How Visible Hands helped build Noula: Closing disparities in reproductive health

https://noulahealth.co/

Noula makes personalized reproductive health information and support more accessible. It provides affordable, at-home testing and digital care plans for women and birthing parents who want to better understand and take care of their bodies.

Noelle Acosta wanted to build a better system for reproductive health care.

Through her own health journey, Acosta realized that even with resources and support, as well as the ability to advocate for herself, she still was not receiving answers or treatments to ease her pain.

During her time in the Visible Hands accelerator, Acosta created a minimum viable product (MVP), developed design and brand guidelines, and received fundraising tools and strategies that helped her to close a pre-seed round at over $1.4 million. She came away from the experience with an extensive network of founders and supporters whom she can take with her throughout her career.

“Fundraising is already hard, but when you’re also a solo founder, you’re a non-technical founder, you’re pre-launch, pre-product, pre-revenue, and also a brown woman, it is much more difficult. The numbers don’t lie: female founders receive just 2% of venture capital in the US. Latin female founders receive only 0.4%”

Noelle Acosta

The Problem

In 2019, Noelle Acosta began her journey with her own reproductive health. After facing dismissal and redirection at countless doctor visits, she turned to Google to get answers for herself.

While dealing with dozens of unresolved questions, Acosta had to advocate to her doctors for the correct treatment. Eventually, she was able to take the long journey towards relief and recovery, but not without extensive time, effort, and money already spent.

“I was frustrated,” Acosta said. “If that was my experience as a woman of color who has access and knows how to advocate for themselves, I can’t imagine what other women who look like me go through.”

With firsthand experience of reproductive health issues, she became a certified doula and joined the fertility startup, Maven Clinic, for two years, leading their business development.

While at Maven Clinic, Acosta was able to help address, first-hand, the maternal health crisis. When compared to other developed nations, the U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rates. According to the CDC, maternal mortality in the U.S. is at a 20-year high. Nutritional deficiencies and inadequate prenatal care are two primary drivers of poor maternal and fetal outcomes.

Not only is the maternal mortality rate increasing, but it’s directly affecting minority women. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was almost three times the rate for non-Hispanic White women. Additionally, the increase in the maternal mortality rate for Black and Hispanic women between 2019 and 2020 was statistically significant while the increase in deaths in non-Hispanic White women was not.

Source: US News

The Solution

Acosta gained valuable experience at Maven Clinic that would later help her build Noula. She wanted to address the root of the problem and create solutions for the systemic barriers women face in their reproductive health journeys.

“Most people shared frustration, where they felt dismissed and ignored in their health care journey, regardless of location, socioeconomic status, or racial background,” said Acosta. “It was a common problem: we felt this kind of sense of medical gaslighting or a sense of being completely ignored, leaving us to fill in the pieces ourselves.”

Acosta’s experiences, both in her personal and professional lives, set her up to succeed as an advocate and problem-solver for the disparities in women’s health education and access. “I wanted to learn as much as possible and contribute as much as I could,” Acosta stated, “so I could really build the foundational skills to build a scalable, impactful business that truly would reshape the lives of so many women and birthing parents.”

Acosta’s solution became Noula, an online subscription service that offers a virtual care platform, home diagnostics for hormones and vitamin levels, access to health coaches, and personalized nutrition and lifestyle advice for women and birthing parents. Noula aims to help close gaps in maternal health by democratizing access to high-quality care. This service has a digital-first approach of culturally competent, personalized support, precision nutrition, and proactive care plans backed by science.

Why Visible Hands?

Acosta certainly had the passion and vision. The next step was finding people to make it happen. Early on, she spoke to an investor who told her that she needed to get her first half-million dollars from friends and family.

“I kind of laughed,” Acosta said. “I don’t have access to that kind of capital, especially with the requirements to be an accredited investor. I truly didn’t know anyone who met those requirements.”

That’s when Visible Hands (VH) became Noula’s first financial supporter and believer. During her first call with the VH team, there was an instant click, “when I met Noelle, I was impressed with her grit, deep understanding of the space, and unrelenting passion to make reproductive healthcare more inclusive and accessible,” said Daniel Acheampong, Visible Hands GP and Co-founder. “She was obsessed with the problem, yet flexible with iterations.”

Acosta described her trust and excitement for Visible Hands as the perfect intersection between emotion and logic: her call with the team and their passion for Noula and the reproductive health crisis made her feel comfortable and supported. Visible Hands’ emphasis on diverse founders and talent aligned well with Acosta’s personal and professional goals.

“Noula wants to embrace inclusivity and cultural humility in the foundation of our brand,” Acosta said. “I saw that in Visible Hands, [and] the fact that they really invest and support underrepresented founders. Traditionally, the founder ecosystem in the [VC] world doesn’t look like the folks that were part of the inaugural cohort. We don’t see ourselves in the founder journey or [feel] like that journey is even tangible for us. With Visible Hands, it felt like, okay, I can finally turn my dream into a reality.”

