After serving as director of strategy for digital health unicorn Ro for two years, Rachel Blank set out last year to start a new company based on her own health experiences.
In September, she founded Allara Health, with the goal of helping women manage polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that is estimated to affect one in 10 women. It’s a common cause of infertility, but it also affects much more than that — a large percentage of people with PCOS also have insulin resistance, and the condition is also linked to anxiety and depression.
In most cases, it takes years to reach a diagnosis, and there’s still little known about what actually causes the condition.
Blank found this true with her own experience. She was diagnosed with PCOS 10 years ago, after years of dealing with unexplained health issues.
“Not only was it a surprise, but it was especially surprising to me because I had grown up as the daughter of a gynecologist,” she said in a Zoom interview. “Even when I had a diagnosis, I didn’t feel like I ever had a great path within the healthcare system. I never really knew where to go, what doctors to see, what I should be doing. I found doctors to be very dismissive, or say things like, ‘if you’re not trying to get pregnant right now, I don’t really know what to do for you.’”
The pandemic spurred her to think more about her health, and she started doing her own research. She found large communities of women online who were trying to piece together the same questions that she faced.
“That was this big aha moment for me,” she said. “I can not only take my own personal experience, but also my professional experience working in digital health and frankly build something better.”
Blank is no stranger to women’s healthcare. During her time at Ro, she led one of the company’s direct-to-consumer brands, Rory, which offered prescription and wellness treatments for women going through menopause. Before that, she worked as an investor for General Catalyst.
With Allara, her goal is to focus more on improving access to specialty care, an area that’s often overlooked by other women’s health startups that focus more on primary care or fertility.
“Where I saw this massive gap was in specialty care,” she said. “What do you do if you don’t just need birth control but you’re also not ready for IVF? There’s really nowhere for you to go right now in traditional healthcare or in digital health.”
The New York-based startup offers virtual visits with gynecologists and endocrinologists, as well as nutrition counseling and coaching. They also have the ability to order diagnostics, such as a blood test, or medications as needed. Allara currently charges a $125 monthly subscription model for all of its services, though in the future, Blank said the company is looking to offer it as an employee benefit, and break out more point solutions.
Allara currently operates in six states, but hopes to be in all 50 by the end of the year. The company started seeing patients in the last few months. Roughly 35,000 women have either signed up for the service or indicated their interest.
In the longer term, Blank also hopes to expand to other often-overlooked conditions, such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
“That’s what motivates me and motivates my whole team, understanding the massive effect we can have not only on a woman’s day-to-day and how she feels about herself day-to-day, but also on her healthcare outcomes,” she said.