Reframing The Reality Of What Menopause Means For Women – Markea Dickinson-Frasier, Co-Founder at Thermaband
Markea Dickinson-Frasier – Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020
Tell us more about your company and what you do
I launched Thermaband in September 2019 with my mother (Debbie Dickinson) during my second year of Yale SOM. Thermaband is a health-tech company that provides thermal comfort through a smart bracelet, the Thermaband Zone, with cooling/warming sensations, accompanied by a mobile app. Thermaband Zone is for anyone frequently uncomfortably cool or warm for a variety of reasons, particularly suited for menopausal women experiencing moderate to severe hot flashes.
What inspired you to start a women-focused start-up, and how did you identify the specific needs or gaps in the market that your business addresses?
I’d always been passionate about democratizing access to resources for underserved communities, and providing a voice in spaces where certain voices aren’t represented. As I was nearing SOM graduation, I was debating whether to follow my passion in some capacity versus the standard post-business school path of consulting. Sometimes life happens while you’re making plans, as they say. My mom called in September 2019 when she experienced her first hot flash at the age of 51. She was shocked at how debilitating it was, and the lack of solutions for cooling relief that she’d found. After searching for solutions to help her, I saw so many antiquated solutions that just don’t give women any dignity whatsoever- like cooling fans that hang around your neck or damp towels. Since this was really impacting my mom’s quality of life, I decided to make this my project for SOM’s Innovator course – to create a cooling relief tech solution for hot flashes. In terms of identifying this specific gap in the market, we interviewed over 300 women in midlife to understand their experiences, and recognized that according to these women (and as confirmed by an AARP study), 93% of menopausal women were displeased with current hot flash relief options and were seeking a non-invasive tech solution. So my mom and I partnered together to build it!
How did your experience at Yale SOM help you with your venture?
The Yale ecosystem in general was so valuable throughout the early stages of launching Thermaband. A few in particular were gamechangers – SOM’s Startup Founders Practicum, the Innovator course, and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. Within SOM, I took the Startup Founders Practicum course for a semester, which provided structure, accountability and resources in getting my business off the ground. It also provided an area to work (the Honest Tea Entrepreneurship Suite) with other like-minded founders, which was an invaluable ecosystem. My mentor, Kyle Jensen, has been such an amazing advocate – and continues to help us navigate as non-technical founders (like hiring our first engineer). I leveraged SOM’s Innovator course to ideate, evaluate and develop my business with other students. In this course, I created our first minimally viable product (MVP) on a small budget – and created a channel to integrate user feedback into the design process that still exists today. I leveraged the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (Jim Boyle) as well, which was helpful in understanding and navigating the overall Yale ecosystem, particularly professors who could support across campus.
What is your long-term vision for your business, and how do you see it evolving?
Our grand vision is for Thermaband to become the standard of care for thermal health, recommended by physicians, made accessible through employers, and to ultimately revolutionize women’s health through a suite of advanced technology and digital insights. I see our business evolving in terms of form factor (beyond the band), design, and populations served. In terms of customer segments, we envision scaling this device and healthcare solution beyond menopausal woman to include the broader thermal discomfort market, due to age, hormonal, environmental, and medical factors.
In terms of the digital health data, this continuous background data collection and analysis will mitigate the risk of misdiagnoses, through empowering users with an aggregated health data platform to track data seamlessly. From a macro level, leveraging anonymized data from this device in the medical world will advance understanding and treatments of symptoms of menopause.
What advice do you have for other women who are interested in starting a women-focused business, and what resources or support do you recommend they seek out?
Don’t seek early external validation from anyone but your future customers/users. Your potential customers will keep you grounded in the idea, keep the flame of passion, and ensure that you know you’re not crazy when the rest of the world is telling you that you are! I recommend that women seeking to focus on women-focused businesses seek other women founders in a similar space – like Women of Wearables, Femtech Insider, Old Girls Club, Google for Startups, Amazon Impact Accelerator for Women Founders, to name a few. Participating in accelerators focused on women founders was invaluable for us in expanding our network of founders, which has led to investor connections and friendships.