FemTech is a double-edged sword. Here’s how to use it the right way

The term FemTech was coined by the Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin in 2016. She was pitching Clue, a fertility cycle tracking app, to a group of investors, majority of them male. Tin justified the pressing need for such a term two years later in a Geekettes panel: “Investors can then say, ‘I have four FemTech companies in my portfolio’ instead of ‘I have a company for women peeing in their pants.’ That’s hard for a male investor to say.”

Generated to put male investors at ease or not, the term FemTech has since evolved into a business world staple. FemTech refers to the subset of medical technology products and services, conventionally associated to the reproductive health of cisgender women; menstruation and period care, fertility and sexual wellness, pregnancy and post-pregnancy, pelvic health, and menopause. On top of that, the element of consumer-centrism and the vital role of technology are seen as some of the major characteristics of the industry, as reported by McKinsey & Company in 2022.  FemTech companies are challengers in their field, and the industry is buzzing with innovation and investment. The funding attracted by FemTech companies, including venture capital, private equity, debt, and IPOs, has grown by more than $1 billion from 2019 to 2021, reaching $2.5 billion by the end of 2021.  A frequently quoted report has estimated the global FemTech market to reach a $50 billion valuation by 2025.

A market worth of $50 billion sure sounds grand. But put into perspective, the market value of Meta (formerly known as Facebook), even after a recent collapse, is over five times larger than that as of October 2022. For a market that has the potential to serve half of the world’s population, the valuation suddenly seems quite modest. On top of that, the 10% CAGR of FemTech is dwarfed by the growth rates of industries like Healthcare Information and Technology (31.79%; CAGR in Net Income of last 5 years), or Software Systems and Applications (23.04%). Yet, aren’t most FemTech companies a quintessential part of these industries?

Mimicking a frequent reaction to women’s day – Why is there no men’s day? – FemTech has experienced its share of backlash from the greedy patrons of justice. Why isn’t there MenTech? That is, why are cisgender men assumed to be the “average users” for any technology? To debunk the critiques, we need to understand that, unlike women’s day, FemTech isn’t here to give picturesque bouquets and empty promises to those that identify as women. Instead, the FemTech industry is here to solve an actual, acute health crisis.

At Borski Fund, when we talk about FemTech, we talk about the future of women’s health. We talk about an industry that is tackling women’s health challenges at a pace and way unforeseen, with every product more innovative than the next. Although the FemTech field is pristinely new, and has thus undergone little research, there is evidence that women are benefiting from the offset of new technologies. The following sections will untangle some of the eminent benefits that we witness in FemTech.

  1. FemTech creates communities of empowerment

The architects behind FemTech brands understand that change is all about community. Education and knowledge sharing platforms, as well as innovative applications are quickly emerging to a market where women are 75% more likely to use digital resources for healthcare than men. We now witness the emergence of platforms, like the Amsterdam-based Cycle care, that offer personalized health advice for women, both online and offline.

Beyond communication, Brand-related communication platforms also help women receive medical consultation and information with increased preciseness. The female hygiene brand Daye offers women the opportunity to send their used tampon out to get tested for STIs, vaginal infections, and fertility. The results are communicated to the women online through Daye’s platform. “Tampons,” the company states with pride, “take more accurate samples than a standard swab.” Besides, under the umbrella term of FemTech, it surely is easier to talk about these innovations around the investment table, too.

  1. The innovative leap in female hygiene benefits both social and climate causes

The market for female menstrual hygiene has long suffered from a lack of penetration and innovation, largely due to an aging population and the domination of big players like P&G’s Always and J&J’s o.b.  The severity of the female health gap, and, largely, the booming FemTech industry, have pushed for the entry of new innovations into the outdated market.

First, companies are finally cutting back on permanent waste. DAME, a UK female hygiene pioneer, has invented a reusable tampon applicator. Other FemTech start-ups like Daye or Planera have come up with waste-reducing solutions, from biodegradable tampon applications to flushable menstrual pads.

Yet, innovations in the female hygiene ecosystem are not only improving the lives of the western, middle-class consumers that can afford to buy the organic cotton tampons. With the right investments, they hold the potential in democratizing female health care on a global scale.

