Female innovators are addressing gaps left behind by centuries of male-centric medicine – the results are game changing for everybody…
Despite the term ‘FemTech’ only being seven years old, the market is estimated to be worth between $500 million to $1 billion (or £431 million to £862 million), with everything from fertility and period apps to wearable menstrual pain relief, breast pumps and birth control convenience apps being created to support women’s unmet health needs.
These brands are disrupting the healthcare sector with newly discovered technology and products not previously available, while tackling issues that have previously gone ignored or been poorly diagnosed and managed, leaving women struggling with little support from the traditional healthcare sector.
The unseen nature of women in medicine can’t be ignored. Only 150 years ago, a handful of women enrolled onto a UK medical degree were not only charged more to attend but were abused in the streets and obstructed by hundreds of people from entering an anatomy exam during what’s known as the Surgeon’s Hall riot. These women went on to achieve great success but were never awarded their degrees.
Throughout the history of medicine, from the way drugs have been tested and prescribed, to the diagnosis of medical conditions, the male body has been the default and the female body ‘the other’. Drug research and testing has historically been carried out on more male participants, introducing a huge bias into human health. The reasoning for this was because males being bigger organisms and not having hormone cycles, which led to more consistent test results that could be replicated at larger scale. In theory, fine when you’re in the lab, but gender neutral dosing falls hugely short when medicines are administered to patients. Hormone cycles mean women can experience wildly differing results, the situation is made worse as there’s no research to support deviation from testing or alternative and adequate next steps.
Research into health conditions is unfairly weighted too. Despite representing 50% of the population, women are significantly underrepresented in health research and clinical trials, with much less known about female health conditions than those that also or only affect men. Endometriosis for instance, (a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes) still takes an average of seven to eight years to diagnose, while women suffering chronic pain are expected to just get on with their day-to-day lives. Meanwhile, figures show that five times more research is carried out into erectile dysfunction (which affects 19% of men), yes – five times more, than into premenstrual syndrome or PMS (which affects 90% of women). I can’t help imagining what life would be like if men had periods but perhaps that’s for another time…
But the rise of FemTech is starting to make a difference. Brands like Clue and Flo have introduced products to the market that enable women to track their cycles to their specific needs rather than using a broad one-size-fits-all model. Ava produce wearables that can track fertility, Elvie have developed a wearable breast pump and iPulse Medical sell a wearable menstrual pain relief device. These brands are supporting women in living a fuller life, more empowered by knowledge of their bodies and owning the solutions to their health challenges.
The sector is being led by female founders, leaders and innovators. Interestingly, research shows that male innovators tend to find solutions for male-orientated conditions, however, female inventors are more likely to solve for genders outside their own. One of the biggest challenges the sector faces is the need for investment. Growth has been stifled by a lack of diversity, namely too few females in senior investor roles. According to Rock Health, only 5% of digital health funding in 2021 went to women and health tech companies. This has been attributed to a lack of understanding of female health issues and the human tendency to align to lived or experienced problems. Or is it because some people are uncomfortable hearing the word ‘vagina’ in the boardroom?
So, what’s the solution? Does the sector wait for female investors to get the opportunities to break through the glass ceiling and be part of the decision making? Or can we educate those making the decisions now to show the widespread benefits supporting FemTech can bring? Crucially, it’s worth understanding that the positive impact is far more wide reaching than initially thought and healthier patients are always a win, however, FemTech’s success could help galvanise positive social change too. For example, many women are impacted by menopause around the time they may be likely to consider senior roles. Creating consumer-centric solutions to tackle menopause can become an enabler for future female leaders. Women are often the primary healthcare decision-makers for themselves and their families, so better health outcomes for women can lead to better outcomes for society.
FemTech is also moving to meet the needs of under-served populations such as low-income or under-represented communities. Israeli FemTech startup MobileODT have developed AI-based technology to detect early stages of cervical cancer, and have even carried out a large-scale screening of 50,000 women in the Dominican Republic. The kit enables non-specialists to diagnose with just a smartphone.
How can Sticky help?
At Sticky, we want to be a catalyst for positive change and help raise the voices of brands we believe in and who are making a positive difference to the world.
We’re incredibly passionate about the FemTech sector and all the amazing work that’s being done. We’re looking to partner with founders and brands to support them in amplifying their messages and getting them in front of the people that need them most.
We pride ourselves on collaborating with clients, getting under the skin of your brand and your operating landscape and really taking the time to understand your target audience’s needs and motivations – something which is even more important when it comes to these under-served populations – so we can create truly meaningful communications.
What excites us most is creating work that makes an audience feel seen, heard and understood, particularly in a sector demonstrating such positive change. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning.
There’s no doubt the Femtech industry is revolutionising health for women, driving better health outcomes with rippling effects, breathing change into a traditional sector and reaching under-served populations with its innovations. Once a few more barriers are shattered, the future for FemTech is undeniable.