Women are being heard like never before, and it is absolutely incredible. The #MeToo movement has created a domino effect of sorts, as company policies that address women’s needs and long-shuttered opportunities for women are increasingly flooding into the mainstream. That includes the tech world, where a newfound emphasis and expectation on coding, software development, and entrepreneurship has been placed on aspiring women.
Not only are women being welcomed into the industry, but they’re also suddenly at the forefront of creating technology that serves and benefits them.
Femtech — apps, devices, services, and other products that focus on women’s health and wellness — is becoming a key player in tech discussions. Femtech ideas have received more than $1 billion in funding between 2015 and 2018, and the industry is poised to become a $50 billion market as soon as 2025, according to a 2018 report by Frost & Sullivan.
Investment in Femtech is certainly growing, but it’s at a shockingly slow pace, considering its potential. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared more and more femtech applications and products over the past few years, so companies are definitely aware of the buying power of women. However, companies and funders need to recognize the growing power and potential of this new growing category, too.
Femtech and Its Funders
Personalized wellness has been an intriguing market for a few years now. Though it’s still a young concept, the potential is amazing — everything from period trackers and pelvic healthcare to nursery care and sexual wellness.
While femtech has the potential to drastically improve women’s lives in multiple areas, fertility and pregnancy are two key areas with tremendous opportunity. Ten percent of American women have trouble conceiving or staying pregnant, and in our busy world, that often means more frustration than necessary. Ava, a wearable device that tracks fertility, is just one of the rising femtech companies that hopes to alleviate some of these issues. By tracking physiological metrics such as skin temperature and breathing rate, it predicts the days that wearers are more likely to conceive with a nearly 90 percent accuracy. This technology is absolutely life-changing for women who are trying to conceive.
Preventive care presents a golden opportunity, too. Although serious health issues such as cervical cancer can be caught in routine screenings, they threaten thousands of women a year. The prognosis is especially bad for those in low-income communities and developing nations. Technology, however, could pose a solution — especially if it was properly promoted and summarily adopted by the mainstream.
Last year, Lehigh University announced that a team of engineers created an artificial intelligence-base system that screens for cervical cancer with higher accuracy than more traditional methods (in fact, its screening was 10 percent more effective). The best part? This solution is inexpensive enough to drastically reduce the threat of cervical cancer, especially in the developing world.
The ideas are clearly there, but we still need to see who’s stepping up to fund these powerful solutions. California’s Portfolia Funds boasts an entire femtech arm that provides opportunities to both companies and investors. It encompasses a large ecosystem of early-stage companies, and investors can contribute a minimum of $10,000 to be disbursed across six to 10 of them.
Another market response is FemTech Collective, a network for innovators and disruptors with a focus on femtech. The burgeoning group offers events and other opportunities for growth. Although it doesn’t directly provide funding, it does help connect players in the space to maximize impact.
Sometimes, all you need to get started is a good connection. Femtech Collective founder Nicole Dahlstrom says venture capital is often guarded by men who might not identify with the problems femtech solves and therefore do not see its incredible potential. When we look at the healthcare venture capitalist space, we can see her point validated: A shocking 80 percent of healthcare venture capitalists haven’t invested in women’s health, according to biotech business executive Nola Masterson. The disparity in opportunity and investment is shocking.
Despite this, innovators in the space have earned more than $1.1 billion since 2013 — and we know the market is about to explode.
Filling in the Cash Gap
Femtech is starting to gain the traction it deserves, but the industry is nowhere near where it could or should be. Femtech attracts only 1.4 percent of the capital put into healthcare as a whole, according to Masterson, and a good chunk of healthcare venture capitalists (as we’ve noted above) haven’t even invested in Femtech.
This is a real problem and concern for today’s market. Women are 50 percent of the population and control 80 percent of healthcare decisions, according to Frost & Sullivan. Given these numbers, it should be abundantly clear that creating products and experiences that enhance and empower women’s lives should be considered a stellar investment that will certainly pay dividends.
When we take a step away from femtech and look at commercialized/commoditized products for men that have enhanced and empowered their lives, we have witnessed a very different story. One famous product really brings this reality to life: Viagra. Initially intended to treat high blood pressure, Viagra quickly received financial backing after it was shown to benefit men’s sex lives (for reference, Viagra sold $1.6 billion worth in 2016). We simply haven’t seen that kind of focus or financial backing on women’s issues. Even handy tools such as Lehigh University’s AI-based technology for cervical cancer screening — a tool that could prevent unnecessary deaths — has received just a fraction of Viagra’s funding.
There’s a huge gap right now between potential and investment, and the forward-thinking people who’ll fill it in the next five years won’t be sorry.
Meet the Market
To be sure, this societal push for the inclusion of and investment in women is long overdue. Better late than never. Women matter. Femtech matters because women’s voices are becoming more influential — plus their money speaks loudest. Investors, take heed.
Women in the workforce spend 29 percent more per capita on healthcare than their male peers, according to Frost & Sullivan, and they’re 75 percent likelier to use digital tools to track their health. Even when health insurance companies fail them, women are willing to use contraceptive and fertility apps, subscription birth control, and other femtech tools to meet their needs.
It should come as no surprise that women care about their health and are willing to try out these new solutions. Femtech clearly isn’t just a novelty or fad: It’s a movement. In our digital age, it’s becoming a way of life for women across the globe. It’s time for investors to pay attention and support this rising industry.
So yes, $1 billion in funding is a solid start — but let’s work harder to help this niche reach the mainstream. After all, we’re dealing with half the population, and there’s a lot on the horizon.