Here’s the 411 on Startups Working for Women’s Health
First and foremost, I want to definite FemTech, and where womens’ health fits in that category of industries. “FemTech” can be defined as the technologies dedicated to improve women’s wellbeing. This means developing tech solutions for women’s sexual wellness, reproductive healthcare, pregnancy, beauty treatments, oncology and general long-term healthcare.
FemTech is this wave of companies in common startup culture, that are truly trying to change the game for womens’ wellbeing. Over 90% of these startups have to do with healthcare.
In recent history, women’s healthcare products were made by, well, men. Grassroots efforts have been commonly labeled in history as voodoo, witchcraft, or even miss-characterizing the female authorities such as midwives.
There has also been a big challenge in the 19th, 20th, and into the 21st century with leaving women out of the equation in-general. Studies, wellness data, or basic information hasn’t been gathered or hasn’t been legally allowed to be gathered. It wasn’t until 2010 that the FDA authorized drug trials for women, previously restricted for females of childbearing age. That means women of childbearing age couldn’t even be used in a study for drug trials. So how would any medications be optimized or developed?!
However, the news is good. There are currently over 1500 companies world-wide focusing on FemTech. About 90% of these are focused on womens’ healthcare exclusively. The vast majority of these are software based. Meaning, they are typically Apps. that track your cycle, connect you with an IVF guide, of fertility financing, or track and treat menopausal symptoms.
9% of these FemTech healthcare focused companies also develop a physical product made for the first time, by women, for women. Here are some examples:
- Pelvital! After a woman has kids, there can be urinary surprises. Healthy, strong pelvices are critical to take-back control. And Pelvital literally acts as a gym, tightening those muscles.
- Brilliantly Warm! The Founder of this startup had a preventative mastectomy. Her new implants kept her cold day-in and day-out. She's invented these phenomenal bra warmers. They're discreet, and you can control the heat impact with your phone. So if you're at work, at your kids' soccer game, even just at home, it's this functional wellness product that would never had been developed otherwise.
- Ohnut, Dame, Crave: These are names of Female-Founded SexTech companies. While each has her own vision, they're separately pushing for a non-obstructed voice, female-designed toys, and female comfort during sex.
So, where are we on this wave of invention?
It is critical that we gather the data about womens’ bodies. Imagine tracking the infertility and fertility journey of a couple up-close. Her and his tests exponentially multiplied over tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. Scientists can start to see more and more patterns, allowing for new drugs and practices to develop to optimize future fertil outcomes. A large portion of FemTech startups are tracking cycles, pregnancies, and more to learn more, develop, invest, and improve upon womens’ health.
Quite frankly, we’re at the beginning. We have a long ways to catch up. It’s really complex making new software and/or physical products without institutional funding. I know. I’ve done it! A single working prototype can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Making it nearly impossible for a founder or two to “bootstrap” their invention to market. And about 90% of outside institutional decision-making investors are male. Which makes it more complicated for money to flow to these female-focused enterprises. And the historical lack of FemTech exits (going public or being acquired), means the market isn’t economically proven yet - a second pillar making it tougher to persuade investors. Only about 14% of invested companies have a female in their founding team.
Still, the good news is there are a lot of teams, founders, leaders on development teams, investors now acknowledging the data gap, seeing the economic incentives of an untapped market, and pushing for more evolution in womens’ health. FemTech focusing on womens’ health grew 10x between 2012 and 2020. Over $500m is annually being invested. That might read like a large number, but we’re still at the base of the mountain. The great news is we’re on the right track!