Breaking taboos to open access to health

Highlights from a conversation about difficult topics in health.

By Christine Choi, Emilee Gu

June 23, 2022


Lil Mahnaji

Some of the most challenging and nuanced problems can be overcome – and even inspire people – through open discussions. So we recently assembled a Future Perfect health fireside to meet leaders who are normalizing deeply stigmatized issues that hold back access to healthcare and wellness. In health areas that are taboo, what are solutions to break down barriers? What is the role of medical institutions versus culture? What evidence of improved health are they seeing?

06-16-22 Future Perfect Panel-audience
From left: Christine Choi, Brooke Baldwin, Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, Dan Miller, Sylvia Benito, and Evan Richards

Our community of health founders, investors, researchers, policy leaders, and operators gathered at Daily Harvest’s beautiful office to spend time with founders and investors who have become experts in emerging stigmatized fields. They represent both the frontiers of health and the diversity of innovations needed in healthcare—starting with their own journeys in health.

How did your journey start?

Evan Richards, Form Health

Evan Richardson

Founder and CEO at Form Health
(a M13 portfolio company)
My grandfather suffered, for most of his adult life, from obesity. I saw him struggle every day with an inability to lose this weight that prevented him from doing what he wanted to do: spend time with his family in the way that he wanted to. It was incredibly important for him to lose that weight but he just wasn't able to do it. We as a society have for so long blamed individuals, even though the data says the issue is not a lack of self-control that we blame them for.

Catherine Balsam-Schwaber

CEO at Kindra
(a M13 portfolio company)
I was offered “the big new job” at a media company. But I was not feeling well. My doctor said that I had fibromyalgia, suggesting steroids as the solution. Luckily, I had enough chutzpah to say “I just don't think that's right.” I went to Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-lenz (now Kindra’s current spokes doctor) who told me that I was perimenopausal. I said, “What? I'm too young. I don't have hot flashes…How can this be?” She explained that it’s more complicated than the media makes it out to be. Perimenopause is a major physiological shift that impacts not only your physical self but emotional self. There just aren't that many places to go for information and education.
Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, Kindra

Dan Miller, Spora Health

Dan Miller

Founder and CEO at Spora Health
(a M13 portfolio company)
I used my own experience as a budding Buddhist to think about ways that we can innovate on care models and address inequities and disparities in the healthcare system. I was invited to a retreat called the Gathering, where there were a bunch of Black Buddhists. There were a lot of issues that the same frame of thinking – mindfulness and meditation – could address in inequities and disparities in primary care. It was an incredible, moving experience that I knew needed to be shared more broadly with everyone.

Sylvia Benito

One thing that is ripe to destigmatize is speaking about consciousness. I was raised half of my childhood as a Catholic and half of my childhood as a Jew. At 18, my parents left it up to me to figure out who I am. My driving question was, is awakening real? I became interested in what awakening looks like in an ordinary life. That driving curiosity eventually led me to have profound awakenings in my life. That has been the genesis of what made me a natural fit for psychedelic journeys.
Sylvia Benito, investor

What we are building and how do we know it is working?

Dan Miller, Spora Health

What are we building and why? Past healthcare discrimination significantly impacts a lack of engagement from Black and brown Americans in the healthcare system including waiting or not going to the doctor, then ultimately ending up in the ER. Providers aren’t required training around health equity or cultural competence by any accrediting body. We need to reframe the conversation for patients around not just how we communicate but also every single touchpoint in a way that is culture centered. Spora Health is a primary care practice uniquely designed for people of color, specifically Black Americans and Latino populations. We now practice across six states. We are addressing inequities in primary care and urgent care access utilization. We recently released a program for birthing persons and women called Spora Mamas that we're super excited about.

How do we know it’s working? Spora Institute focuses on training in social determinants of health such as verbal and nonverbal communication styles, ways that trauma for different populations shows up in the clinical encounter, and how different symptoms for different conditions or diseases show up for populations. Our doctors strongly agree that they've learned actionable tools to address inequities and disparities. It's leading to not just a differentiated but a markedly better experience for our patients. The industry average for NPS in primary care is -1. Our NPS score is 85. And this is for a hard-to-reach population that wouldn't engage with the healthcare system.

Thoughtful topics, interesting speakers, solid/relevant group of folks in attendance to catch up with.

