In recent years, a remarkable transformation has taken place in the healthcare industry, centered around empowering and addressing the unique needs of women. Enter “Femtech” – a rapidly growing sector that combines technology with female-focused innovations, challenging our perception of female healthcare.
Despite women making up half of the world’s population, much of the scientific research, medical trials, and healthcare solutions have primarily focused on the male anatomy in the past few decades.
Consequently, this lack of attention has resulted in poorer health outcomes for women.
While women’s health has long been considered a niche market and a minor part of healthcare, that’s starting to change. The wave of Femech health startups aims to address the most common and critical female conditions – presenting new opportunities for employees, companies, investors, and society at large.
By exploring the challenges, solutions, and market potential, this Shortlister article answers the question of what Femtech is and how the rise of female-centric medical solutions can better meet women’s healthcare needs.
What is Femtech?
Femtech (female technology) is a comprehensive concept encompassing diagnostic tools, products, services, wearables, and software that leverage technology to tackle various women’s health concerns. These can include menstrual health, reproductive health, sexual health, maternal health, and menopause. In addition, Femtech companies offer solutions for general health conditions that predominantly affect women or impact them uniquely.
As a term it was first coined in 2016 by entrepreneur Ida Tin, the founder of Clue – a fertility-tracking app. Since then, the term has grown to encompass many technology-driven solutions addressing women’s health issues.
To put it into perspective, the femtech industry encompasses a range of products and services aimed at improving female-specific conditions and general conditions that affect women differently or disproportionately. In short, femtech is understood as technology geared to enhance women’s lives.
The femtech industry is rapidly growing, with rising public recognition, an increase in the formation of companies, and a surge in funding. Despite being in its early stages, the sector dynamics are rapidly advancing.
However, the growing demand for femtech should come as no surprise, as women make approximately 80% of the healthcare consumer purchasing decisions and have significantly higher health spending compared to men. For example, in 2019, women aged 19 to 34 incurred an average yearly expenditure of $4,709 for health, more than twice the amount spent by men in the same age group, which was $2,261.
Women are not only becoming a more influential force across the healthcare industry, but they are also demonstrating a rising purchasing power. As a result, the femtech industry has a vast market potential to reach $60 billion by 2027, according to a study by Emergen Research.
Examples of Femtech
Gone are the days when women’s health was considered a niche market, limited to maternal or reproductive care.
The traditionally stigmatized and taboo natural aspects of women’s health, such as menstrual cycles, sexual desire, menopause, and reproductive health are now being challenged by the rapidly growing femtech industry.
Today, the femtech sector is breaking barriers and revolutionizing how women approach their overall health and wellness.
At its core, the femtech industry is designed to address the whole lived experience of women, including:
- Menstruation & Period Care Products: Innovative femtech solutions in this category include period tracking apps and menstrual cups, which provide an eco-friendly alternative to traditional sanitary products. Furthermore, there are advancements in smart menstrual products, such as period underwear or wearable devices, that provide real-time data on flow and cycle patterns.
- Fertility & Contraception: Femtech offers a range of solutions for fertility tracking, ovulation prediction, and family planning. This includes connected devices and apps that monitor basal body temperature, hormone levels, and other indicators to help women identify their most fertile days.
- Menopause: Some femtech companies are developing products and services to address the challenges faced during menopause. This includes symptom-tracking apps, hormone therapy support, and educational resources to help women navigate the physical and emotional changes associated with this life stage.
- Pelvic Health: Technological advancements in this area focus on pelvic floor health and addressing conditions such as urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse. Therefore, the solutions include smart pelvic floor exercisers, biofeedback devices, and mobile apps that provide guidance and personalized exercises for pelvic floor strengthening.
- Pregnancy & Maternity Care: The growing medical field has also transformed prenatal and maternity care by offering remote monitoring devices, pregnancy tracking apps, and platforms that provide educational resources and support for expectant mothers.
- Post Pregnancy: Femtech solutions extend to the postpartum period, providing tools and resources to support women’s recovery and well-being. This includes apps for breastfeeding support, postpartum fitness programs, mental health resources, and pelvic rehabilitation programs.
- Chronic Conditions & Hormonal Disorders: Addressing chronic conditions and hormonal disorders that predominantly affect women, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and thyroid disorders, set forth the need for solutions like symptom-tracking apps and personalized treatment management platforms.
