Over the last few years, there has been an increase in health related products and services geared towards the female consumer. It has, for the most part, been a market that has been traditionally underserved with little research and funding invested in women’s health. The term FemTech is used to highlight the fact that there have been few innovations in women's healthcare compared to men's. More and more companies are creating new ways and better technology to solve big issues such as heavy periods, menopause, and other health problems centered around women.
One of the biggest challenges in this industry has been to get investors to see it as an opportunity and not a charity. There’s no question that the female consumer market is long-term and profitable. This is because women live longer, they use more health services and spend more on their personal and their families’ health needs. According to “General facts on women and job based health” from the US Department of Labor, women account for 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions in the healthcare industry. The challenge is to get investors to see the opportunity, not just a missed opportunity in the male market or a niche for women who can’t afford men’s services and products. For investors, it’s about seeing the value in reaching women through technology. So, here are some things to understand about FemTech and its future.
What is FemTech
FemTech (Female Technology) is technology that empowers women’s health and well-being. This term is often applied to products, services, applications and software, medical devices, telehealth, wearables, hardware, therapeutic drugs, vitamins and supplements, digital platforms, and consumer products designed to improve or support women's health.
Men’s and women’s bodies are programmed differently. These sex-based differences influence organs and bodily functions and thus affect disease prevention, diagnoses, and treatments. In view of the fact that women are often caretakers, better outcomes in women’s health also have cascading benefits for groups such as children and the elderly. Women’s health, in other words, contributes in a significant way to stronger, healthier societies.
The term FemTech was coined by the founder of Clue, a period and ovulation tracking app established in Germany in 2013. Since then, many apps and tech companies have emerged to address women’s health issues.
One of the fastest growing sectors in the economy is the healthcare market. Women's health products and services have seen an explosion. From women-specific medications to diagnostic testing and devices, women's health is big business. The category has a wide range of names and applications. Femtech currently covers a larger scope than most people realize. It includes everything from women’s sanitary products to pregnancy and fertility tracking apps, contraception monitoring, non-invasive treatment of urinary incontinence (UI), breast pumps, and even breast cancer screening tech. This includes wearables, connected medical devices, mobile apps and hygiene products.
The fact that female health products or the FemTech field is seen as “niche” is bewildering considering its target makes up half the world’s population. As more and more people understand the importance and profitability of investing in women’s health, the FemTech industry will grow and grow.
What makes up FemTech
Women’s health consists of more than just reproduction. Defining the term FemTech can be a task—while some view beauty and skincare products as part of the industry, the universal way would be to categorize FemTech startups as only those whose products and services address a medical need. The definition of FemTech takes a broad approach. When we consider women’s health, we incorporate both female-specific conditions, whether tied to women’s reproduction or some other facet of women’s biology, and general health conditions that may affect women differently or disproportionately because of their physiology. Some of the different areas are:
- Menstruation & Period Care
- Fertility & Birth Control
- Chronic Conditions & Hormonal Disorders
- Pelvic Health
- Pregnancy & Postpartum
- Breast Feeding
- Sexual Wellness
- General Healthcare
Products in these areas of female health typically fall into categories such as: medical devices, healthcare software, consumer applications, consumer services, consumer products and/or therapeutic drugs. Consumer products can include a wide range of devices addressing sexual health and reproductive health along with software and apps for pregnancy and nursing care, women’s wellness, and menstrual health.
Why is it important
Modern medicine was developed with male physiology as the default. A predisposition to the male body type has been reflected in medical training, diagnosis, and therapeutic development, which has influenced how physicians and scientists have come to understand the human body. This bias makes diagnosing and treating women harder. For example, nausea, ingestion, and general discomfort might typically suggest heartburn. Women, however, experience these symptoms in the event of a heart attack more commonly than men do. For many years women have been underrepresented in diagnosis, treatment and the study of clinical trials.
Basing healthcare solutions on male physiology leads to substandard outcomes. For example despite reporting more severe levels, frequency, and duration of pain, reports show that women are less likely to be treated for pain; their symptoms are at times expressed as “emotional” or “psychosomatic.” (Criado Perez, Invisible Women). It is important for providers and investors to take notice and start allocating budget to research, diagnosis, and treatment with regards to women’s health. There are significant opportunities for healthcare providers to consider reallocating resources to female conditions, including: maternal health, menopause, and endometriosis.
A criticism that FemTech has received is that it will encourage pink tax. Pink tax is “a phenomenon often attributed as a form of gender-based price discrimination, with the name stemming from the observation that many of the affected products are pink.” Pink tax is often associated with products such as razors that are the same, but sold at a premium price, when marketed to women. The aim of FemTech is actually the opposite. It is to create solutions specifically designed to meet women’s health challenges and to truly innovate instead of just rebranding and repositioning already existing products and marking up their prices.
Investing in FemTech startups
The global FemTech Market accounted for $40.2 billion in 2020. According to Frost & Sullivan, it has a market potential of $50B by 2025. Despite increasing interest in recent years, the industry remains underestimated considering its high growth potential. Some of the biggest market drivers at the moment are: growing interest of VCs and Angel investors, increasing demand for reproductive health, overall increasing demand for digital health solutions, normalizing the conversation around taboo topics in women’s health, and promoting women's sense of self-worth.
The FemTech market is maturing and we can observe that there are more and bigger funding rounds. At an overall level, VC investment in FemTech start-ups have grown tenfold since 2012. Global venture capital investment surpassed $1 billion for the first time, in 2021. The restraint that male VCs have shown by not investing in or under-funding FemTech startups is likely related to cultural taboos around women’s bodies. Even though cultural standards around gender have evolved, some men still prefer not to discuss topics related to menstruation, UTIs, pregnancy, childbirth or menopause. Which is why it’s important to have these conversations and encourage the support and investment of women’s health.
Lack of investments remains the key barrier for FemTech development along with insufficient research & development funding and lack of public support. Going forward, early investors and entrepreneurs can stake out opportunities in prominent gaps not yet addressed by the industry (such as inclusive care for queer and transgender communities, perimenopause and menopause symptom management, and endometriosis – a largely untapped market), and leverage technology to address women’s health issues beyond reproduction, and by helping to meet the needs of underserved populations.
Where to keep up with FemTech news
We recommend this to stay up to date on the latest news, advancements, fundings, etc.
To gather insights, research and in-depth analysis of the FemTech industry.
Webinars hosted by Women of Wearables. They provide educational content and cover topics ranging from diversity and inclusion in the FemTech space, to innovations in menstrual, mental, gut, and cardiovascular health, to male contraception and baby tech, and everything in between.
Women's healthcare sets forth enormous opportunities to create value in and improve the lives and livelihoods of women, with positive effects that span across society. The first waves of major change are already on the rise with FemTech advancements. FemTech solutions are achieving commercial success while also contributing to continued innovation. Because women are not just consumers but the primary healthcare decision-makers for themselves and often for their families, better health outcomes for women can lead to better outcomes for everyone.