Startup founders and investors alike typically seem to devote their time and investments to problems they personally understand. Fair enough. But that’s in the past. Along with the rise of many other industries across the startup ecosystem, we’ve been noting quite a huge increase and uptake of interest in the femtech world. From mental health to contraceptives to tampons, the pioneers of femtech are bringing women’s comfort choices and health to the forefront. By opening up a dialogue about “taboo” subjects, innovation can be achieved, thus narrowing the gender-gap while leading to better outcomes for female-focused products.
FemTech: The Status Quo & Beyond
2017 was an extraordinary year for women around the globe. It was the year that #MeToo went viral, where women around the world felt both empowered and supported as they publicly recounted harassment and sexual-abuse related incidents as a way of letting go and standing up. Additionally, the Women’s March movement hit global shores and really pushed women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and beyond to the front of the table. It was quite possibly one of the most successful protest marches of our time.
So here we are at long last, where a new sector devoted entirely to women has emerged. Many research reports on the industry have highlighted how startups aiming to solve female problems receive far less attention simply because it’s a lot more challenging pitching to investors when they can’t personally identify with the problem.
Femtech, or female technology, mainly targets women’s health, including fertility options, period-tracking apps, pregnancy care, women’s sexual wellness, and reproductive health care. The startup ecosystem is an empowering platform for women, allowing us to direct these enterprises, instead of leaving our wants and needs in the hands of male executives. In order to change the narrative and to give femtech startups a fair share at the investment table, we need to actively dive into “why” this is a venture-backable, albeit growing industry.
Let´s Talk Shop
One of the very first femtech startups to gain traction was Glow. Launched in 2013, it is a period and ovulation tracking app. Contrary to popular belief, the startup was actually founded by a man — PayPal co-founder Max Levchin. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Berlin-based Clue — another period tracking app — founded in 2013 as well, aims to “make a dent in the history of menstrual health” and has an impressive user base of over 8 million users globally. Worth a mention, its CEO and Founder, Ida Tin, is known for coining the term “femtech.”
Or take The Pill Club, a California-based startup that delivers affordable birth control on demand. Users of this health app only have to fill in a health questionnaire and based on their answers, are provided contraception with no delivery charge. This cuts out the extra step of scheduling an appointment with their gynecologist along with the waiting time and added cost that often accompanies that process. They must be on to something because according to a recent TechCrunch piece, the startup that launched in 2016, just raised $51 million, reaching customers across all 50 states in the US.
From “Uncomfortable Talk” to Business Opportunity
Those who think of femtech as a niche market should think again. Research by Frost & Sullivan has forecasted that the growth within the women’s health market is expected to reach $50B by 2025! According to an article in The Guardian, at present, the femtech industry is comprised of at least 200 startups worldwide and are primarily female-led and founded.
Fem-Tech startups are improving many elements of women’s lives, bringing to light just how much the medical industry and corporates have been lacking when it comes to products and services geared towards women. This space is providing essential information to women to better understand their bodies. But if one were to cast a wider net and think big, growth in this industry alone could change the way we treat women related diseases and medical conditions. For example, if a woman could track something as simple as her period, she could detect abnormalities at an earlier point before it developed into something chronic. The apps and software services around are mostly all data-driven and every data point tracked helps to shape the future of femtech.
Female-led Startups Are More Socially Conscious
For example, take NYC based startup Thinx. They’re myth-busting the stereotypical advertising hyperbole of perky women wearing fitted yoga clothes while on their periods. Thinx has already raised over $1.45 million since launching in 2011 and had a 50% increase in sales in 2017 alone. Using new fabric technology, they’ve developed period-proof underwear that can be used either as a stand-in or to complement conventional feminine hygiene products, providing an alternative to handling menstruation.
With conversations around women’s health so stigmatized, women often neglect to ask their physicians crucial questions about their health. Enter companies like Moment Health — where maternal mental health and pain during menopause take center stage. Or Ava, a fertility tracking bracelet that provides insight on your physiological stress, heart rate, sleep schedule and how it impacts your ability to conceive.
Out With the Destigmatizing
Thanks to the current boom within the femtech industry, we are abandoning the old-world way of thinking and conversing about women’s health and sexuality. In fact, with every femtech startup finding success and a place in the market, the more men start to understand women’s health. The more men understand women’s health, the more we can destigmatize the entire subject as a whole.
The sheer spread of these female-focused products and services illustrate that the femtech industry is armed and ready for innovation. What’s most promising is that these discussions are just getting started.
According to Forbes, only 10% of global investment goes to female-led startups. However, with the fourth wave of feminism on the rise, a boost in media attention, and a steady increase in R&D investments women’s health might finally be getting its rightful seat at the investment table.
Some say we shouldn’t count our eggs before they hatch, but if the growth continues on this upward trajectory, the future of femtech, from an investment point-of-view, is also looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Women, after all, are half the world’s population.