- Breastfeeding: Some female-focused products and services supporting breastfeeding mothers include breast pumps with smart features, lactation consultants available through telemedicine platforms, and apps tracking feeding schedules and providing guidance.
- Sexual Wellness: To improve the female experience, femtech also addresses sexual health and wellness by offering platforms and devices that provide education, resources, and personalized solutions.
- General Healthcare: Finally, this medical field expands into broader areas of women’s healthcare by providing platforms and technologies that facilitate access to general healthcare services ranging from digital health records to personalized health management tools.
As a sector that promotes inclusivity, femtech transcends gender and is not limited to female founders alone. It is dedicated to finding innovative solutions to meet the needs of marginalized groups and empower underrepresented populations
Women’s Health Challenges & Femtech Solutions
Despite these efforts, the focus on women’s health remains a critical issue, with the Global Women’s Health Index highlighting that women’s health worsened in 2021. Women face numerous challenges in the healthcare system, including gender bias in medical treatment that often results in inadequate treatment and misdiagnosis for various health conditions.
This disparity in healthcare can lead to distrust and avoidance of medical care, negatively impacting women’s overall well-being. Evidence shows that belief in the value of going to a healthcare professional dropped among the most vulnerable category of women – those with a lower education level.
The importance of regular healthcare visits is emphasized by the fact that women who see a healthcare professional at least once a year have a life expectancy of 78 years, compared to 76 years for those who do not.
Femtech offers innovative solutions to address these health challenges faced by women. Aside from female-centric conditions and reproductive health, femtech addresses general health conditions that disproportionately affect women, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.
Moreover, femtech companies aim to increase awareness about how conditions like autoimmune and chronic diseases can affect women differently. By raising awareness and providing targeted solutions, femtech is working towards closing the gender gap in women’s health and improving outcomes for women worldwide.
Most Common Female Health Problems
According to the World Health Organization, women face several health risks throughout their lifetime, including:
1. Cardiovascular diseases
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women of all ages and races, according to the CDC.
However, Shortlister’s Heart Disease in the Workplace article addresses this mainly due to the narrow understanding of the symptoms of heart attacks in women. Women often present with “atypical” symptoms such as nausea and discomfort, leading to a higher risk of misdiagnosis and increased mortality rates than men.
As a result, women are 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack and more likely to die from heart attacks.
In addition, while menopause does not directly cause heart disease, it can increase certain risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low estrogen levels. Regular health check-ups and tracking can help detect these risk factors and prevent the development of severe heart conditions.
Only a small fraction of women worldwide receive regular cancer screenings, with less than 10% of women in nearly 50 countries and territories reporting that they had been tested for cancer in the past year.
In 2021, just 12% of women worldwide received any type of cancer screening within the last 12 months, meaning that over two billion women globally went without this potentially life-saving preventative measure.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, with a lifetime risk of 12.9%. Technology advancements, such as mammography, have made early detection and diagnosis more common, making breast and cervical cancers among the most preventable and treatable cancers when regular screening is performed.
3. Gynecological health
Reproductive health disorders are a prevalent issue for adult women, with conditions such as menstrual disorders, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and fibroids. Additionally, underlying health issues can lead to complications during childbirth, threatening the health and well-being of both mothers and their children.
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rates among developed nations, and Black women are at a significantly higher risk, even when income and education levels are accounted for.
Shockingly, Black women in the US are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women.
4. Mental health
Women’s mental well-being is affected by various factors, such as hormones, nerve transmitters, and social and emotional factors. Women are at a higher risk of suffering from major depression compared to men, with statistics showing they are nearly twice as likely to experience it.
Childbearing women are particularly at risk of post-partum depression.
Hormonal changes during PMS, perimenopause, and menopause can also affect a woman’s mental health. It is crucial for women to be aware of their mental health and to have access to support it.
5. Alzheimer’s disease
Despite being one of the most prevalent forms of dementia, women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s, with over two-thirds of the five million Americans living with the disease being women.
While the longer lifespan of women has historically been thought to be a contributing factor, current research is investigating the potential role of genetic variations in women’s increased susceptibility.
The rise of femtech has led to the development of innovative solutions designed specifically to address women’s health challenges.
