All signs point to an uptick in femtech, the all-purpose term that is applied to technology dealing with women’s health. More money is being invested in the sector, more enterprises are emerging and there is, finally, a greater awareness of women’s healthcare needs.
No less a publication than the New York Times asked in a headline on a May 5, 2021 piece whether Femtech is “the Next Big Thing” in healthcare, and those quoted in the piece indicated it was. Michelle Tempest, partner at Candesic, a London-based healthcare consultancy, told the Times that “the market potential is huge” and added:
“There’s definitely an increasing appetite for anything in the world which is technology, and a realization that female consumer power has arrived — and that it’s arrived in healthcare.”
The femtech industry received $16 billion in total funding last year. Some companies in femtch that saw particularly significant investments over the last few years include Natural Cycles, a birth control app, which raised a total of $38 million. And Tia, a healthcare provider offering in-person and virtual care to trans women, cisgender women, and nonbiray people, raised $100 million. The company’s goal, as outlined by co-founder Carolyn Witte, is to provide holistic care for women on an in-person and virtual basis — to meld primary care, gynecology, mental health services and wellness services.
The idea for the company grew out of Witte’s own experience. Unable to get a clear diagnosis for a health condition from which she was suffering, she did her own research, and after three years learned she had polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal disorder that affects roughly 10 percent of U.S. women. As she told Forbes:
“That exposed me to the challenges of this fragmented system and how that negatively affects women. What would healthcare look like, work like, feel like, if it was actually designed with women at the center of it? If it treated women as whole people versus parts?”
That led her to found Tia with her college friend, Felicity Yost. It currently has clinics in New York City (where the company is headquartered), as well as Los Angeles and Phoenix, and works on a membership model. There were, according to the Forbes piece, 3.000 members as of September, and Witte and Yost hope to have 10,000 by the end of 2021, and 100,000 by the end of 2023.
All of this speaks to one of the big factors driving the femtech movement: Women are more engaged in healthcare than men, and necessarily so, given gynecological concerns and the like. They spend $500 billion a year on medical expenses, according to Pitchbook, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor make 80 percent of a family’s healthcare decisions.
Julien Payen, co-founder and CEO of the French start-up Lattice Medical (which has developed a breast implant via 3-D printer), told the Times that initiatives like the #MeToo movement have raised awareness about women’s healthcare issues. Moreover, younger women are more open than previous generations about discussing subjects like their reproductive health and the like, as reflected in the fact that 83 percent of the Gen-Zers responding to one survey expressed the opinion that periods are viable conversational fodder, even with men.
The pandemic has also contributed to this trend, in that it has accelerated digital transformation throughout the business world by several years, according to McKinsey. That transformation has been particularly dramatic in the healthcare sector, and manifested itself most notably in the increase in telehealth usage.
Ida Tin, co-founder of the menstrual tracking app Clue, coined the term “femtech” in 2012, believing that the word was not only “empowering” to women, but that it would enable investors to more readily identify and seek out such companies. Some, like QZ.com science reporter Olivia Goodhill, have argued that the term marginalizes women, that it reduces “half the population is a niche sub-category with a series of body-specific needs.”
Then Goodhill wondered why there isn’t such a thing as “MenTech.”
But others believe it draws attention to an aspect of healthcare that has been ignored for too long. For years, for instance, women of childbearing age were barred from drug trials out of fear that menstrual cycles could skew the results. Women remain underrepresented in such trials today, the result being that medicine tends to be “tailored to the male body,” as Tempest told the Times.
Now that might be changing. Granted, more is needed. The Harvard Business Review reported that in 2020, just 2.3 percent of venture capital went to start-ups headed by women, and studies show that nine of every 10 people making investment decisions are men.
Still, there is reason for optimism. There is reason for hope. The world is changing, and that change is particularly dramatic in healthcare.