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Narrowing healthcare’s gender gap

Stephanie Winans profile

Less than a decade ago, Stephanie Winans (MBA ’16) spent as much time talking to investors about why women’s health is important as she did about her healthcare startup’s business model.

Sometimes, she had to persuade people that a gender gap in healthcare even existed.

“You have this added layer when maneuvering the landscape of women’s healthcare, and that layer is that healthcare wasn’t built for women,” says Winans. “But today there’s a shining light on women’s health. The needle is truly moving, and a lot of people want to see change happen.”

Healthcare entrepreneurs like Winans are giving the needle a strong push. In March 2023, she co-founded Iron Health, a virtual extension of a physical OB/GYN practice designed to make it easier to coordinate additional care. Iron Health provides a network of multidisciplinary providers through the Iron Health app.

After seeing an OB/GYN who’s an Iron Health client, patients are connected directly to specialists and can quickly schedule appointments for everything from primary care and behavioral health to weight management. The Iron Health platform knits into the OB/GYN electronic medical record and becomes an integral part of a comprehensive healthcare plan, reducing the primary and specialty care burden many OB/GYNs take on.

The platform also eases a patient’s burden in managing their care, including behavioral health needs. It offers direct messaging, easy scheduling for virtual video visits, and access to advanced practice providers, and dieticians.

Stephanie Winans (MBA '16

“UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program was life-enriching,” says Winans. “It was also empowering in the sense that I got what I came for.”

“We’re driving access to women’s health because women tend to put off their care,” says Winans, Iron Health’s CEO. “We take care of our kids; we take care of our spouses. Our pets get a lot of healthcare attention. And women put themselves last. Iron Health allows women to put themselves first in a way that is frictionless.”

Clients — OB/GYN medical practices,  management services organizations and health systems — talk to the company about their care gaps and pick from Iron Health’s comprehensive menu of primary and specialty services they believe their patients will most benefit from. The goal is a continuity of care that’s easily accessible and offers a more holistic healthcare approach.

“To disrupt healthcare, you need to know healthcare,” says Winans. “We’re pursuing disruption within the traditional healthcare system with providers’ needs in mind.”

Comprehensive care

In an industry as intensely complex as U.S. healthcare, a little disruption goes a long way.

A 2023 survey from the American Association of Family Physicians found that about 50% of women in the U.S. skip preventative health services such as annual physicals.

An OB/GYN is the only physician many women see in a year, says Winans. That’s particularly troubling for women who also need a mental health specialist following a recommendation from an OB/GYN.

“When women aren’t using primary care providers, they’re looking for the OB/GYN physicians to be their everything,” says Winans. “A lot of that care centers around emotional phases of life, like pregnancy, infertility and menopause. Women often end up talking to these OB/GYN providers about more than just clinical issues.”

Seeing a pivotal need, Iron Health launched its novel model of care with four employees and a $4.5 million seed investment. The March of Dimes chose Iron Health as the first investment of its Innovation Fund. By early 2024, Iron Health grew to 22 employees serving 80 OB/GYNs partners and 100,000 patients across multiple states.

The company’s first partnerships were with Summit Medical Specialists in Kentucky and Fort Sanders OB/GYN in Tennessee. It joined forces with Texas-based Privia Medical Group Gulf Coast to back its weight-management program and support a range of health services offered through Privia’s 400 care providers.

Iron Health was named to Slice of Healthcare’s list of the top 50 companies driving innovation in women’s health in 2023.

“My goal and the way I measure success for myself is doing good work in the world and doing it with good people,” says Winans. “The last year has been a year of growth, a year of hustle and a year of learning.”

And it was a year Winans was fully prepared for after earning her MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler.


Winans had a practical goal when she looked into MBA programs in 2013. She was running a startup and preparing to fundraise. She had a dual degree in psychology and marketing from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and knew she needed to deepen her finance acumen.

Winans also had a 3-year-old at home and soon learned she was pregnant. She wanted a rigorous MBA program that also provided flexibility. She found it in the Business School’s online MBA Program.

Winans has been a fervent supporter of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for the Business of Health since its launch in 2017 and serves on its advisory board. She also is a Business School board member and a member of 100 Women.

Stephanie Winans (MBA '16)

By early 2024, a year after its founding, Iron Health was serving around 100,000 patients across the U.S.

“UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program was life-enriching,” she says. “It was also empowering in the sense that I got what I came for. I came in with a real knowledge gap. I walked out with that and a whole lot more that I didn’t realize would really propel me forward. It was all actionable for me.”

Her first job after graduating from Spring Hill College was teaching children with autism, but she transitioned into digital marketing and commercialization strategy before moving into the healthcare industry at Bundoo, a digital maternal and infant health startup she later led as CEO. Before co-founding Iron Health, she headed commercialization and growth strategy for BioDigital, a biomedical visualization company offering interactive 3D software.

“I wouldn’t say that I was a born entrepreneur. I was not the kid selling things on the sidewalk to friends,” says Winans. “But I do think I am a highly curious person. It takes a lot of grit and resilience to get to where you need to be and drive for success. But it also takes a certain amount of business acumen.”

And it requires a passion for a mission, a deep connection to a need. A big motivator for Winans is how Iron Health supports better mental health.

Women are twice as likely as men to experience generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. They are three times more likely than men to have obsessive-compulsive disorder, five times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, and 10 times more likely than men to have an eating disorder.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers found that marginalized populations have higher rates of maternity-related deaths and struggle to receive specialized medical care.  Overall, women are estimated to spend 25% more time in poor health compared to men, the McKinsey Health Institute found.

“We’re not going to stop until we feel like equitable, high-quality care is accessible for all women,” says Winans. “We’re seeing patients who have experienced serious trauma, lived for decades without support, with Iron Health as their first therapy experience. And that’s because with Iron Health it feels easy to say ‘yes’ to care. It’s almost harder to say ‘no.’ In a world where there are so many barriers to care, we have designed a solution tailored to the way women manage care today.”