When you find yourself needing a pregnancy test, it’s already stressful. Regardless of what outcome you’re hoping for, there’s a lot of emotion involved in the process- even before you have to aim your pee stream at a tiny stick. The only thing that can make it more anxiety-riddled is to run into someone at the pharmacy who makes the situation even more awkward… like, let’s say your partner’s mom.
That’s exactly what happened to Cynthia Plotch, Penn grad and long-time South Philly resident. “I was buying a pregnancy test and ran into my boyfriend’s mom- which is about as horrible as it sounds,” she says.
Mortified, she rushed out of the store and called her friend Jamie Norwood. The two worked on the founding team at Hungry Harvest, where she says they were both “passionate about creating better consumer experiences for women.”
“Jamie and I had been daydreaming for a long time about starting something together,” she says, and this awkward encounter was just the impetus they needed. The pair were inspired to start Stix, a Philly-based direct-to-consumer women’s health brand.
Now folks in need can get over-the-counter products like fertility and pregnancy tests, UTI and yeast infection treatments mailed to them easily and discretely- anywhere in America. “We’re also on GoPuff,” she adds.
But Stix is about a lot more than avoiding uncomfortable pharmacy encounters. The legal right to privacy is increasingly embattled and more than half of states don’t require sexuality education to be medically accurate. Accessibility of vaginal and reproductive health care is about more than convenience.
“Access is incredibly important,” Plotch says- as is education. In addition to providing products to consumers, they created a Real Talk, a platform she says is for “medically-reviewed educational content.” The blog covers everything from nutrition during pregnancy to menstruation, choosing an IUD, ovulation, heart health, painful sex, and bacterial vaginosis.
“Buying yeast infection treatment is not a fun thing to do,” she says. It’s not just inconvenient and potentially awkward, she adds, “It’s like six steps before. We’re never taught about vaginal discharge and what’s normal and abnormal. We’re never taught what a yeast infection is, what it means to have burning with urination or why you should always pee after sex.”
Beyond that, she points out that doctor’s appointments are expensive and often rushed, leaving patients to “turn to Dr Google.” She says, “We’ve all had that experience googling something and you wind up thinking you have cancer. That shouldn’t be what happens.”
This focused combination of products and education have been serving Stix well. Plotch and Norwood have been recognized by Inc’s top 100 list of Female Founders and Forbes Next 1000 and the company is quickly gaining traction with its women-centric branding.
They are one of very few Philly-based entrepreneurs to make these lists. Plotch says she’s proud to rep 215 and she’s the 4th generation of her family to live in Philly. “I have cheesesteak in my blood,” she says.
The path for Stix has not always been smooth, though. The company launched in 2019- in the midst of the pandemic- facing frequent factory shutdowns, worker shortages and supply chain issues. But, as she relayed in their profile in Forbes, “You can’t just not get your yeast infection treatment. We had to get creative.”
Then there’s the issue of funding. Plotch says they received “like 200 nos” when they were initially raising venture capital. In addition to presenting their company’s “solution to a massive problem,” they had to inform potential investors that these issues even exist. “It’s definitely a whole thing to raise money as a female-founded company focusing on the issues that 99% of the people sitting across the table from us will never experience,” she says.
In keeping with their commitment to women, Stix has also recently partnered with Yumi baby food and a variety of other direct-to-consumer brands to send vagina-supporting provisions to Ukranian refugees. They say they’ll be donating around 3000 boxes of pantyliners and about 60,000 individually wrapped pH Balanced Wipes.
Thinking back on the origin story of Stix, Plotch recalls how it was all sparked by that frantic phone call to Norwood. In a moment of need, she was supported by a friend. Now they’re teammates on an innovative business journey. “It’s amazing,” she says, beaming with joy. “At the end of the day our relationship is based on friendship, respect and trust.” She says they bring very different skills to the team. “Jamie is such a creative genius,” Plotch says, adding, “to know that is somebody that I trust completely is amazing.”