Digitalising the female body

This year has seen the explosion of FemTech, a term coined by the CEO of Berlin-based Clue (a period tracking app). The sector — something that answers the health needs of 50% of the world’s population — has seen a wave of innovative and disruptive technologies which will revolutionize the way women are able to live their day-to-day lives by empowering them with technology: from period-tracking apps, connected breast pumps, contraceptive apps, tampon alternatives, and sexual wellness.

The healthcare industry has always been one of the most lucrative markets. In fact, digital health startups raised $5.8 billion from investors in 2015, and $3.5 billion in the first two quarters of 2016 (full 2016 data not yet available). CB Insights put together a list of 45 startups working specifically in the women’s health sector, and between this selection found that they had raised over $1.1B in total since 2014.

It’s not just healthcare techies who are focusing on this field either! In February 2017, Swedish nuclear physicist Elina Berglund made history by launching the first app approved by the European Union as a birth-control device — the tech (which uses data from daily, under-tongue temperature checks) is as effective as the hormonal pill. And a former head Dyson engineer co-founded a company which produces a technology to strengthen women’s pelvic floor muscles after releasing that one in three woman have problems with their pelvic floor, and 50% of these have back problems. Top-tier VCs are entering the field in force as well. Kleiner Perkins, for example, has backed fertility platform Progyny ($49M in total disclosed funding), while NEA has backed sexual wellness startup Nuelle ($23M in total disclosed funding).

Veronica Torras, the Founder of B-wom, an app that teaches women how to care and strengthen their pelvic area at each stage of their lives, launched the company as she felt there was a dire need for more education on topics related to women’s health. “I thought we need to break taboos and empower women. Now is the best moment for female entrepreneurs to start tech companies, and this is helping to increase the number of FemTech companies — the key to a successful product is knowing your market!”

However, FemTech is not only defined by high-tech products. Kgoshigadi (one of the CUBE Challenge semi-finalists at Tech Fair 2017), prides itself on being a ‘low-tech’ startup. “We strive to enable indignant women from over-looked communities to take hold of their socio-economic futures, through our social franchise model,” says co-founder Jovana Korac. “We set-up mini-factories that enable the women to own and run the manufacturing and sales value chain.”

These mini-factories produce Nandi Pads: affordable, biodegradable sanitary pads made from agri-waste. Sanitary pads were previously considered an unaffordable luxury for many of the girls and women that Kgoshigadi work with. This often meant girls would not attend school due to embarrassment, an issue that UNICEF estimates affects over 100 Million school girls across Africa. They’ve also developed an app in four local languages that delivers vital women’s health information to many girls, brought up in a culture where the discussion of women’s bodies and health issues is so taboo.

“FemTech is a huge trend now thanks to a mix of factors. There is a high awareness in general about topics of gender equality and several initiatives are trying to close this gender gap through empowering women on STEM, on Boards, on Management, and many others,” adds Helena Torras, B-wom’s Co-Founder and CEO. “Moreover, technology is helping to raise awareness of these topics, as well as helping to break taboos and talk about what has never been talked about before.”

Just three years ago, FemTech was an unknown entity, and now it’s one of the fastest growing in the healthcare sector. With the pressures that exist in modern economies, and budget cuts surrounding women’s health within many governments, it is clear that technology is a vital player. These new technologies are empowering more people than ever before, from a huge range of backgrounds, and helping remove taboos associated with sexual and reproductive health. The future for FemTech startups is a bright one, and we expect to see the combination of solutions to simple needs with future technologies and algorithms in AI, IoT and machine learning, to create disruptive and smart outcomes. As these technologies, fueled by large amounts of VC money, take centre stage in socio-political discussions across the globe, the tech sector’s role in women’s health is more important than ever.

Authored by: Emily McDonnell, Global Head of Community, CUBE 
Researched by: Marguerite Bellec, Startup Scout, CUBE

CUBE is a global innovation ecosystem that acts as the strategic liaison between deep-tech startups and corporates who are determined to shape the future of industry 4.0.

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