Entrepreneurs: Apricity's Caroline Noublanche on providing fertility health support the digital way
As featured in the Standard.co.uk
The global spread of coronavirus has forced us all indoors and seeking digital alternatives to face-to-face interactions, whether it’s meetings on Zoom, hanging out with friends on Houseparty, or using apps like Babylon to FaceTime our GPs. For digital fertility clinic Apricity, however, it’s always been this way.
Started by French entrepreneur Caroline Noublanche in 2017, the clinic aims to revamp the fertility treatment process by allowing women to conduct much of it online. That could be in the form of video consultations, online fertility assessments or communication with the clinic’s nurses and specialists via the Apricity app.
“The way we live and work has shifted in recent years, and while no one could have anticipated the current situation it has proven the need for online solutions in a more pronounced way,” explains Noublanche.
The current lockdown does mean Noublanche is spending more time at home as she’s accustomed to taking weekly trips back and forth on the Eurostar between her home in Paris and London, where Apricity is based.
She’s used to the travel. Her first company, mobile app Prylos which she started aged 27 in 2004, was acquired by the Swedish phone company Doro and Noublanche stayed on to work in its app and software arm.
After five years, she became the entrepreneur-in-residence at Kamet Ventures, a tech incubator backed by a €100 million fund from the insurer Axa with offices in Paris, London and Tel Aviv. Noublanche’s aim was to develop something new in healthcare, with one potential idea around preventative medicine. Luckily, an email from a doctor at a UK fertility clinic sparked what would eventually become Apricity.
“He said he had amazing success rates because he monitored patients closely during the initial phases of treatment, spoke to them regularly, and was able to better customise treatment. I thought, what if we can create an algorithm that can replicate the brain of this brilliant doctor?”
An algorithm to predict fertility treatment wasn’t going to be enough for Noublanche though. Fertility issues affect one in seven couples in the UK, with many seeking private treatment for IVF or egg freezing if they are unable to access the services through the NHS. It can be a long, stressful and appointment-jammed process. “It can take between one year to 18 months of your life and they can be a very painful few months that puts a lot of stress on couples,” says Noublanche. “What we wanted to do is be there to help people create a life and to live theirs.”
When people sign up to Apricity, they have access to the clinic’s fertility nurses and healthcare advisers seven days a week via the app. Noublanche describes them as a “project manager”, to help co-ordinate appointments as well as offer advice. Instead of visiting a physical clinic for appointments, healthcare workers come to you for blood tests or scans, or you can visit a physical partner clinic, which includes Lister and Harley Street Fertility Clinic in London. Apricity also puts patients in touch with counsellors.
Its Fertility Predictor uses AI based on data from the UK’s fertility regulator HFEA to predict which treatment is better suited to a patient.
The clinic opened in the UK last January, with the first Apricity baby born at the end of the year.
Its patients pay about £6,000 for IVF, which is around the going rate. A new partnership with AXA Healthcare will see the insurance giant offer its services as a benefit to staff. The logic is sound: fewer appointments and happier staff should boost productivity.
The company brought in £744,000 in revenues last year and has raised £5.25 million from Kamet Ventures and AXA.
The Covid-19 lockdown hasn’t changed the clinic’s work too much. The clinical team, fertility advisers and patients all are based in London, though the company’s tech and product team are in Paris. All 30 of its staff have been working remotely for the past two weeks but the benefit of being a virtual clinic means things are still able to operate smoothly.
It has changed the company’s targets, however. The clinic’s aim for 2020 was to treat 350 patients before the end of the year, putting it in line with London’s mid-sized clinics though some patients have had to postpone treatment given the current circumstances.
Noublanche explains: “Those who have had to postpone treatments are disappointed about the delays and implications of lost time but understand the consequences at home. They also know we’ll prioritise kickstarting their fertility journeys as soon as it’s safe to do so. Their health must come first.”