Advancements in technology have opened doors for new and innovative solutions, such as mobile health apps, wearable devices, and telemedicine, that cater to women’s health needs.
For instance, wearable devices that monitor heart rate and blood pressure can help detect early signs of cardiovascular disease and alert women to take necessary preventive measures.
In the fight against cancer, femtech solutions are leveraging data and artificial intelligence to detect early warning signs, such as abnormal menstrual cycles and mammogram readings.
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, femtech solutions use cognitive stimulation and lifestyle changes to promote optimal brain health.
Similarly, telemedicine platforms offer women access to remote medical consultations, providing virtual mental health support. Femtech has the potential to offer individualized programs for women by addressing and understanding the unique mental health aspects that impact them, such as miscarriages, gender discrimination, and isolation during menopause.
Femtech solutions are transforming the landscape of women’s health, providing them with the tools and resources they need to take charge of their health and wellness.
Femtech Products Supporting Women’s Health
Most femtech products complement traditional healthcare in addressing specific health needs and concerns unique to women. Everything from a wearable fertility tracker and breastfeeding support to period underwear, femtech products provide convenient, accessible, and technology-driven solutions for a range of issues related to women’s health.
- Improving care delivery and access – The emergence of virtual clinics like Tia, brick-and-mortar facilities like Kindbody, and direct-to-consumer prescription delivery services offered by The Pill Club, is revolutionizing how women access healthcare.
- Menotech – Several virtual services supporting menopause care have also emerged, like Elektra Health, Gennev, and Evernow. These digital platforms offer education and support for menopause and, in the case of Evernow, prescription delivery for menopause medications.
- Trackers and wearables – Companies like Bloomlife and Modern Fertility offer at-home diagnostics and other tools to assist women in monitoring their health and taking better care of themselves. Apps like Clue and Natural Cycles track the user’s fertility status based on their body temperature.
- Alzheimer’s detection – The Altoida platform uses AR technology to deliver cognitive tests that help detect neurological diseases earlier, which can lead to better treatment options and recovery.
- Osteoporosis prevention – Musculoskeletal health, particularly bone health, is crucial, as 80% of Americans who have osteoporosis are women. As aging women reach menopause, the sharp decline in estrogen causes bone mass loss. Companies like Portfolia are introducing medical devices which apply vibration to the hips and spine to improve bone strength.
- Improving Diagnoses – Clinical diagnostics companies are working to address unmet medical needs in areas such as endometriosis and preterm birth. DotLab and Sera Prognostics are among the companies pushing the scientific frontier in these areas.
- Cancer screening – MobileODT uses smartphones and artificial intelligence to screen for cervical cancer. The technology can deliver diagnoses in just 60 seconds, compared to the weeks it takes to receive results from a standard smear test.
- Culturally Sensitive and Tailored Care – Femtech solutions are also emerging that are tailored for specific subpopulations, such as Black women (Health in Her HUE), women in low- and middle-income countries (Kasha), and LGBTQ+ populations (FOLX Health).
- Other Women-Specific Tools – Elvie, a London-based company, has developed a wearable breast pump, pelvic exercise trainer, and app using smart technology. Innovations in women’s health products, such as a bracelet that delivers cooling sensations during hot flashes or a 3-D-printed hollow breast implant that allows for the regeneration of tissue post-mastectomy and is absorbed by the body over time, are also making a difference in the lives of women.
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Femtech Companies Leading the Femtech Revolution
The femtech revolution is gaining momentum as the industry grows and attracts more investment.
According to a report by FemTech Analytics, the total industry funding reached $16 billion last summer, a 15% increase from December 2021. With the opportunity for double-digit revenue growth, this booming sector is poised for continued expansion.
Despite this growth, funding for women’s digital health companies still only made up 7% of total US digital health funding from January to August 2021, according to a report from venture fund Rock Health. Furthermore, femtech companies receive only 3% of all digital health funding.
One analysis by Mckinsey of hundreds of femtech companies revealed a concentration in maternal health patient support, consumer menstrual products, gynecological devices, and solutions for fertility issues. In many cases, femtech companies are filling gaps left unaddressed by traditional biopharma and device incumbents, particularly in maternal health.
In the past, men dominated the creation and promotion of goods for women’s health and wellness. However, a more practical approach is for these products to be designed and marketed by the primary beneficiaries themselves – women.
