What is FemTech and why should we care?
“Get a Clue”: What is FemTech?
In 2013, Ida Tin created the Berlin-based start-up Clue, of which she is both the founder and the CEO. In addition to giving us this useful and successful period-tracker app, she coined the term FemTech (short for female technology) to describe any technology geared towards improving women’s lives. This sector mostly addresses women’s health: it includes fertility solutions, period-tracking apps, pregnancy and nursing care, women’s sexual wellness, reproductive system healthcare and much more. Typical Femtech products include, among many others, wearable devices, medical treatments, informative apps and platforms, and female hygiene products.
All of the new technology that FemTech can give us could potentially benefit roughly half of the world’s population. Women (as well as non-binary and trans people) represent a huge market! And the issues that are addressed by FemTech’s potential new products and services are important to women throughout their whole lives: on average, a woman bleeds a total of 6 years from her period over her whole life. Period pains can be debilitating, and lack of knowledge in young girls about periods or their reproductive system can hugely impact their personal and future professional lives. So why are we only just now figuring out that we have to come up with more than just two types of sanitary products? Furthermore, with hormonal contraception representing more downsides than upsides for many women around the world, it raises the question that maybe other options should be looked into. Why the wait, really? Well, it’s not very hard to find answers to that: less women in decision-making positions equals to a deceleration in the tech world to tap into this market. This is evident as only 12.4% of all decision-makers in U.S. venture capital firms are women according to an Axios analysis. Thus, it is imaginable that pitching a period product idea or a smart breast-pump product to a testosterone-filled room may seem more than daunting, not to mention the taboo that still surrounds the subject of women’s sexual health.
Despite the wait, change is coming. Calculated at $200 million in 2018, the value of the FemTech market is estimated by some firms to be worth $50bn by 2025. Increased representation both at the development level and the boardroom is also key to this expansion. Yes, only 12.4% of all decision-makers in U.S. venture capital firms are women. Yet, that number was only half of that only a few years ago. Whilst we should not stop there, it still is making a huge difference. Accelerators, incubators and mentoring programs are emerging to address female representation in tech. More women in decision-making positions is hopefully leading to more funding attributed to FemTech ideas and projects. Just last year, Cirqle Biomedical secured $1.8M for pre-clinical development of a novel non-hormonal contraceptive technology. Cirqle Biomedical’s technology addresses the millions of women that are demanding non-hormonal products with fewer side-effects to manage their fertility. Today, nearly 60 years after the first oral contraceptive pill was sold, most prescription birth control methods are variations on the same synthetic hormones. CB has developed a technology that uses the natural barrier property of cervical mucus to manufacture a topically applied biopolymer that makes cervical mucus impenetrable to sperm cells throughout a woman’s cycle.
This market growth is also potentially due to the fact that we have been seeing for the past few years a de-stigmatization of issues around women’s health in the press and the media as well as more representation of such ‘phenomena’ in TV and film. From menstrual pad adverts in Australia to numerous podcasts, books and TV shows addressing directly a lot of usually taboo issues concerning women’s health, this increased representation is truly aiding to start more conversations and encouraging consumers to demand for more FemTech products and investors to understand the value proposition of women-orientated products.
It’s not all about the Benjamins
Now that we’ve established exactly what FemTech is and why it is finally emerging as a successful and promising industry, I’d like to go more into why that’s an inherently good thing for women (and people in general, if you’re not completely backward and enjoy seeing women succeed and reach their full potential). Well, as you may have figured from our earlier explanations, FemTech is proving to be a promising industry, due to be valued in the billions of dollars within a few years. This potentially means more jobs and more return on investment, and well, that doesn’t hurt anyone. Not to mention that FemTech includes some segments that are the perfect place for disruption. Take the female hygiene products market for example. It remained stagnant for decades, dominated by Procter&Gamble, who own Always and Tampax, which amount to approximately 50% of the market both in the UK and the US. There is a clear need (and space) for innovation. Incumbents have come to focus on very few products and appear tone-deaf and not relatable. With the modernization now taking place, consumers, especially ones between the ages of 15-35, are finally starting to feel like innovators are truly listening to what they want and need. More preoccupied by the climate crisis than ever before, these consumers want organic cotton tampons, reusable tampon applicators, period proof underwear, menstrual cups and more: better for them and better for the environment.
Offering to women more products geared towards improving their mental and physical lives is also bound to positively influence women in the sense that it will give them more knowledge about themselves and their body, and as we’ve all heard before, ‘knowledge is power’. FemTech’s goal, in the end, is to give women more control over their health, their happiness and their futures.
One of the other reasons why FemTech is having a positive impact on society is the scientific advances it is already leading to. Many FemTech products (including period-tracking apps or smart sex toys) collect data. With all of this new data rolling in, scientists are gradually understanding women’s bodies more, from the subtle works of hormones to different types of female orgasm. This same type of product, interactive and date-collecting, may also have the potentially life-saving ability to help diagnose health problems better and earlier. When it comes to their periods for example, women have the tendency to accept too much pain and not necessarily realize that something is amiss with their menstrual cycle or their reproductive system (endometriosis, ovarian cysts etc.). As we all know, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the odds of coming out unscathed.
Now you know exactly what FemTech is and all of the opportunities that it represents: opportunities for profit, but more importantly opportunities to make positive change. I hope that you’re now starting to realize why FemTech is truly interesting, as it really embodies how tech and smart innovation can be successful in giving consumers smarter products, that fit them better and that have good social, environmental and scientific impacts. Here’s to hoping that the sector continues to grow and continues to empower women and give them all of the tools that they need to become their best and happiest selves!
If this article and the issues surrounding it interest you, be sure to have a look at the Women in Kickstart branch of Kickstart society as they actively pursue a range of inspirational people with the aim to support and launch female careers in many industries including Technology. They put a strong emphasis on breaking the barriers of a male-dominated industry and cover a vast range of information on beginning applications to future opportunities as well as skills which will be transferable from university to your career.