people would actually want to wear it.”

The wrist device is designed to automatically detect when the user is having an extreme fluctuation in body temperature and delivers “battery-powered cooling or warming” in response to the wearers need. It can also be activated manually, based on user preference.

They’ve also developed an app that’s designed to complement The Zone and provide personalized data insights based on temperature changes. The basic features of the app are complimentary; a 6-month subscription to the apps premium features is free with the purchase of a device.

Stepping Into the Femtech Revolution

A 2020 report by the Female Founders Fund found that there’s a $600 billion opportunity for companies catering to women of perimenopausal age. 2020 was also a record-setting year for venture capital investment (global venture capital investment in femtech was set to exceed $1 billion in 2021 for the first time). Even so, Black- and Latinx-women-founded start-ups got less than half of 1 percent of funding.

While Debbie and Markea are among a miniscule number of Black, women-owned companies in the femtech space to successfully raise venture capital, they spent the first 18 months bootstrapping their project and say that it was extremely difficult to convince male investors that there was a need for their product.

“We’ve been fortunate to have access to a robust and connected network as result of our varied academic and professional experiences,” says Markea, who had a background in corporate supply chains before earning her MBA from Yale School of Management in 2020.

Debbie earned her JD from Harvard Law and Debbie’s husband – who they both say has been supportive and engaged from the start – is a Harvard MBA with a successful marketing career.

“We were able to leverage and draw upon every tool, resource and network available to us to get through our early rounds of research and development” she continued.

As of the end of 2021, Debbie and Markea had raised $1.6 million from investors, and sold 60% of pre-sales in the first hour last September. They’ve also been featured among other notable femtech startups in Forbes and Cosmopolitan.

With this kind of early traction, the future for Thermaband looks bright (or dare I say, pretty cool).

“Our vision for The Zone” says Markea, “is to become the standard of care for literally anyone that’s frequently uncomfortably cool or warm. We’ll no longer have to depend on one thermostat to make each individual in a room comfortable because we know that just doesn’t happen.”

You can pre-order your cooling device here. To keep up with the latest at Thermaband follow them on Instagram @thermaband.



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