One of the driving forces behind the success of femtech is female entrepreneurship.
McKinsey’s analysis showed that more than 70% of femtech companies had at least one female founder, compared to the average of 20% for new companies. Research has shown that when women lead health-focused projects, they are more likely to address health conditions for both men and women, whereas male-led teams tend to focus on male-oriented conditions.
A gender-aware and inclusive approach to healthcare can support more women to become inventors, physicians, investors, and entrepreneurs, while also improving the population’s overall health.
Femtech Concerns & Challenges
In the evolving femtech landscape, companies must navigate challenges carefully while pushing the boundaries of innovation in women’s health.
For example, concerns about digital tracking have increased following the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the potential for health app data to be used in abortion cases. With the ability to store a wealth of sensitive information, such as pregnancy status, menstrual cycles, cancer health data, and sexual activity, these companies must strike the right balance between innovation and privacy.
To ensure that their products are effective and safe, regular data protection impact assessments should be conducted, focusing on minimal data collection and anonymization whenever possible.
Unfortunately, the current landscape of femtech is largely unregulated, with no established standards in place to protect personal health information, and users fear some companies may exploit health data for profit. As a result, it falls on femtech companies to take proactive measures to secure and encrypt their users’ data and prevent unauthorized access.
Another significant challenge is the ongoing debate surrounding the “pink tax.” It refers to the phenomenon where products marketed towards women, including certain femtech devices and services, are priced higher than similar products marketed towards men. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number, one study on gender pricing reveals a 7% cost difference between male and female products.
Although the pricing disparity raises serious questions about gender-based pricing practices and the affordability of femtech solutions for all women, right now, only a few U.S. states explicitly outlaw pink tax and price discrimination.
By establishing standards and guidelines specific to femtech, governments and organizations can create a level playing field and ensure the safety, privacy, and affordability of women’s healthcare technologies.
The Importance of Femtech in Promoting Women’s Health
For far too long, women’s health has been the neglected stepchild of the healthcare industry, receiving only 4% of R&D funding and often being relegated to a subcategory of reproductive health. As a result of the lack of representation in the healthcare space, there are now significant gaps in our understanding of women’s health issues.
This not only continues harmful gender stereotypes, but also fails to acknowledge the wide-ranging impact of women’s health on families, communities, and economies.
The World Health Organization reports that 810 women still die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
But where there is a problem, there is an opportunity for innovation.
The rise of femtech is a beacon of hope, offering solutions to tackle pregnancy and birth complications and help break down the shame and ignorance surrounding taboos such as periods and menopause.
The benefits of improved women’s health are far-reaching.
Women are often the primary caretakers (66%) in society, and better health outcomes for women can positively impact children and the elderly.
Studies have shown that a woman’s health at birth and during pregnancy can impact her children’s health into adulthood. Additionally, healthier women lead to higher economic growth, with evidence suggesting that for every dollar spent on reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health, a return of over $20 can be expected.
Women’s health is not just about promoting gender equality, but also about creating stronger, healthier societies for everyone. The potential impact of femtech in this realm is immeasurable.
From enhancing women’s access to care and promoting empowerment to addressing stigmatized topics and providing inclusive healthcare experiences, female-focused solutions are transforming how women engage with their health, enabling them to take control of their well-being like never before.
- Enhancing Care Delivery: Female-focused technology breaks down geographical barriers, providing access to specialized healthcare professionals and reducing the burden of travel and wait times.
- Empowering Self-Care: The technological advancements in healthcare empower women to take charge of their health, make informed decisions, and actively participate in their healthcare journey.
- Improved Diagnoses: By harnessing technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, femtech solutions can analyze large datasets and patterns to aid in early detection, personalized treatment plans, and improved outcomes.
- Breaking Stigma and Encouraging Open Dialogue: Female health is not taboo. Yet, stigmatized topics often create feelings of shame and isolation for women. By addressing them directly, female-focused technology helps normalize discussions around women’s health.
- Inclusivity and Healthcare Equity: Femtech also recognizes the importance of catering to diverse populations, including minority communities and low-income groups.
Can Femtech Close the Gender Gap in Healthcare?
Gender bias in healthcare is a harsh reality that affects millions of women worldwide. From the denial of proper pain management to misdiagnosis and dismissal, the consequences of gender bias are dire and sometimes fatal.
