How femtech is shifting our approach to women’s health

By Katerina Mansour - 08 March 2022

What started as a niche concept a few years ago has now become a booming market. Research by McKinsey shows that femtech media coverage, startups founded and funding deals secured have all increased in recent years, with peak media interest and funding amounts secured being reached in 2021.

Indeed, 2021 was a promising year for the femtech industry. A report by Rock Health showed that digital health startups in the United States serving women and womxn raised $1.3bn from January through August 2021. This number was almost twice as much as that of all 2020. On a global scale, Pitchbook reported that in 2021, global venture capital investments in femtech surpassed $1bn for the first time.

The US can arguably be seen as a pioneer in this space, creating some of the biggest femtechs we know. Flo Health, Tia, and Kindbody are some prime examples. In fact, Tia secured one of the biggest funding rounds for femtech startups, a $100 million Series B in September 2021. Kindbody, on the other hand, reached unicorn status in early 2022 after acquiring Vios Fertility Institute. However, Europe is also seeing a boom in successful femtech enterprises. Some examples of large funding rounds include:

  • Elvie ($42 million Series B)
  • Kheiron Medical ($22 million Series A)
  • Clue (€16 million venture round).

Beyond funding, this market is also expected to grow in value. In 2020, the global femtech market was valued at approximately $22 billion. Projections estimate it will reach $60 billion by 2027.

In this article, we’ll explain what femtech is, what it seeks to accomplish, why it’s important and what recent news indicates a promising future for this growing market.

What is femtech?

The term femtech emerged in 2016 thanks to Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin, creator of the menstruation-tracking app Clue. It aims to designate technologies focused on women’s health and wellbeing. In its early days, femtech largely comprised apps to help women track their periods and fertility. However, over the years, a wide array of technologies and devices have been emerging:

  • Digital companion apps to help track daily health and wellbeing
  • Apps to help manage symptoms of menopause
  • Devices to improve breastfeeding 
  • Inclusion in clinical trials and research
  • Innovative tests to determine fertility levels
  • New forms of contraception
  • Precision AI and genetic testing to determine the best contraceptive
  • Menstrual underwear
  • Organic period products
  • New treatments for conditions like endometriosis 
  • etc.

It’s worth noting that the term femtech has faced some controversy. Indeed, many see it as exclusionary. Transgender or non-binary individuals, for example, can have the same biology as a cisgender woman but don’t identify as a woman or female. As such, many seek to emphasize that the term femtech is and must also be inclusive of transgender and non-binary communities.

Why is it important today?

Research has shown that only 4% of overall R&D funding for healthcare products and services goes towards women’s health. Furthermore, 65% of this amount focuses on fertility. Historically, women’s health has not been a priority in the healthcare sector. In fact, up until the late 20th century, most countries didn’t include women in clinical trials and research. For example, it was only in 1993 that federal law required researchers funded by the NIH to include women in clinical studies.

The prior belief that it made no difference whether studies were conducted on men or women led to gaps in the understanding of women’s health. There are significant biological differences between men and women. These differences can impact how treatment would work for one sex versus the other. For example, women metabolise drugs differently than men. We also only recently found out that heart attack symptoms present entirely differently in women versus men.

Today, the femtech industry is helping right this wrong and bring forth a rich amount of data to improve women’s health. It’s also tackling the need to make healthcare more accessible and less costly to women. Indeed, Frost & Sullivan found that working-aged women in the US spend 29% more per capita on healthcare than men. 

Many researchers and activists have emphasised that data shows women are too often misunderstood, misdiagnosed and mistreated. For example, women are 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack. They’re also 30% more likely to be misdiagnosed after a stroke. In order to bring about change, many femtech startups are introducing innovative technologies and solutions that will help even the balance and reduce these numbers.

Recent news in the femtech space

Large corporates in the health sector have been paying attention to the femtech sector. They’re increasingly investing in and partnering with the impressive startups that have emerged in this space.

  • In August 2021, Labcorp acquired Ovia Health, a platform providing women with support and information on their reproductive health and parenting journeys
  • Axa Health signed a partnership with UK-based femtech Peppy in January 2022 to offer its corporate clients access to its personalised support app for issues like menopause, fertility, pregnancy and early parenthood
  • Merck signed a deal with Alydia Health in early 2021 to acquire the startup through its spinoff Organon. The medical device startup focused on preventing maternal mortality and morbidity caused by postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) or abnormal postpartum uterine bleeding.

Furthermore, the startup ecosystem is taking action to help boost the femtech sector. Station F recently announced it was launching a Femtech programme on its startup campus. Meanwhile, in late 2021, Organon partnered with Flat6Labs to launch a femtech accelerator programme. Its goal is to support female-led startups offering digital healthcare solutions in the MENA region.

State health institutions are also taking note, launching meaningful partnerships with femtechs. For instance, in 2018, femtech startup Elvie signed a partnership with the UK NHS to make its smart pelvic floor exerciser available throughout the country at no direct cost for patients.

A long road ahead

Although there are many impressive success stories emerging from the femtech industry, more progress still needs to be made. For example, access to VC funding is a key challenge in the femtech space. Data shows that depending on the year and the region, only around 1-5% of VC funding goes to female founders or all-female teams. Yet, women are most often the creators of femtech startups. Moreover, although advancements have been made, gender bias is still a significant issue in the health sector. A recent study showed 52% of women believe gender discrimination negatively impacts their medical care.

As such, the road ahead for femtech is arguably long, with some key obstacles. Yet, it’s hard not to feel optimistic when looking at promising recent news and success stories from femtech startups worldwide. As awareness continues to grow and both governments and health institutions continue to take action in order to better understand and address women’s health, it’s certain we’ll be seeing many more successful femtechs emerging worldwide.

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