These Female Founders Built An Affordable Genetic Test Marketplace To Tackle the Gender Health Disparity

ALIS Health

After years of working in the biotech and life science industries — and facing their own challenges as female entrepreneurs — Kerranna Williamson and Amy Domangue saw a unique opportunity to flip the script on women’s health.

Their Charleston-based startup, ALIS Health, works to transform women’s medical care by serving as a marketplace for women-focused genetic testing services. By providing affordable, accessible genetic testing, ALIS Health hopes to improve disease diagnosis and treatment.

Their female-led, women-focused mission is a huge but critical challenge. A 2014 Connors’ Center study showed that the research that informs diagnosis and medical care either inadequately includes women or doesn’t consider the impact gender has on health outcomes. Women, per capita, pay nearly $93K more than men over their lifetime for healthcare.

The transformation doesn’t stop at a swab test; the duo is empowering a female-led sales force (a rarity in medical sales) and launching advocacy efforts to increase awareness of women’s health issues — their Power of Knowing pledge campaign empowers women to learn more about hereditary cancer screening, an important tool for early detection.

Is the women’s health care gap too big a problem to solve? This dynamic duo doesn’t think so. Discover how Williamson and Domangue are driving healthcare innovation and inspiring positive, potentially life-saving change.

Give us the scoop: What is ALIS Health?

ALIS Health is a marketplace for new-to-market genetic tests in women’s health. We partner with laboratories that are producing high-quality and affordable genetic tests to grow their reach in secondary markets like Charleston. By bundling offerings from multiple laboratories into a single place, we provide physicians simple access to information, genetic tests, and genetic counseling services.

Why is personalized women’s health important?

A focus on women’s health is important for many reasons. It is widely accepted that sex and gender differences exist in both the prevalence of health conditions and the use of health services. Women have unique reproductive healthcare needs, have higher rates of chronic illnesses, and are greater users of the health care system. Additionally, women take the lead on securing healthcare for their families and have lower incomes than men, both of which affect and shape their access to the health system.

Personalized health provides an opportunity to make a difference across the board as we now have a better understanding of how our genetic makeup impacts our risk of developing certain types of disease and our ability to respond to specific medications. Importantly, the way women manage certain aspects of their health, especially reproductive health, is shifting away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more personalized approach.

To ensure that genetic and other personalized tests are successfully incorporated into today’s standard of care, particularly when it comes to women’s health, we are addressing two challenges: lack of access to affordable and reliable genetic testing and hesitation from physicians due to a lack of knowing what to do with the results. For this reason, the tests in our portfolio are selected based on affordability (ranging between $99 – $199) and accuracy (over 99.9%). In addition, we provide physicians complimentary access to certified genetic counselors to assist with interpreting genetic results and understanding actionable steps to take with each patient.

What gave you the idea to get started, and how did you end up being co-founders?

Kerranna and I met at a co-working space in Charleston. We both consulted independently with diagnostic laboratories and engaged together in conversations that typically started with “what if…”. Over the course of a year we teased out ideas for how we could make a difference in women’s health and began gauging interest from laboratories in our network. In the Fall of 2016, we announced the concept of ALIS Health at a local pitch competition and won. A week later, we formalized our first laboratory partnership and never looked back.

How has being in Charleston played a role in your journey thus far?

When you’re operating in a relatively small market, collaboration and knowledge sharing play a big part in getting off the ground. During our first few weeks of operation, we leaned into the local entrepreneur community to identify businesses that could help support our growth for little to no cost and teach us what we needed to know about growing a sustainable sales force.

When it comes to bringing these impactful and innovative genetic tests into the hands of physicians, traditionally the Southeast is a region that is served later in the game. We recognized this as an opportunity for us to improve access in the area and for us to build our initial traction as a new company.  

This past Spring, you participated in Project Entrepreneur (a female entrepreneur educational program). Any big ‘lessons learned’ that fellow women entrepreneurs might benefit from?

Lesson learned: Pitch your idea, quickly adapt…and do it all over again…and again.

Participating in a program that involves pitching for 48 hours is an incredibly stressful but effective way to hone in on what really matters about your business. When we arrived at Project Entrepreneur, we thought we were going to hit a homerun but we didn’t. We struggled to clearly articulate what we do and how we do it to an audience unfamiliar with our industry. Quite frankly, most people spaced out as soon as we said the word genetics. We were fortunate to have an adviser who threw out our pitch halfway through the program and provided guidance on how to communicate more effectively.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve both faced as women entrepreneurs in the healthcare industry? What strategies have you used to tackle those challenges?

Since launching ALIS Health, we have encountered many challenges but unfortunately (or fortunately) we often do not have the time or perspective to fully identify the root cause. Our general rule of thumb is to seek partners, advisors, team members, and clients who share similar values and see the path to success with us. If we encounter someone who does not want to collaborate (for whatever reason), we have learned that there is always someone else who will. We have been grateful in our journey so far to work with many bright and supportive men and women who are eager to contribute to ALIS Health’s success, and celebrate that we are making it happen as two women leaders.

What’s one thing you wish people would know about what you do — but that no one ever asks?

We love our team and we don’t get to enough opportunities to show off the incredible lives they lead beyond ALIS Health. One example: we have a team member who wanted to write and publish a children’s book (and did!) and has now built her own business around the characters of her story. Sharing in our colleagues’ successes has created a culture that attracts more like-minded and incredibly talented people to ALIS Health.

Additionally, not too many people ask about the origin of the name ALIS (pronounced like the name Alice). Alis means wings in Latin and comes from the phrase “alis volat propiis” which translates as “she flies with her own wings.” This phrase embodies our mission to empower women in health, leadership, and life.

Tell us about a few of the milestones you’ve hit thus far…and give us a peek at what’s next for ALIS!

Some of our milestones to-date include growing our current product portfolio to 8 genetic tests in partnership with top-notch laboratories from across the US, and expanding our team in just 6 months to cover 6 states across the U.S.

As for next steps: we are currently in an aggressive growth stage as we are looking to double our number of territories in the next two quarters. We are actively recruiting sales experts across the US to join our team. We are also seeking additional laboratory partners, particularly in fertility and heart disease.

Photos via ALIS Health by Zing Zheng

Allyson Sutton is a freelance writer and marketing strategist based in Charleston, SC. Prior to working as a consultant, Allyson helped launch a network of award-winning co-working spaces in North Carolina and served on the management team of Innovate Raleigh, a non-profit supporting the Triangle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. She also worked alongside the founding teams of Vital Plan, CityFabric and Walk [Your City]. If you catch her during a “perfect day,” she’s probably riding her bike (metallic gold helmet included), making a playlist, eating desserts, or worshipping the ocean at Sullivan’s Island with her partner and two adorable pups.