After a long history of women’s health being shortchanged, the tide has shifted in recent years — and one of the biggest drivers of that change is the growing significance of “FemTech".
The term was coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, founder of the menstrual tracking app Clue, to create awareness of, legitimize, and increase investment in technology-aided solutions for female health issues.1 FemTech encompasses business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) technologies meant to improve female health and wellness — including conditions that affect women only or have a disproportionate or different impact on women compared to men. FemTech companies are often founded and led by women.
The FemTech industry is growing rapidly, with a wide range of innovations designed to address underserved needs across the women’s health journey. Led by strong demand in reproductive health solutions, the global FemTech market size is projected to reach $75 billion by 2025 with an anticipated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.3% between 2020 and 2025.2 In comparison, the overall digital health market is expected to reach $430 billion by 2028, with a CAGR of 16.9% between 2022 and 2028.3 Total fundraising in FemTech companies has exceeded $21 billion over the past decade, with funding doubling from 2020 to 2021.
To cultivate success in FemTech innovation and drive adoption, emerging biopharma companies, startups, and traditional organizations alike should focus on:
Historically, with certain areas of women’s health considered “taboo” topics not for public discussion, it has been harder for women across the socioeconomic spectrum to get accurate and appropriately tailored health information and services. The recent increase in FemTech companies and innovations has led to heightened awareness and destigmatization of women’s health conditions. FemTech companies are driving growth in women’s health research and advocacy work and filling critical market gaps in areas such as maternal health, menopause, and pelvic floor pain management.
The FemTech sector is contributing to health equity strides across the women’s health journey, leading to needed change within the healthcare ecosystem and beyond. Many FemTech companies have also prioritized an intersectional approach, developing solutions to reach populations such as people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and rural residents — all of whom often have limited access to care specifically designed to meet their needs. Providing accessible FemTech solutions to these groups could reduce long-term healthcare costs by improving screening rates, diagnosis accuracy, and treatment uptake.
Technology can also play a significant role in improving women’s health outcomes and reducing maternal mortality, which rose sharply in 2021.4 A wealth of evidence shows that investing in preventive and acute women’s health services provides multiple public health benefits and cost savings.5
Providing access to FemTech solutions to everyone that could benefit from them, regardless of healthcare insurance status, remains an obstacle to true equitable access. And in today’s post-Roe environment that is compounded by the complexities of recent legal challenges, patient access to pregnancy care and birth control options is more important than ever.
For decades, exclusion of women from certain therapeutic research, low research funding for women’s health issues, and lack of clinical evidence has led to a limited pipeline of pharmaceuticals targeting women’s health. Reducing medical practice bias and filling research gaps that disproportionately impact people of color and women is also needed. Even within FemTech, there are funding gaps for critical unmet needs. For instance, funding has often been skewed toward fertility solutions (where the money is) rather than toward issues such as high-risk pregnancies, which impact lower-income women at a higher rate.
Some early-stage FemTech companies have been unable to effectively raise funds to support further development. And digital health companies frequently struggle to build a business model that provides equitable access while generating revenue without the guaranteed benefits of full payer or employer buy-in.
1. Solve women’s health issues with a robust evidence generation strategy.
Given the traditional lack of women’s health data, which many providers and payers need to effectively evaluate FemTech products, FemTech companies face unique challenges and opportunities to innovate. To be successful with limited investment in the fragmented women’s health market, emerging FemTech companies should focus on female-centric, clinically validated, technology-enabled developments across the product life cycle. By acquiring, accessing, and analyzing female health data — particularly in under-researched conditions — they can generate the clinical evidence needed to properly measure outcomes.
Collaboration between hardware and software companies can enrich FemTech evidence-generation capabilities, with real-time outcome measurements expanding and accelerating research and development. For example, Aavia’s birth control smart case sends sensor data to the user’s phone to remind them when to take the pill. Using the Aavia app, users can manually track their cycle, physical symptoms, and mood, and access a user community and sessions with medical advisors. Insights based on smartphone and user-reported data can then be used to further refine the product and build opportunities for other solutions.
Strategic partnerships with health systems and providers can also strengthen a FemTech company’s marketplace position. The pregnancy app Babyscripts, for instance, helps more mothers address unmet needs across the care journey, thanks to partnerships with providers.6 And some clinical decision support tools for labor and delivery help check provider bias, improving health equity in care delivery.7
2. Build a cohesive, accessible experience that facilitates high engagement.
By replacing medicine’s one-size-fits-all approach with a consumer-centered approach, FemTech companies can identify and engage with people who have different clinical, psychological, and experiential healthcare needs and varying levels of digital literacy and access to services. To achieve a seamless experience for patients and providers alike, companies must understand their pain points, stay agile, and adjust based on early feedback.
For instance, Tia — a membership-based integrated care model — fuses primary care, mental health, and gynecological care with other evidence-based wellness services such as acupuncture in one seamless, coordinated experience to provide a “one-stop-shop” for women’s healthcare needs.
Kindbody, a health tech company that offers fertility services and treatments, is another example. By focusing on calendar flexibility and adapting to patient behaviors, the company individualizes user experiences. Through a recently announced partnership, Kindbody offers Walmart employees integrated access to fertility, surrogacy, and adoption support at 30 clinics across the U.S.
3. Reduce stigma and amplify FemTech’s social impact with collaborative marketing initiatives and new business models.
Increasing awareness through educational campaigns, social media, and direct-to-consumer engagement have been effective ways to generate social impact in FemTech. Innovators have enhanced the journey of breastfeeding moms — especially those who are first-time, working, or traveling moms — through breastfeeding and mobile lactation apps, wearable devices, online communities such as The Lactation Network, and breast milk shipping services.
Building collaborative marketing efforts helps lessen the stigma associated with certain health conditions. Until recently, social media platforms frequently banned or flagged FemTech company content for seeming “offensive” or “inappropriate.” For seed-stage FemTech startups, which often face male-dominated venture capital firms, attracting funding becomes even more challenging without access to wider marketing platforms or social media channels.
To address these issues, more companies now work together in countering media platform algorithms, launching individualized social marketing campaigns, and creating a new social universe that normalizes such taboo topics as menopause, pelvic health, and sexual wellness.8,9 Many investment companies have established women’s health-focused funds and are building specialty groups that focus on FemTech product evaluation.
Breaking down barriers to care for underserved populations has in many cases required disruptive business models. Early-stage FemTech companies largely pursued a B2C approach, engaging directly with consumers to build their user bases and generate data needed to validate an enterprise model. Today, more companies rely on a combination of B2C and B2B models to enable multiple revenue streams as their consumer bases grow.
For example, the Flo app initially monetized its recurring B2C subscription revenues from users tracking their menstrual cycles, and now it’s working with employers to offer health benefits to their employees. Similarly, Maven Clinic partnered with health plans and pharmacy benefit managers during COVID-19. It has since leveraged the value of telemedicine care providers and expanded operations based on learnings from both B2B and B2C models.
Ultimately, FemTech companies can help ensure long-term growth by pursuing value-based care. With more health data generated through digital wearables and remote monitoring, they can work hand-in-hand with payers and policymakers to develop more comprehensive patient performance evaluation guidelines. With such extensive collaboration across the board, these newer business models will be more sustainable.
Increased investment in FemTech could ultimately improve health equity and lower costs by reaching underserved and marginalized groups with tailored care. While the current economic climate may present funding challenges, FemTech remains a growing market opportunity to address long-overlooked women’s health issues through innovative research and solutions.
Co-authored by Maya Desai, Maya Weber, and Junchi Lu
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