Acosta at the Visible Hands 2021 Accelerator orientation in Tulsa, OK.

Building the product

At Visible Hands, Acosta was looking for someone to uplift her and fill in the gaps that her background didn’t cover. She had the vision and the strategy; she just needed the resources to execute.

“I didn’t necessarily need hand-holding through a lot of it,” Acosta started. “But I did need someone who was a sounding board to help me poke holes, and who could be there, one on one for me, as I built my business because there were components of building a startup that I wasn’t as familiar with.”

During the accelerator, creating the product became a top priority. Acosta utilized the Visible Hands team for support on various projects to push her product forward. After collaborative meetings with the team, Acosta was delivered multiple company-building assets that reflected Noula’s mission and vision. The team helped create a landing page and brand guidelines, packaging design for Noula’s test kit box, and a clickable prototype of the mobile app.

“That was invaluable, because at the time that would have cost me thousands of dollars through an actual designer that I just didn’t have,” Acosta said. “I had something tangible to help visualize what I wanted and what we’re building here at Noula.”

A clickable prototype of Noula’s mobile app and packaging design for the test kit box.

How was Visible Hands a catalyst for growth?

With the Visible Hands team helping to execute the product, Acosta was able to direct her focus to another essential step for Noula: funding. There were a couple of key components that got her in a place to take her fundraising journey to the next level.

The first was tools to organize and educate herself about the fundraising steps she needed to take. Acosta utilized the VH fundraising toolkit, which had resources for managing investor relationships, preparing for due diligence questions, and templates for assets such as investor memos and updates.

Additionally, pitch practice proved to be an essential step in confidently facing investors. Acosta recited her two-minute proposal countless times with her VH mastermind group, a curated group within the larger cohort that met to support one another and offer advice and feedback.

“I practiced my pitch every single week,” Acosta said. “We [tried] to refine it and tailor it every single time to the point where I felt like I had a really strong pitch that really helped in my fundraising journey.”

Acosta also took advantage of the 100+ events hosted by Visible Hands which ranged from Product-Led Growth with Kyle Poyar to Education on Early Stage Venture with Charles Hudson to Hiring the Best Startup Team with Diane Hessan, and more. The events were designed to reflect the needs of the cohort and give them tools for the earliest stages of company-building. Acosta used these events as education and networking opportunities.

“After every fundraising session, I followed up with every single person and got meetings with essentially all of them,” Acosta said. “They provided this network that I didn’t initially have exposure to or access to.”

Not only did Noelle maximize the VH network, but also the advice and mentorship of the VH team. Each founder in the cohort received a concierge, a member of the VH staff who is their primary advocate and teammate throughout the accelerator. Acheampong, Noelle’s concierge, witnessed Noula’s journey from the beginning: “during the first week of the accelerator, I remember meeting with Noelle about speaking with more customers. In a matter of a few days, she had secured meetings and met with nearly a hundred potential customers. I was blown away. Her customer-centric approach allowed her to improve solutions and make meaningful progress pushing Noula’s growth.”

Finally, Acosta utilized every one of Visible Hands’ channels to spread the word about Noula and reach an audience she didn’t have prior access to. Whether through the weekly VH newsletter, investor updates, or pitch showcases, Acosta spread Noula’s mission to excited members of the Visible Hands Ecosystem. “The amount of exposure [and] opportunity to share Noula outside of my intimate circle was huge with Visible Hands,” Acosta said.

The Results

Acosta’s photo from her press release announcing her 1.4 million pre-seed round.

Since finishing the Visible Hands accelerator at the end of 2021, Acosta still has the unwavering support of her peers and mentors. “The founders within the cohort and the Visible Hands team still continue to be great resources for me,” Acosta said.

Additionally, Noula and Acosta have reached new heights.

Noula raised an oversubscribed pre-seed round of $1.4 million co-led by Muse Capital and Precursor Ventures. Other investors include Crista Galli Ventures and angel backers such as Jill Koziol (founder and CEO of Motherly) and Alex Cohen (director of product at Carbon Health)

Acosta is one of fewer than 100 Latina founders to have raised more than $1 million, according to a 2020 report from ProjectDiane.

Noula is launching their public beta on April 24 for anyone who is thinking about becoming pregnant, currently pregnant, or recently postpartum. Monthly subscriptions will be available in both English and Spanish. The first 100 members will be getting a Noula swag bag!

We are incredibly proud of Noula’s success and the way Acosta used the Visible Hands’ resources and community to catalyze her company’s growth. We encourage all founders who align with the Visible Hand’s mission to consider being a part of our accelerator. If you are an aspiring or early-stage startup founder from an underrepresented community, apply now to join our 2022 cohort.

- The Visible Hands Team

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Visible Hands is a VC fund with a 14-week, virtual-first fellowship program that supports overlooked talent in building technology startups.

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Visible Hands

Visible Hands

Visible Hands is a VC fund with a 14-week, virtual-first fellowship program that supports overlooked talent in building technology startups.

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