Today, the majority (68%) of senior leadership roles in healthcare are still held by men, perpetuating a system that overlooks women’s health issues.
Women’s health has been a topic of conversation for a long time, but these discussions are often limited to reproductive health and breast cancer campaigns. Yet, there’s so much more to women’s health than just contraceptives and pregnancy-related issues.
Women are more prone to autoimmune diseases, like lupus, multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome, and experience pain more intensely and frequently than men. The reasons for this discrepancy are yet to be fully understood, but it’s clear that biology and hormones play a role.
Unfortunately, medical concepts are still primarily based on male physiology, leading to the misdiagnosis of women’s illnesses and the denial of pain relief for female patients.
This disparity is highlighted by the fact that 70% of chronic pain patients are women, yet 80% of pain studies are conducted on male mice or human men.
The existing gender biases in healthcare drive investments away from the complexities of women’s health and narrow the reach of medical solutions in all departments. To combat this, innovators must raise awareness about addressing these biases and explore new opportunities in women’s health that have yet to be uncovered.
Although femtech cannot address every woman’s health issue, it can facilitate progress by empowering women with more information, greater control, and a stronger voice. To advance further, femtech must expand both among consumers and in clinical settings to promote more research.
The Future is Femtech
The global femtech market experienced significant growth, with a value of USD 5.1 billion in 2021, reveals Grand View Reserach. It is projected to maintain a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.1% from 2022 to 2030.
This indicates a promising trajectory for the global femtech market in the coming years.
However, women still face deeply personal choices regarding fertility, pregnancy, and raising children, which can impact their career trajectories. While women make up the majority (57%) of the American workforce, there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
As millennials and Gen Z take on more senior positions, the belief that health and work are intertwined will become increasingly dominant. The future is femtech, and it’s time for companies to step up and support women’s unique health and lifestyle concerns.
As a starting point, employers should take steps to support employees who are going through menopause or have endometriosis.
According to a recent survey by the Fawcett Society, eight out of ten women said their employer failed to take action to support menopausal individuals, with one in ten leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms. Having robust policies can improve female retention rates and mitigate the risk of litigation and reputational damage.
Thanks to social media and changing attitudes, more women are speaking out about their experiences and bodies – and changes are already happening. Forward-thinking companies are introducing “menstrual leave” policies, offering maternity programs, and opening a dialogue to help people who are suffering in silence claim the time they need and seek help from a doctor for debilitating symptoms.
However, to make femtech genuinely impactful, it must be accessible to everyone. Reproduction and birth control education is critical, particularly in rural areas, and addressing the “pink tax” is necessary to ensure these products are affordable and accessible for all.
At its core, femtech is about creating an inclusive healthcare system responsive to all people’s needs.
On a Final Note
The overarching goal of femtech is to improve the female experience in all aspects of health and promote overall well-being.
By leveraging technology, personalized approaches, and a commitment to inclusivity, female-focused technology can address the unique challenges faced by women globally, break down barriers, and provide accessible and effective solutions.
Overall, improved health for women has a ripple effect throughout society, benefiting not only the women themselves, but also families, workplaces, communities, and entire countries.
- Breast Cancer Risk in American Women (Cancer.gov)
- Femtech (Wikipedia)
- The dawn of the FemTech revolution (McKinsey)
- Women’s Health At Work: Why it’s time for an honest appraisal (Women’s Health)
- Femtech is expansive—it’s time to start treating it as such (Rock Health)
- Women and pain: Disparities in experience and treatment (Harvard)
- Women in the labor force: a databook (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- Women Feel Pain More Intensely Than Men Do (Scientific American)
- The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review (NIH)
- Women In Healthcare Leadership 2019 (Oliver Wyman)
- Caregiving in the U.S. (National Alliance for Caregiving)
- Women’s Healthcare Comes Out Of The Shadows: Femtech Shows The Way To Billion-Dollar Opportunities (Forbes)
- FemTech Industry Landscape Q2 2022 (FemTech Analytics)
- Women and Alzheimer’s (Alz.org)
- Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System (CDC)
- Ten top issues for women’s health (WHO)
- The Hologic Global Women’s Health Index
- Femtech Market (Emergen Research)
- General Facts on Women and Job Based Health (U.S. Department of Labor)