Leak proof underwear is revolutionizing the way we think about menstrual care within the social realm. Social enterprises are addressing the gaps in affordable and accessible products by developing products targeted to economically poorer regions, such as underwear into which cotton wool or other absorbent material can be placed.  In the recent Pay for a Period campaign, the Amsterdam-based Yoni Care has teamed up with the Dutch non-profit Armoedefonds to alleviate menstrual poverty.

into the dusted roots of PMS pain relief. For decades, the persisting cure to period pain has been found in painkillers or hormonal birth control. Now, pioneering alternatives from CBD-infused oils and tampons, to hormonal supplements offer an effective and natural relief to cramps.  Yoni Care is taking part in vaginal microbiome research to develop products that will enhance vulvar and vaginal health.

Besides, the untarnished ingenuity expands beyond period care. In the vast market for incontinence products, expected to reach $16.1 billion in 2024, innovation is uplifting the quality of life for myriads of women. Our portfolio company MyInnovo, for one, has created a smart pair of non-invasive technology that trains the pelvic floor area and fights incontinence by eliminating bladder leaks for good. Innovation and adoption in the SUI-category will be enhanced by consolidation of various solutions tackling the pelvic floor.

The female hygiene companies mentioned in this section are each an excellent showcase of diverse teams imagining better solutions for the users and for the planet.

  1. There’s power in the supplement

Akin to other segments of the wellness industry, FemTech is tailoring health supplements to women’s needs. From hormone-balancing tablets for menopause, to natural pain relievers for PMS, supplements that respond to women’s health challenges are sweeping over the ecosystem. Additionally, when it comes to the trend of community building, supplement companies are no outlier. Many companies that have a core focus on supplements, like the Belgian Guud Woman or the UK-based Health&Her, are expanding their proposition with an app or a community platform.

The supplement space is also in active interplay with other FemTech ventures.  Last February, our portfolio company Inne sealed a strategic partnership with Hologram Sciences. Inne, headquartered in Germany, is the world’s first at-home non-invasive fertility tracking tool. The company has developed saliva strips that measure hormone levels, enabling women to independently track their fertility in a diagnostic tracking platform. The U.S. Hologram Sciences utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to develop supplements on a tailor made approach. Besides, the company has recently moved its strategic position closer to FemTech by launching Phenology, a “one stop destination for menopause”. The saliva test strip used by Inne has wide potential for further use in testing for other health conditions, aligning perfectly with the Hologram Sciences roadmap, a press release on the partnership pointed out.

The rise of supplements to meet the health challenges of women are yet another showcase of how women’s medical treatment is completely reimagined through FemTech.

  1. Women’s wellbeing benefits the society as a whole

Suffice it to say that the benefits of investing in FemTech extend beyond just women’s health. Innovations focusing on fertility, for one, impact entire families. Moreover, empowering women in positions of power makes our society as a whole flourish. In a 2022 report, McKinsey & Company highlight the fact that women tend to enter menopause around the same time that they enter executive roles at companies. Thus, FemTech innovations that promote hormonal balance could be key in supporting more women in becoming leaders, inventors, investors, founders, and all in all healthier human beings.

The FemTech space needs investment

The reason for the term FemTech, as Ida Tin has justified it, exemplifies how female anatomy remains stigmatized and women’s health continues to suffer from sexism. For years, women have received systemically and predominantly less attention in medical trials than their male counterparts. Yet we are finally starting to see that paradigm shift.

FemTech is not about repositioning existing tech and making it pink. Instead, like presented through the above examples and many more, FemTech is here to revolutionize the way in which we view women’s health in a world where women have for decades received systemically and predominantly less attention in medical trials than men.

“FemTech is a double-edged sword”, Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, said in a BBC interview in 2019.  “It only becomes a problem if it becomes something that only female VCs invest in, that only female entrepreneurs work on, that only women buy.” A 2018 article by Frost echoes a similar prayer for the FemTech industry. “The potential of FemTech is endless,” the article acknowledges. “The key barrier is that it is labelled as a niche market, and hence often overlooked as just another product or service in the women’s health portfolio.”

Innovations in FemTech have the tools to improve the lives of countless women. Or, for those that do want the count,  FemTech has the potential to affect the lives of all four billion women that make up 49.6% the global population. An investment in FemTech is an investment in female empowerment. Dear FemTech, please don’t be yet another portrait of how our society values feminine values and interests at a discounted rate. We need FemTech, and FemTech needs investment.

In the last three years, Borski Fund has been committed to investing in companies in the FemTech space. In line with our vision, we are calling all start-ups focusing on the improvement of female health in Europe. We’d love to hear from you!