Hours after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, and the night before more than half a million women marched on Washington, Lauren Schulte knew she had to figure out how her tech company would navigate America’s new future.
“We’re going to do some stuff and we’re not going to be quiet,” Schulte, the co-founder of Flex, a Y Combinator startup that produces a tampon alternative, told a group of her peers from Silicon Valley during dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant in Capitol Hill.
It would be hard to find Silicon Valley founders and staffers more attuned to the risks of the Trump administration than the ones who gathered with Schulte in D.C. on Friday night. In town for the Women’s March on Washington, the 18 women and one man all worked in some way on womens health a growing segment of the tech industry and an area under continued threat by attacks on reproductive rights and the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“That’s why it’s so painful,” Jennifer Tye, head of U.S. operations for the fertility and period tracking app Glow, said of this year’s election. “It feels like we’re on the precipice.”
Organized by Flex and Glow, Fridays dinner brought together women from Silicon Valley and D.C., from college freshmen to seasoned activists.
With “the future is female” T-shirts, Planned Parenthood buttons, protest posters and one gold vagina necklace at the table, they were ready to march on Washington the next day to protest Trump’s alleged history of sexual assault and his comments about women, immigrants, and people of color during the campaign.
But first, some of the players in one of the tech world’s fastest-growing spaces wanted to acclimate to the reality of working on women’s health under an administration that’s trying to gut healthcare and threatens to limit women’s reproductive healthcare access.
“This weekend has been emotional,” said Angie Lee, chief product officer for the genetic fertility test company Celmatix. “But it’s been a validation of why I do the work that I do.”
Women from Glow, Flex, Celmatix, the period tracker Clue, tampon wholesaler Cora and the accelerator Y Combinator, which has invested in Flex, were joined by advocates against the tampon tax and nonprofits like Bedsider, a birth control access project and app by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy.
The room was uniformly opposed to the new president, but some founders had parents who were Trump supporters and one confessed to voting for George W. Bush.
The women present wanted to mobilize their coalition for political use, but at the same time to discuss health tech apart from politics including getting the business of the 42 percent of women who voted for Trump.
“Our product is for all women,” Lee said of Celmatix.
Amid talk of Trump’s cabinet and the needs of “half the population,” the women in tech who met up in D.C. complimented each other’s work one product was “the iPhone 12 of women’s health” and debated how to push for faster health tech development from the medical side as well as how to get more men involved in the field.
Besides talking shop, the tech staffers who made the cross-country trek to D.C. for the weekend’s march tried to figure out how to harness the potential of their companies to influence policy.
Women’s health tech has grown exponentially in just the past few years, exploding from a handful of startups five years ago to $20 million funding rounds today. Apps like Glow collect data from thousands of users every day that could be used to lobby lawmakers on issues like contraceptive access.
“We can influence policy,” said Rachel Fey, director of public policy at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy. “How do we mobilize this, in this room, to support Planned Parenthood?”
“What can we change? What policies can we change?” Tye, from Glow, added. “It’s critical we do it because no one else is going to do it.”
The next day, these women all marched on Washington one with NARAL, one with her 16-year-old daughter and one with her parents.
Clogging the D.C. metro system, stretching all the way to the White House in a sea of pink hats, the marchers heard from Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, abortion rights leaders, immigration rights activists and even Madonna. Across the country and around the world, hundreds of thousands of women marched in solidarity.
“There is a moment right now that doesn’t come around very often there’s a chance to not lose some of these battles,” Fey said. “Women that were not socially active before, they are now because they feel this threat. We don’t want to lose this moment.”