Entrepreneurs Christopher El Badaoui and Araxie Boyadjian grew up together in Beirut, Lebanon. Despite being friends since childhood, it wasn’t until last year that El Badaoui came out to Boyadjian.
“I feel like I had suppressed my sexuality for far too long, especially growing up in the Middle East,” says El Badaoui.
The experience made them think. Was there any way to use their skills — El Badaoui in tech and design, Boyadjian in online strategy, and their third cofounder, Joshua Armistead, in biological sciences — to alleviate challenges for other LGBTQ+ people?
The fruit of their friendship and their experiences is Lvndr (previously known as Troglo), a London-based healthtech platform dedicated to developing inclusive sexual health solutions for the LGBTQ+ community.
Founded last year, Lvndr has just secured £1.5m in seed funding from Octopus Ventures, alongside Calm Storm Ventures, Soho Ventures and several angel investors.
“The healthcare space made the most sense because it's where LGBTQ+ individuals are the most disproportionately affected by the issues at hand,” says El Badaoui.
The Lvndr deal is significant in Europe’s heterosexual, male-dominated tech ecosystem. Backstage Capital estimates that less than 1% of fundraising goes to LGBTQ+ founders and that 23% of them choose to deliberately hide their sexual orientation during the fundraising process.
Lvndr will partner with local authorities around the UK which already work on sexual health to help them improve their offering for LGBTQ+ people.
One in eight LGBTQ+ people in the UK say they have faced unequal treatment when seeking healthcare, and two in five trans people say they experience a lack of understanding in the health system.
The first partnership is with Sexual Health London, to provide medical adherence help for PrEP users — a medication taken to help prevent HIV.
The end goal will be to offer a full platform of remote sexual healthcare, including online consultations with specially trained clinicians, remote STI testing and medication, PrEP and potentially things like HRT (hormone therapy) too.
Although existing clinics do work with LGBTQ+ people, El Badaoui says there are currently no services catering specifically for the community, meaning people sometimes have to travel long distances to clinics that are known to be LGBTQ+ friendly or potentially face discrimination elsewhere.
“All the users basically flock to one specific clinic that is known for LGBTQ+ care. However, we want to think about how to make this more available to people living on the outskirts of cities, for example.”
Boyadjian says they’ve often heard stories of discrimination in clinics — one person told them, for example, that they were denied care at a clinic in Scotland because of their positive HIV status.
“We need to destigmatise sexual health in general and create this movement around LGBTQ+ care and equality and rights because it’s currently lacking,” says El Badaoui.
Less than 1% of fundraising goes to LGBTQ+ founders
Securing investment for Lvndr was difficult at times, the team explains.
“The main thing was always hearing that our market is too small. We kept hearing it over and over and over again and I was thinking, I'm sorry, I didn't know that 50m people was nothing,” says Boyadjian. “It gets really difficult to digest.”
“What I believe is that the more niche a problem is, actually the more lucrative it is, and niche problems get a lot of interest from investors. So it's not about the small market, it's about the perceived need. It’s about whether they think it’s an important problem or not.”
El Badaoui and Boyadjian drew up a manifesto of their values at the start of the process and decided that, if an investor didn’t fit with those values, they wouldn’t take investment from them, no matter how much money was on the table.
“If you're not authentic in the process itself, you could end up with investors that have the wrong perception of who you are as a founder, and vice versa,” says El Badaoui.
When Octopus Ventures, the lead investor in Lvndr’s seed round, came along, the team said it was things like them asking the right questions, sharing values and getting excited about how big the platform could get that made them realise it was a fit.
And with Octopus’ backing, the Lvndr team has big ambitions, wanting to improve LGBTQ+ sexual healthcare across the globe.
“What we want to do is focus initially on the UK, expand to Europe, and bring it full circle to countries like the Middle East, which is where we're from, and Southeast Asia,” says El Badaoui.
“It's about identifying those countries that are in dire need of these types of services and support. So we're in it for the long game, and our vision is really to deliver something that transcends borders, especially in countries where it's illegal to be who you are, as an individual.”