Future Perfect guest

Evan Richardson, Form Health

What are we building and why? Form Health is the largest provider nationally of metabolic medicine and obesity care. We take care of individuals who have a BMI of 30+, which is about 50% of the US adult population, and help them achieve healthcare goals through treatment. Obesity medicine is a board subspecialty of care that not many know exists. We are delivering care for a condition that has been tremendously stigmatized. They have been told their entire lives that this is their fault and blamed for not having self-control. In reality, obesity is a medical and metabolic issue complicated by societal problems around access. We are working against that stigma of falsely blaming these individuals and, through treatment, help them to achieve something different.

How do we know it’s working? The fact that mental health has become more publicly a medical issue is incredibly important because when something becomes medical, it stops being your fault. Individuals with BMI of 40+ spend twice as much time in the healthcare system in a given year, dealing with acute medical issues arising from their obesity. When a patient comes to Form Health, we don’t say, we're going to help you get from X to 25. No, we help them improve their health. So we ask, what are your goals? What do you want to achieve and why? Let's figure out how we can help you get there. And if that means moving from BMI of 40 to 38 because that allows you to walk to your mailbox, which is one of our patients' goals, then fantastic, we'll help you get there. About 25% of our patients lose more than a third of their body weight in their first year with Form Health.

A great event - loved the contextual conversation (vs usual stat readout) that the panel shared regarding solutions for the deep challenges that exist in healthcare across equity, access and inclusivity.

Future Perfect guest

Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, Kindra

What are we building and why? The lack of investment and innovation in women's aging bodies is a massive problem, not just for women but for society. Kindra is focused on helping women have conversations around menopause and delivering support with products that work. Most women, when they come to us for the first time, are in crisis. They're in crisis about the same thing that was happening to me. They're probably thinking they're going to die based on what Dr. Google tells them. We hope to help find a pathway to say that this is a normal part of your life stage. There are communities and resources supporting you. Making educational information accessible is the tip of the spear in everything that we do.

How do we know it’s working? In this community, it is a well-known fact how challenging it is to get the word out about conversations around women’s health. Even the algorithmic system of Facebook is set up to flag things that look like female genitalia. The things that are visible, like hot flashes, are easier to talk about. The difficult part is what’s hidden: women feel very down or depressed about this late-life awakening that you're going to die. Those hard conversations are not what people want to see in their advertising feed. Right now we have the best performing TikTok, which is men on the street talking about menopause and not having any clue. The only way to break the taboo is to keep having the conversation as loud as we possibly can. We will keep running ads that have things that look like vaginas.

It was great to meet other people who are passionate about healthcare and a great way to connect with them!

Future Perfect guest

Sylvia Benito, Investor

What are we building and why? I'm a director on the board of Beckley Foundation founded by Amanda Feilding, an early psychedelic pioneer. Psychedelics are particularly good for PTSD and severe trauma. As a practicing shaman, I know it works because I've been in many healings with people who have profound trauma and have seen the trauma heal long term. Science helps to destigmatize psychedelic medicine and normalize access.

How do you know it’s working? Right now, access is through clinical trials.There are some really incredible brave souls who have been funding psychedelic research. For example, private donors funded about $17 million into MAPS over the past couple of years to get them through the clinical trials to prove that MDMA is effective for trauma and PTSD. You have leaders like Rachel Yehuda at Mount Sinai who got a program funded so that as part of her research American veterans have access to psychedelic-assisted therapy.

The disciplines across a wide spectrum of human need and systemic stigma blended in a way I did not imagine it could. I learned a tremendous amount, will follow the work of each speaker closely as I am deeply intrigued. Thank you for this fantastic evening.

Future Perfect guest

Thank you to our panelists, moderator Brooke Baldwin, Daily Harvest, Eliqs for custom beverages, and Primetime Partners and everyone who is opening the conversation for health access.


Best selling author Brooke Baldwin and Form Health's Evan Richards

M13 Community

M13’s Christine Choi (center) with Integrated VC’s Andrew Chomer and Palantir’s Jan-Felix Schneider

M13 Community

Spora Health's Dan Miller with Nicole Carey, Julie Patel, and Windham Venture Partners' Sarah Fox

M13 Community

M13's Latif Peracha with Kindra's Catherine Balsam-Schwaber

M13 Community

M13’s Christine Choi, best selling author Brooke Baldwin, Shaman VC Sylvia Benito, Comic Relief's Alison Moore, and Primetime Partners' Abby Levy

M13 Community

14W's Hannah Ajmani, M13's Chloe Colberg, Alleycorp's Jason Gomez, Can9 Bio's Nick Gavin, Smash Capital's Charlotte Camacho, The Rockefeller Foundation's Sarah Freeman