Empowering women, improving health, saving money
It’s rare that we discover things that we get excited about, and I mean really excited about, but FemTech is one of those things. An industry shattering gender taboos, empowering women and enabling them to gain control over their own health and autonomy. FemTech is predicted to be the next big disruptor in the health tech industry with over $1 billion of funding invested in the past three years and a market that is predicted to grow to $50 billion by 2025.
So what is this evolving market that is growing exponentially and empowering women across the globe in the process?
FemTech involves the use of digital health applications such as wearable AI, mobile apps, diagnostic tools and monitoring software to improve women’s health and aims to combat many debilitating issues with fertility, menstruation, mental health, sexuality and chronic illness. Several startups within this space are currently utilising the applications of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data and the Internet of Things in order to develop cutting-edge women’s health products for cervical cancer screenings, HPV tests and advanced fertility tracking. The potential applications of these tools could not only break social taboos around many female-facing topics but could also save a considerable amount of lives worldwide and create affordable healthcare, while saving governments billions on healthcare costs and putting women’s health firmly into their own hands.
Utopia vs. Reality
While this sounds utopian, we still have a long way to go before seeing true equality within the healthcare space. While women represent 49% of the global population, women’s health accounts for only 4% of the overall funding for the research and development of healthcare products and services. Currently the majority of specialists developing healthcare treatments are men, leaving many technologies naturally reflecting male needs and often leaving women’s requirements as an afterthought. It has only been until recently that experts have noticed that women and men metabolise drugs differently and thus require different treatments and dosages accordingly, prompting a greater inclusion of women in clinical research and medical trials. We are also witnessing a prevalence of certain diseases in women such as Arthritis, Autoimmune disease and Alzheimer’s which require differentiated care for women and better solutions built around physiology-specific frameworks.
FemTech to give advantage to the disadvantaged…
The healthcare struggles for women are particularly exacerbated in economically and geographically disadvantaged locations; where FemTech can prove exceptionally impactful. Currently 5 billion people worldwide lack access to advanced medical treatments and portable diagnostic tools could prove invaluable to these areas. In India, companies such as MotherCare are helping to detect high risk pregnancies through monitoring tools which have subsequently reduced operational expenses by 50% and doubled doctor’s patient outreach. Similarly, recent studies are discovering low cost alternatives to detecting cervical cancer through using AI for more effective smear tests and HPV tests. Currently, 80% of cervical cancer cases are witnessed in developing countries where no national level screening programs are available, giving FemTech applications the potential to make care accessible at affordable rates to millions of women at risk of cancer.
Combatting the Gender Taboos
While the future implications of these tools are incredibly promising, the sociocultural norms surrounding women’s health issues are still steeped in stigma. Public conversations around menstruation, fertility and sexuality are still taboo topics, making it incredibly difficult for women to effectively seek advice, services and to join the greater conversation. At the recent Giant Health Conference, four female entrepreneurs talked about their experiences confronting taboos and their attempts to combat them. Billie Quinlan, Founder of Leika discussed about her new mobile app which aims to inspire women to feel empowered through understanding their own sexuality and understanding their bodies through providing educative content backed by scientists, sex therapists and traditional practices.
Valentina Milanova, Founder of Daye is contrastingly focused on reducing pain points in menstruation through creating pain relieving tampons made of hemp fibres and infused with CBD to relieve cramps, to attempt to offer women an easier experience with menstruation. Rose Acton, Co-Founder of Adia is helping women’s strive for fertility through proactive tests, personalised plans and access to doctors and a personal Adia coach, to help women get through an often stressful and complex emotional journey to pregnancy. Finally, Shardi Nahavandi, Founder of SuraCare is endeavouring to ease the process of finding the right contraception for you, through offering specialist guidance to young women through a menstrual, physical and mental health assessment followed by a personalised health plan from experienced professionals. These four businesses demonstrate the attempt to convert sexuality, menstruation, fertility and contraception into important conversations while providing scientifically backed, thoughtful and impactful solutions to these widely experienced problems.
Time for More Women in the Investor Seats
An interesting debate that emerged at the Giant Conference between the young female entrepreneurs was their conflicting experience with investors. Currently only 10% of global investment goes to female-led startups, which Valentina Milanova from Daye, argues is because, “you are always pitching to men who can’t relate to the product or find it uncomfortable”. When Valentina pitched her pain relieving tampons to a room full of male investors, she said they simply could not understand her product, and asked whether periods were really well suited to a monthly subscription model. Similarly, Billie Quinlan from Leika discussed how she was told that women’s health is a “niche market” and that she should “expand this product to men”, to which her response was to, “create a product that is for women, by women”.
With this lack of investor empathy and the heavy weighting of men in the investor seats, companies such as Portfolia, a US based venture platform financed nearly exclusively by female investors, has created the world’s first FemTech fund this year. Heidi Darling of Portfolia argues that the growth in FemTech is being stimulated by an influx in female investors who are making conscious decisions to support these products. “This is the action part of the #MeToo movement…We [women] know that money is power, and that we can put our money to good use … [and to companies that] are changing people’s lives.”
As women currently spend 29% more per capita on healthcare than men, the FemTech industry has exceptional potential and it is an industry being accelerated, designed and spearheaded by powerful women. Needless to say, like any endeavour, this is not a battle to be fought merely by women alone and thus prompts the involvement and unity of both men and women to educate, inspire and thrive. The rise of FemTech is an incredibly exciting time for women in gaining autonomy, influence and empowerment in their health and in their lives. With the surge in global investment, huge social demand and far-reaching health implications – this certainly is a space to watch.
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