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OMERS Ventures

Meet Caraway: redesigning campus care delivery from the ground up

Written by Chrissy Farr, Investor, OMERS Ventures

College kids are at the peak of their youth and vibrancy, breezing through their time on campus dividing time between class and parties. Right? Well that’s the stereotypical view. But it’s far from the reality for most students.

So today, we announced $10.5 million in financing to our newest portfolio company: Caraway. By now you may have read the news in Axios, so allow me to share with you the backstory of how it all came together. Caraway was hatched through a partnership between our firm, 7wireVentures and veteran digital health execs Lori Evans Bernstein and Joshua Tauber late last year.

But the idea has been brewing for a while. Caraway offers integrated care that combines mental, reproductive and physical health by using a team-based and holistic approach. Patients benefit from enhanced collaboration between their doctors who work closely together to drive better outcomes. Caraway’s care team of clinicians includes gynaecologists, psychiatrists, family medical practitioners, adolescent specialists, therapists, nurses, and care coaches. Via its mobile application, Caraway will provide 24/7 access to virtual care for members.

Over the course of 2021, we at OV teamed up with 7wire to spend countless hours talking to Gen Z individuals about their experiences with the healthcare system. Their stories were harrowing. One recent alumni told us she had an undiagnosed auto-immune disease, but was misdiagnosed with an eating disorder. Another student experienced harmful physical manifestations of a mental illness during stressful periods like exams, but it wasn’t until she graduated that she got a formal diagnosis of OCD. A woman of color was told by a health practitioner on campus to “suck it up” after she expressed debilitating menstrual pain. Plenty more ended up in the local emergency room because they lacked any primary care support and viewed that as their first stop for treatment. Many students were struggling with whether to shift care to a physician near campus, or to continue on with a pre-existing relationship back home.

These weren’t just isolated incidents. There’s data to show that college students lack sufficient options — as well as both navigation and education — to access the healthcare services they need while on campus. Many colleges are overwhelmed because the needs are so great and budgets haven’t swelled to meet the demand. Despite their best efforts, a 2020 investigation from the Washington Post found that many Student Health Centers across the country have a single nurse available to refer students to off-campus care. The Post found that nearly 70% of colleges surveyed did not have a full-time psychiatrist on campus and about a third didn’t have a full-time physician.

We shouldn’t ignore this problem any longer.

Digital health has moved from one-size-fits all “platforms” to more of a focus on specific patient populations. We zeroed in on the women+ population as a starting point for a variety of reasons: College populations skew female, are under-diagnosed and mistreated and lack access to care, yet are more likely to seek college health services due to reproductive care and the fact that they are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues like depression.

That brought us to our founders: Lori and Josh. Lori, Caraway’s CEO, has been a leader in digital health and health policy for decades. Lori is surrounded by Gen Zers, including her nieces in college and her Gen Z son. As she told us on our first call late last year, “the time to act is now, the current system is failing and a digital health solution built with and for college women is essential.” What a prescient statement that was.

Caraway co-founders Lori Evans Bernstein and Joshua Tauber

Josh, Caraway’s COO and an experienced digital health operator, shares Lori’s desire to create a better healthcare experience for the next generation. His passion for Caraway’s mission stems from his own challenges navigating student health and his aspiration to build a better future for his daughter.

Between our two funds, we all found our own deeply personal reasons to connect with the mission, despite being millennials and Gen X’ers. For Alyssa Jaffee at 7wire, it was the opportunity to solve a huge and growing gap she saw in women’s health. As she put it in a recent conversation with me: “As women, our first exposure to our healthcare system is so often in our teens, shepherded by a parent or guardian, but once we leave home, we essentially fall off the face of the earth.” And yet, she told me, “this is such a formative time and students of this age desperately want agency.”

For Michael Yang, our U.S. team lead at OMERS Ventures, the parent perspective was so resonant given that his own daughter is off to college next year. And for Lee Shapiro, a Managing Partner at 7wire, this was a key moment to really address preventative health as well as health equity. Lee’s career has been oriented to addressing the challenges we all face as consumers of healthcare. As those of us in the digital health space are well aware, health care journeys are improved for the better when we meet people where they are and engage with them on their terms.

The conditions affecting students are highly variable. For some, that might include conditions that may impact fertility later in life, such as endometriosis and PCOS, as well as an array of different mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. We also zeroed in on cervical cancer screening as a huge need, as well as sexual education. We saw navigation as a critical part of the journey. I recalled to the team about my own experiences moving to California from the UK as a graduate student.

Can you imagine trying to plan for a pile-up of copays and deductibles, while also struggling to pay tuition and rent? If I’m being honest, it took me a while to even understand what a copay was. Until then, I’d never had to pay a health-related bill before. And I had it better than most. I had access to a network of support and didn’t face any language barriers.

Over the past few months, Lori and Josh have made rapid progress. Our stellar team includes Cheryl Baggeroer, a psychiatrist with an extensive background treating youth who joined us from Galileo, as well as Nita Stella, our head of product who came to us from Teladoc. John Quence, a veteran technologist with both startups and larger companies, heads up technology. And we’ve been particularly excited to have 8 Gen Z colleagues come on board to lead up our efforts across various departments. Caraway also runs a Campus Advisory program and is currently on the lookout for students to join.

Our core product is rolling out in the fall. What we’re starting with is a full suite of virtual care for college students, focused on the women+ population. That includes evidence-based, mental, reproductive and physical health care. Once we land on a campus near you, our mobile app will be available to students 24/7 to chat with a nurse practitioner, schedule a telemedicine appointment; connect with in-person care; access personalized content; engage in self-guided care programs and get test-kits at home.

As a company, Caraway believes in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions in collaboration with a health care provider. So it’ll be providing birth control options, counseling and prescribing and advising on OTC emergency contraception like Plan B on day one. Caraway is also supporting medication abortion via referral and navigation services. The first states that it’s launching include New York (our headquarters) and California, followed by North Carolina and Ohio.

Our plan is to roll-out to campus at a time when many schools are still in the process of discovering their New Normal. Or — as many in the health community have pointed out — about as normal as things can get. Covid-19 hasn’t gone away and there’s a lot to do. Over the past few years, many students have lost social connections. A 2021 Healthy Minds Network study of college student mental health found that 34 percent of respondents had anxiety disorder and 41 percent reported depression. We are moving out of a very difficult time and we could all use a bit of help.

It’s my belief that technology isn’t the answer for everything, but it can help — particularly when it comes to access. But the beauty of designing for Gen Z is that this population grew up with smartphones and laptops. Our vision isn’t just to take a traditional doctor’s office and migrate it to a phone. At Caraway, we get to redesign care delivery from the ground up; here care is available as it should be — in a few touches of a button.

The team has made great strides but it’s just the beginning. We’ve got a lot to do — and we’d love your help:

  • Here’s how to join our Campus Advisory program to represent us at your college
  • Reach out to us at hello@caraway.com if you’re interested in joining the team (in particular, we’re looking to build out our marketing and commercial function)

We’ll see you in the fall!

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OMERS Ventures

OMERS Ventures

OMERS Ventures is a multi-stage VC investor in growth-oriented, disruptive tech companies across North America and Europe.