Women in healthcare leadership: Why female founders need to speak up and speak out now

Jo Halliday

Founder & CEO of Talking Medicines

Women in healthcare leadership: Why female founders need to speak up and speak out now

23 March 2022 | 6min

Quick Takes

  • Females remain underserved in the investor world

  • But investors are increasingly recognizing women’s skillsets and approach to business

  • Female founders drive profits by addressing key challenges in their ecosystems

There are a lot of patient voices out there and until now, no-one has been able to capture what they are saying at a broader level. It’s not that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to listen to patients’ voices, it’s that there is no proper framework or process for them to do so.

But two ladies from Glasgow along with their business partner are on a path to change this. 

In this short series, we partnered with Kate Dion, healthcare industry observer and Value Communications Lead for 3D Communications, to explore the topic of women in healthcare leadership. Join us on this journey as we speak to four women who are changing the face of healthcare.

In our second interview, Jo Halliday, Founder and CEO for Talking Medicines, gives us an insight into the benefits of being a woman in a leadership position in a very male dominated industry.

Changing the way we interact with patients for good

Jo Halliday, Elizabeth Fairely and Scott Crae, founders of Talking Medicines, have created a data platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to gain greater clarity about what people are saying about the medicines they are taking. These insights from social media chatter can be harnessed by drugmakers to gain a crucial understanding into what patients are experiencing, how regularly they are taking their medicines, and what else could be done to improve their health outcomes. 

Put simply, Talking Medicines wants to ensure people are taking the medicines that have the best chances of working for them, whilst helping the pharmaceutical industry to deliver on its promise of putting patients at the center of its decision-making processes.

It’s a smart idea, but like all smart ideas, it requires cash if it is to stand any chance of becoming a viable business. Speak to anyone navigating the world of funding, and they will tell you securing investment can be a very daunting process. 

For women entering the space, the road can be even more rocky.

“Females are very much underserved in the investor world. There are still very few females sitting on the boards of companies, there are very few female investors, and only around 3 percent of females actually get invested in,” Jo says.

Research from BCG shows that women receive on average $1 million less than men when they pitch investors for early-stage capital. Interestingly, the consultancy also found that businesses founded by women generated 10 percent more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period. BCG also discovered that for every dollar of funding, companies founded or co-founded by women generated 78 cents, while male-founded start-ups generated a mere 31 cents.1

Women in healthcare leadership are brightening outlook

Jo does feel like things are changing as investors start to buy into the valuable attributes women are bringing to the corporate world and healthcare leadership. She is also encouraged to see a greater awareness of gender biases.

“Women can bring the same business skills as men, but they can also bring a different way of running a business. They tend to be more in touch when it comes to people and culture. They are excellent at networking because they actively listen to peers and other stakeholders. They are also very good at adapting to change,” Jo says.

In a sign that things are evolving, The 200Bn Club, founded by Dr. Amber Ghaddar and Bridget Greenwood, is being backed by more than 40 prominent financial institutions, including HSBC Ventures, Molten Ventures, and Frontline Ventures, to run a new initiative aimed at accelerating financing directed to women.2 

“Addressing female under-representation not only makes business sense but will also enable the next generation of founders to see themselves in the tech leaders of today,” Edel Coen, Head of Dealflow at Molten Ventures, said of The 200Bn Club’s initiative. 2

Value add

Jo and her two co-founders have now secured £4 million in funding from a range of investors, including Tern PLC and pharmaceutical and life sciences veteran Mark Bamforth of Thairm Bio, who believe Talking Medicines will amplify the patient voice as well as improve commercial operations.

“I would say we have a great mix of investors now. Some are focused on pharma and life sciences, others specialize in the digital space, and others offer private investment support. Our early private investors have come from a variety of fields but shared the vision of better patient outcomes through data,” Jo says.

Crucial to Talking Medicines’ success has been the co-founders’ ability to clearly outline how their product adds value. “It is so important that start-ups are able to demonstrate business metrics. It takes more than an idea to succeed,” Jo says.

Jo and her team are combining AI with natural language learning to provide science-based insights into the real-world experiences of patients. Their solution could prove a much-needed boon for an industry that struggles to connect with the end-users of its products despite spending around $USD 30 billion on marketing in the US alone.3 

Women in healthcare leadership drive profit with purpose

Speaking to investors can take a lot of time so it’s vital that anyone seeking investment researches the most appropriate investors to speak to and understands what they need to know from them, Jo advises, adding that impact investors can make a huge difference to companies’ ability to secure funding.

“Sustainability is built into our DNA. It’s in the way we approach working with others, as well as in our commitment to work transparently, ethically and in an environmentally friendly way. For us, it’s all about profit with purpose. I wish I had known more about impact investors earlier,” she says.

And it’s this commitment to a clear purpose that makes investing in female-led companies so attractive to investors like Silvia Mah, partner at Ad Astra Ventures, which invests in innovative women founders.

“Founders who believe their impact will make a difference in their ecosystem — from the teams they lead, the products they innovate and the values-aligned investors they attract — are the ones truly driven to succeed for a higher purpose, albeit impact or legacy. They want to make the world a better place, and nothing will stop them,” Silvia wrote in a recent Forbes article.4

Building up the right support network is also crucial for success, Jo says. 

“Investors are investing in people as well as a sound business idea. If you don’t initially succeed, then pivot to find that market fit. Just keep going. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of doing something, and it can be especially hard if you are flying solo.”

“It really helps to make sure you have top-notch people on your board and good mentors. Once you have that in place, get in there and speak with a big strong voice about how you and your company will make a difference to the industry you are working in, and prove it,” Jo says.

Want to find out more about women in healthcare leadership? Then check out the first article from this series with Brigitte Nolet as she explains how COVID has unexpectedly opened more opportunities for women in healthcare leadership.

Jo Halliday Is an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in health tech. Jo developed strong entrepreneurship skills from the experience of having run her own business on multiple occasions. Jo’s professional skills are in Marketing Management, Digital strategy, Business planning and Scaling Digital Tech. Following several corporate marketing roles early in her career within Coca-Cola, Grand Met and Jim Beam Brands Jo then ventured into the start- up world of scaling brands and then business’. Jo enjoys the challenge of start-up, & the focus it brings to be able to deliver on multiple strands at pace. It takes a lot of belief but gives huge rewards on many levels. Talking Medicines was co-founded in 2013 having seen an opportunity for better communication & support on the drugs prescribed between patients and doctors. The Company took on investment to under-go a hard pivot to data tech; with the mission of owning the space for social intelligence for patients on medicines as a SaaS platform. The Company launched PatientMetRx® in 2022 and scaling is now underway in US/UK with Talking Medicines named one of the top digital starts ups by UK Government.


  1. Abouzahr. (2018). Article available from https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/why-women-owned-startups-are-better-bet [Accessed February 2022]
  2. The 200 BN Club. Website available from https://the200bn.club/ [Accessed February 2022]
  3. Schwartz et al. (2019). JAMA 321, 80-96
  4. Mah. (2021). Article available from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/12/08/why-vcs-should-set-their-sights-on-healthcare-products-made-for-and-by-women/?sh=4f973ddf28ee [Accessed February 2022]

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