Femtech: women’s health, a growing digital market

Femtech: women’s health, a growing digital market

Most reports on startups show strong growth for websites about women’s health. The so called femtech – digital businesses to improve women health – started growing a decade ago.

Canadian Institute for Gender and Economy in a study says that more research of their efficiency is needed but “that the modest amount of industry research available about femtech indicates that some products and services may be able to address the needs of consumers who have historically been marginalized by mainstream markets, medical institutions, and practices.”

The institute is based at Canadian Rotman School of Management and promotes “an understanding of gender inequalities and how they can be remedied – by people of all genders – in the world of business and, more broadly, in the economy.” The institute says it is

  • Investigating the hidden mechanisms that propagate gender equality
  • Funding, translating, and disseminating innovative, academic research
  • Engaging executives, policy makers, and students to create new solutions for achieving equality, advancing careers, and creating economic prosperity

The report says that academic research about femtech has primarily fallen outside of traditional management scholarship, being dominated by those in the human computer interaction field.

MORE THAN A BUZZWORD

“Because the rise of femtech is such a recent phenomenon, there is still much we do not know.”

Answering the question whether femtech is an innovative and disruptive space for women’s health or simply a buzzword, the institute says:

“Femtech is more than a buzzword. But it is too early for us to understand how much more. We do not yet know all of the potential promises—and pitfalls—of technologies designed, produced, and marketed to “improve” women’s health. This, then, is an area for ample future work across a range of scholarly disciplines.”

SUBJECT TO SURVEILLANCE 

Sociologists and legal scholars have been critical to existing digital health technologies marketed to women, asking how they reinforce gendered norms and offer ways for the body to be subject to surveillance.

Health informatics researchers have asked whether digital femtech products are based on evidence-based medical practices and can actually improve health-related outcomes.

One of the questions researchers across disciplines have asked is whether gender diversity impacts innovation. For example, a study of 1,648 Danish firms found firms with more balanced gender compositions were more likely to innovate than firms with a higher concentration of one gender, the report says.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

“We know from prior work—and from industry examples like Apple’s failure to include menstruation in its earliest versions of Health—that gender is often not a factor explicitly considered during product design. We also know that when gender has been considered, design choices have reinforced stereotypes.”

“Some press pieces argue that men—rather than women—design the products and applications dominating femtech.”

“Industry research about medtech indicates healthcare is becoming more “consumer-centric” in general. While femtech has received less attention from industry researchers, many of the general observations about medtech also hold true for femtech.”

Among issues to research, the report mentions

  • The demographics and motivations of femtech founders and investors. Who are femtech founders and what motivates them to start companies in this space?
  • The role of gender diversity in innovation. How is gender diversity important in this space?
  • The role of social entrepreneurship in femtech. Are femtech founders more likely to make social good a key part of their businesses as some popular media pieces have assumed? If so, how does this impact their business strategies and their success?
  • Global femtech markets and consumers. How do femtech solutions for girls and women in poorer countries compare to those in wealthier countries?
  • The necessity and efficacy of femtech products and services. Is femtech truly radical, or yet another way to “shrink it and pink it”? If the femtech market becomes dominated by women entrepreneurs, investors, and designers, will we see new innovations that break with old stereotypes?

WHAT COUNTS AS FEMTECH?

Some examples of femtech products and services include:

  • Clue. A mobile menstrual health app created by Berlin-based BioWink GmbH, a company co-founded by Ida Tin in 2013. As of 2019, Clue has raised $29.7M.
  • Glow. A mobile fertility app created by a data science company of the same name, co-founded in 2013 by Max Levchin, former co-founder of PayPal. As of 2019, Glow has raised $23M.
  • Natural Cycles. The first FDA approved fertility tracking app created by CB Rank, co-founded in 2013 by CERN physicist Dr. Elina Berglund and her husband Dr. Raoul Scherwitzl. As of 2019, Natural Cycles has raised $37.5M.
  • Ava. Established in 2014 by Lea von Bidder, Pascal Koenig, Peter Stein, and Philipp Tholen, Ava is a bracelet that monitors five “physiological signals of fertility” and then displays the real-time data via a mobile app. As of 2019, Ava has raised $42.4M.
  • Lola. Established in 2014 by co-founders Alexandra Friedman and Jordana Kier, Lola offers a subscription service for menstrual products (e.g., pads, tampons, essential oil for menstrual cramps) and sexual health products (e.g., condoms, lubricant). As of 2019, Lola has raised $35.2M.
  • Lia offers the first biodegradable and flushable at-home pregnancy test. Co-founded by Bethany Edwards and Sarah Rottenberg in 2015, as of 2019, Lia has raised $2.6M.
  • Bloomlife is a wearable tracking device that monitors contractions, displaying real-time data via a mobile app. As of 2019, Bloomlife has raised $14.4M.
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