No woman should have to choose between family and her career. No woman faced with a cancer diagnosis should give up on her dream to have children. Extend Fertility started as a business plan co-authored with HBS classmates and is now the first service in the United States focused exclusively on women who want to proactively preserve their fertility options.
In 2002-2004, I co-authored a business plan for a revolutionary venture whose egg freezing technology would allow women to prolong their fertility by freezing their eggs for later use. We won the Harvard Business School business plan contest and Extend Fertility was born.
I was 24 years old in 2002. Some of my friends were 10 years older and worried about missing their window at having kids. They were not in the right relationship or not in a relationship. Other women we met and spoke with had different personal stories and circumstances but were mostly had the same worries about missing their window. Most wanted to accomplish specific career goals, to have certain experiences, to be in a relationship with the right partner, to be financially stable, or a combination of these factors before they had kids. Many did not realize that cancer treatments, including chemotherapy which many women will undergo at one point in their life, irremediably affect fertility. And while there was only so much we could do to control these circumstances, we had the opportunity to give all these women the chance at becoming a mother.
Our team won Harvard Business School business plan contest for which we were awarded the Dubilier prize, second place in Fortune Small Business business plan competition, and we were a finalist in Global Startup@Singapore business plan competition organized by the National University of Singapore Entrepreneurship Centre.
We’ve come a long way baby! For decades, sperm and embryos (fertilized eggs) had been successfully frozen for the purpose of fertility preservation and donation. Conversely, egg-freezing had not historically delivered acceptable success rates to drive market adoption. Until 2002, the success rate of live births from frozen eggs was 1-3% globally, which made the procedure unattractive, and combined with the magnitude of the need, led clinicians around the world to race to develop a technique for successful egg-freezing with promising results ranging from 20-40% successful pregnancy rates (on par with a woman’s natural fertility rate). This was an opportunity to finally drive market adoption which Extend Fertility recognized and seized, becoming the first service in the United States focused exclusively on women who want to proactively preserve their fertility options. While egg-freezing was not a viable option in 2002, we have witnessed in the US alone 47,000 egg-freezing procedures in 2015 (representing about $500M in revenues, now a key segment of the $3 to 4 billion US fertility market) and approximately 5,000 babies to date have been born from frozen eggs.
Technology & Procedure
Egg-freezing is a process in which a woman’s eggs are extracted, frozen and stored. Later, when she is ready to become pregnant, the eggs can be thawed, fertilized, and transferred to the uterus as embryos. Patients first must go through hormone injections which stimulate ovaries to produce multiple eggs in one menstrual cycle (instead of just the one egg produced in a typical cycle). The egg-retrieval process is a 15-minute surgical procedure during which the doctor retrieves several eggs from a patient’s ovaries. It’s done through the insertion of a needle through the vaginal wall, under sedation, and does not involve cuts or stitches. As for the viability of eggs thawed, while the technology is still new, the longest reported successful thaw came after 14 years!