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The FemTech Paradigm Shift Needs to Keep Pushing Boundaries



We're almost half way through Women's History Month and International Women's Day was last week. Of course I want to acknowledge International Women's Day because it is an important milestone each year. I'll let others focus on topics like the gender pay gap, reproductive rights, etc. Instead, I want to highlight one of the many areas that I find interesting and as a feminist I think is a tangible way to move women's issues forward. It's a sector I am deeply passionate about - FemTech. It's a sector that is finally gaining traction, which is always exciting. But the real reason I'm so passionate about it is the amount of meaningful change this industry can have on women's health - if we can push it further than what it's defined as today.


Mini-History

This history is very mini since there are a million articles and resources to Google on the topic...anyway, in recent years, there has been a notable surge in the development and growth of FemTech companies, a term coined by Clue founder Ida Tin in 2016 to represent technology-driven solutions specifically targeting women's health and well-being. Today these are perceived to include menstrual tracking, fertility monitoring, menopause management and beyond. The FemTech market size accounted for USD 47.02 billion in 2022 and is expected to surpass around USD 108.78 billion by 2032. So yeah, there's a boatload of opportunity there.


Lacking Focus on Women's Healthcare and the Ripple Effect on FemTech

The ironic part, however, is that women's health is often overlooked or treated as a niche area within the broader healthcare industry. And FemTech is seen as a saturated market based on how it's defined today, so investors are hesitant to throw dollars at it. For a sector that already faces significant headwinds with investors predominantly being men funding men to hesitation around female founders to a society that has often just deprioritized women in general, this is highly problematic with a dramatic ripple effect.


A not-so-fun fact: women and BIPOC were not legally required to be included in clinical trials in the US until the 1993 NIH Revitalization Act passed. As a result there is significantly less research conducted and available around women's anatomy, biology, hormones and chemistry and how these aspects of our bodies might affect how we metabolize drugs, age differently than men, how diseases affect our bodies differently and beyond. Even less has been done to specifically disaggregate data by race to ensure clarity for the healthcare needs of people of color - especially women of color. Thus the desperate need for and push for clinical research specific to our gender.


In late 2023, Dr. Jill Biden announced the Initiative on Women's Health Research to start investing in research to close the gap (finally!). But until more research is completed, it creates a larger conundrum for FemTech. Even though women are half the world's population and make ~75% of purchasing decisions, women's health companies are still valued at 1/5 less than general healthcare companies and it's in large part due to that lack of data on women (see this). Meaning, if there isn't data on women as healthcare consumers or simply as patients, the ability to improve research, improve healthcare offerings stagnates which means women-focused companies are not able to be accurately valuated. And if not accurately valuated, investors won't invest more in women's health. Thus we go round and round in circles.


Redefining FemTech Could Help

Of course there are several aspects of FemTech that can and will need to evolve in order to keep growing - that's the case with any sector. But to me, the biggest way to do this is to clarify what FemTech is - or can be. For example, most of the emphasis or focus has been on menstrual tracking, fertility tracking and menopause - areas that are more overtly female. These are all worthy areas and there have been some AMAZING companies like Clue and Flo that were built to focus here. But what if we expanded the definition and areas to focus?


Areas that I think we should also consider placing under the FemTech umbrella and focusing more attention on:

  • Women's Cardiovascular Health - Women's heart attack symptoms differ from men's, and as a result, women are more likely to die from a heart attack. So why aren't we investing more in research and technology like BloomerTech to change this?

  • Endometriosis Support - Considering this painful disease affects 10% of women around the world, can we invest in technology that can help?

  • Autoimmune Diseases - Women are 4 times more likely than men to have an autoimmune disease. How can we utilize technology to identify and change course?

  • Neurological Health - Women comprise nearly 2/3 of all patients with Alzheimer's. Can we utilize technology to study and combat the disease?

  • Osteoporosis - Nearly 80% of those who get osteoporosis are women. How can we invest in and shine a spotlight on more companies like Bone Health Technologies to address bone health?

  • Mental Health - if women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, what technology can we invest in to support them?

  • Women's Safety - whether it's workplace safety, domestic violence prevention, sexual assault prevention, caregiver safety, etc., women are regularly in generally unsafe situations. How can we expand technology to support safety needs?


These are just 7 general categories affecting women's health that could easily benefit women and fit under that FemTech umbrella in order to increase funding and focus. And I have no doubt there are entrepreneurs out there who could tackle them and make a difference if only we could get them funded.


Using Marketing and Communications to Affect Change

Obviously it's easy to sit here and say "we should expand the definition of FemTech" and "we should get more funding behind these organizations", but then we get to that age old question of how. From my probably obvious perspective, it's how we communicate it. What is the story around FemTech, what does it consist of and how can we tell a compelling story to focus on it? As associations and societies continue to form (and we need more of them!), they can work to expand our definition of FemTech, build out these stories and help find funding for research, startups and more. After all, the more you can build that story to build the sector, the more we can educate people, the more we can shift the conversation.


Support for FemTech Could Be the Best Way to Celebrate Women

I think it's wonderful that we have International Women's Day. And I love that there's a Women's History Month. However, we have a long way to go in moving towards equity in just about every possible category out there, especially healthcare. Knowing that FemTech is continuing to grow and investment is increasing steadily, I think our ability to expand the definition of FemTech - or at least consider additional areas of focus under that umbrella - would be the best way to support and improve the lives of women around the world. In other words, if we can drive innovation for women and by women, we can make significant gains in closing all the myriad ways the gender gap affects us today.


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