Emerging Femtech Market a Possibility for the Pink and the Brave

8 May 2017

Femtech, or women’s health products, are often seen as a niche market – which is peculiar, as half of the world’s population are women.

How about someone saying that fashion for women is globally recognized only as a niche market? What is femtech and what does the future look like for female technology?
Femtech or female technology addresses women’s health situations from period-tracking to pregnancy or lactation apps, and other health related issues. Femtech is slowly getting more and more attention in the media, and among companies. To mention a few, Clue, Natural Cycles and the Flex Company have entered the market to provide women with healthy and digital solutions for menstrual and contraceptive challenges. These companies offer applications and tangible products to facilitate women’s health from more punctual fertility planning to tampons that can be left in for up to 12 hours a time.

Despite the increasing turnover of innovations we see every day due to our work, there is a clear low percentage of both women-founded health startups as well as products and innovations focused on women’s health. According to European Commission (2017), 30% of startup entrepreneurs are women, though there appears to be some evening out regarding the ratio during the last few years. However, we at Vertical Accelerator predict that the trendsetting startups brave enough to plough the femtech field will rapidly be in the industry limelight.

So far, what has hindered femtech’s boom? The relatively small number of startups focusing in the female gender? Or the lack of visibility and disinterest in communication? Perhaps a lack of
understanding of women’s health issues? As women working in the healthcare industry, we feel that women’s health issues are still perceived as somewhat tabu, non-pleasant or too sexual matters to discuss in public for both women and men alike. For example period issues has been the rapid end of many a conversation. Therefore, the possible pitfalls of femtech can prove to be in marketing and deeply embedded superficial stereotypes. Another underlaying issue is a low number of female VCs (less than 10 %) , which disrupts the interest curve towards female technology.

Photo: Martti Ronkainen

Christian Lindholm, CEO and co-founder of KoruLab emphasizes that femtech has proven to “provide much more opportunities than the traditional ‘shrink it and pink it’ way of thinking. For
example, sophisticated pulse sensors provide insight to menstrual cycles opening up opportunities in rich wellness applications”.

A visible rise in the femtech production likely stems from the increased number of western women
more and more in control of their bodies. The final impact of women empowerment movements on
femtech product development spreading across Europe and USA remains to be seen, but #femtech has definitely open a discussion not likely to fade anytime soon.

For startups eager to enter the women’s health industry, we find crucial to develop networking and support systems, where companies are able to have meetups, be mentored by health professionals and are offered a chance to test their ideas in research and real-life environments. Resources should be allocated to women entrepreneurs who still perceived as a minority in healthtech can be somewhat overpowered. Through support networks, sparring sessions and workshops otherwise unrevealed creative potential can be brought to light. Who better to tell what women want than themselves? Except for maybe Mel Gibson.

Especially important is to emphasize that femtech is not only a possibility for women but also men,
and it is crucial to get the males on board– both as entrepreneurs and conscious co-consumers. And let’s face it, better partners. The development of female technology should not be overshadowed by heated debates on feminism. Femtech is not about competition between genders or validation, it is about enhancing the health of women and indirectly the health of men as well.

There is much untapped potential in femtech; just imagining the possibilities of this field makes the head spin. Perhaps new smart materials for tampons and hygienic napkins, smart bras or underwear that change color during periods – or maybe solutions to help detect breast cancer faster. Or even underpants that change colour when you get a urinary infection! Sounds crazy, but this is an inspiring footnote to daring entrepreneurs: the possibilities of aesthetics are infinite in this field.

“As technology shrinks in wearables they can disappear into the fabric of fashion creating beautiful
health technology that is like jewellery, but with meaningful utility”, Lindholm concludes.
Now that’s something to think about.


AUTHORS:

Bogdana Gamburg, Heta Hytönen and Ana-Belén Abundio Femenía

Are you a startup working on digital health and tackeling women’s health issues? Then, we are looking for you! Apply for Vertical Fall batch’17 until May 21 & get 4-month equity and fee-free accelerator program & up to 150KEur of seed investment.