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.
In a headline on May 5, 2021, the New York Times asked 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.”
Analysis by the capital market company Pitchbook underscores that point, noting that global venture capital investment in femtech is expected to surpass $1 billion for the first time in 2021. Other outlets have noted particularly significant investments in femtech this year, like the $80 million in Elvie, which created a wearable breast pump; the $75 million in Carrot, a fertility benefits facilitator; and $50 million in Flo, which developed an app to monitor menstrual cycles.
In September, Forbes drilled down deeper when it profiled a particularly promising healthcare startup called Tia, which raised $100 million from a funding round this year, and to date has raised $132 million in all. The four-year-old 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.
All of this speaks to one of the big factors driving the femtech movement: Women are more engaged in healthcare than men. They spend $500 billion a year on medical expenses, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make 80% of a family’s healthcare decisions.
Julien Payen, co-founder and CEO of the French startup Lattice Medical (which 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, as reflected in the fact that 83% of the Gen-Zers responding to one survey expressed the opinion that periods should be discussed by and with anyone, including 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 also 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 to “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, 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, and as a result, 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% of venture capital went to startups 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.
By Joel Landau
It’s a persistent myth: if a company recruits enough employees from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, a sufficient number will, over time, rise through the organization to create a diverse culture at all levels. But that is not happening.
The script at BIO this year could not have been more clear: Progress on diversity is being made, but more work needs to be done. Yet still, an undercurrent of biotech’s all-boys brand-of-old tugged at the heels of efforts to bolster those long-excluded from positions of authority.
Another vital antidote to the labor shortage is fixing the care economy, made up of people who provide paid and unpaid care. (See “Overview of the Care Economy.”) Within the care economy, two related and somewhat hidden issues are crucial to the long-term health of the US labor market.