COVID-19 rocked every aspect of daily life – how we work, learn, shop, socialize, and so much more. Its transformation is especially true when looking at wellness and self-care; COVID propelled these ideals to the forefront of consumer mindset. This is especially true for women: as the primary decision makers for their families and key influential voices for their friends, women have a unique vantage point in identifying gaps in healthcare solutions. As a result, we saw a spike in female-founded wellness companies to fill these gaps via consumer-centric solutions commonly referred to as “femtech,” or the “software, diagnostics, products, and services that use technology to support women’s health.” Although the term “femtech” was coined in 2016, it exploded during the pandemic. From 2020 to 2021, femtech funding tripled from $750MM to $2.5B, and is expected to reach over $1 trillion by 2030.
Femtech solutions address the lived experience of women when it comes to menstruation, period care, fertility, birth control, postpartum care, menopause, hormonal disorders, chronic conditions, sexual wellness, and general health. Crucially, its implications reach far beyond improving healthcare. For example, menopause is not often addressed by the media or in societal discourse but is an important life stage that usually coincides with when women are most likely to step into more senior roles in their careers. In her new book Hot and Bothered: What No One Tells You About Menopause and How to Feel Like Yourself Again, journalist Jancee Dunn sites that there are up to 34 symptoms of menopause that a woman can experience including sleep issues, loss of control, sense of self, anxiety, and more that can impact women in leadership roles given each of these factors can play into workplace performance. However, technology that supports women specifically with menopause can serve as an enabler for future female leaders by bringing awareness to the effects of this transition and building a supportive community. Moreover, a study from Ultra Violet Futures found “global productivity losses can add up to more than $150 billion annually due to unsupported women leaving the workforce at the peak of their career, or when many women experience pregnancy, perimenopause (the transition phase into the menopause) and menopause.”
So, where is femtech today? While the space is exploding with new innovations, the majority of femtech improves two key aspects of care: personalization and experience.
Improved Personalization Through FemTech Apps
Apps are one of the most accessible femtech solutions due to their high level of personalization and wide variety of functions including general education, period tracking, pregnancy and parental support, sexual health, cancer support, and so much more.
Apps are also one of the fastest growing spaces and are key in dismantling the ineffective traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to healthcare, which provides equity in patient-provider relationships. Reports found 40% of medical research and clinical studies are conducted on female bodies, which largely discounts the effect female-specific conditions, such as menstruation, have on general population experiences, such as exercise. Dr. Stacy Sims, a preeminent nutrition scientist & exercise physiologist, explains the effect in terms of female physical fitness: “When an individual tracks her own cycle, she can start to see patterns across the month and objective data that can give insight into her own body, which in turn can then be leveraged to training hard on days the body can take on that stress, and backing off when the body needs to.” As insights from data get more personalized, so can solutions to care.
Improved Experience Through New Devices and Spaces
Some femtech solutions also improve healthcare’s most unpleasant experiences. Physical products and devices have been invented to improve the actual experience of receiving care. Many products focus on personal use, such as at-home fertility, endometriosis, and blood tests, period-proof underwear, and pelvic floor trainers that measure contractions. They also include the heavy-duty equipment found in doctors’ offices, such as mammogram machines, making them easier to operate and a less stressful experience for the patient.
FemTech has even transformed the physical spaces in which women receive care. For example, Kindbody is a company that has transformed the traditionally clinical and expensive doctor’s office into an inviting, tech-enabled fertility and wellness center. Similarly, a company called Tia improved their standard of care by becoming a hybrid virtual/brick-and-mortar care center that combines traditional medicine with holistic techniques to care for the whole person.
Partnerships Provide New Ways to Connect
FemTech is not just changing the way women receive care, but it also impacts their daily lives by providing data that gives unprecedented insight into one’s own body. Given the personal nature of these products, partnerships with femtech companies allow brands to connect with women on a deeper level by reaching them in new environments and providing them with valuable resources. It also gives brands a way to help bolster new transformational start-ups.
For brands focused on female wellness and/or the female experience, these partnerships offer a valuable and differentiating way to build a relationship with their audience. For example:
– A fitness apparel brand could partner with a period tracker app to help women plan their ideal workout schedule based on their cycle, and use that information to tailor product recommendations by workout type.
– A retail client could partner with LEIA, the world’s first postpartum tracker, and provide ongoing product recommendations as new moms look to navigate different milestones and life stages for their baby and their own recovery. For example, baby formula orders can automatically refill and update its products as the baby graduates to the next formula type.
– A brand that specializes in sexual enhancement could partner with a sexual wellness app like Rosy to help curate stigma-free, personalized sexual wellness plans, and pop up at live events to distribute product samples.
– Cosmetic brands that champion female empowerment and embracing healthy aging could partner with a company like Elektra Health to celebrate the changes that come with menopause by shedding light on the menopause community and their stories to bring more awareness to this transitional period.
However, when it comes to healthcare marketing in the femtech space, brands need to be careful of the challenges and ramifications of data sensitivity. As women’s reproductive rights are increasingly impacted by government rulings, data privacy is more important to the femtech space than ever. The law currently does not provide strong protection for these products given they’re used by individuals not connected to a larger healthcare plan or covered entity. In fact, HIPAA “will not stop most femtech companies from sharing information, nor require them to meet technical security standards.” It’s on the companies to decide how the information they collect is used and protected. The very survival of the industry depends on these companies acting responsibly and consumers trusting these companies with some of their most sensitive data, and for brands to thoroughly vet the partners they choose.
The Future is FemTech
Innovations in femtech are building a better tomorrow for female patients at large and have become critical players in driving social change. Women’s experiences have been ignored for far too long, and these products and services are shining a bright light on historically taboo topics.
With a consumer-driven mindset at their core, the benefits of femtech innovations reach beyond women’s health to provide benefits to the healthcare industry more broadly. FemTech innovations are pushing companies to rethink the way they provide more inclusive care, improve diagnoses, monitor patients remotely, and so much more. Space needs to continue to be carved out for female founders, scientists, and investors alike to continue to mold the healthcare space and provide better outcomes for society overall.
Written by Kaitlyn Saar, VP of Strategy at Zenith Media USA, member of the Zenith D&I CouncilSIGN UP FOR ZENITH INSIGHTS