How Femtech Innovations Can Help Break Taboos Around Women’s Health
Here's why we're investing more in women's health, an area traditionally ignored because of taboos.
By Winnie Lau
Last Updated: December 8, 2021
Published: October 27, 2021
“Should I freeze my eggs?” I'm not the first mid-twentysomething to wonder whether I should be doing this, and I’m not alone in searching for trustworthy advice around fertility and the implications of our choices.
As I’ve learned, women in key life stages often end up turning to their closest friends—or Google—for answers to important health questions.
A teen might search: “What’s that fluid coming out of me?”
Young adults often ask: “What’s the best birth control with no side effects?” Women may then spend years asking around, trying different pills, IUDs, and other options before landing on one that works for them.
During menopause, women even wonder: “Can micro-dosing testosterone *really* help manage my hot flashes?”
Although women are responsible for making 80% of healthcare decisions and spend 29% more on healthcare compared to men, the medical industry has traditionally underinvested in solutions for women. This gap means there’s an opportunity to innovate and invest more in femtech startups that address the pain points that women face across their entire lifecycle—not just during their reproductive years.
Analyzing women’s pain points
Not to be too much of a downer, but women endure a lot of them.
- UTIs: Every year, 8 million women get UTIs; 45% of these infections come back in a year
- Infertility: 1 in 8 couples have trouble conceiving—that’s 6.7 million people each year
- Miscarriages: 10% to 20% of known pregnancies result in miscarriage
- Periods: 1 in 4 women have menstrual pain that requires medication, and 80% of women experience pain during menstruation at some point. For 5% to 10%, the pain is severe enough to disrupt their daily lives.
- Pelvic floor disorders: More than one-third of women are affected by at least one pelvic floor disorder.
Do women talk about these issues? Sometimes, but not always. With so much stigma attached to these pain points, women often struggle silently until it’s too late and are then expected to go about normally with their lives.
This is why femtech, a growing market involving products and services that are disrupting women’s health, deserves much more attention. These issues impact half of the world’s population but are typically underserved areas by venture capitalists who have traditionally focused only on women's fertility and pregnancy. In fact, femtech startups still only accounted for 3% of overall U.S. digital-health funding in 2020, according to Rock Health.
Femtech startups today include wearable and connected technologies that can help provide feedback around fertility, menstruation, and breastfeeding—but more innovation can be done around menopause, pelvic healthcare, chronic disease management, sexual wellness and education, and urinary health. At M13, we’re excited to support founders who are dedicated to serving women and their needs during the full spectrum of life. Together, we’re dedicated to normalizing the conversation around these taboo topics.
Here’s a closer look at five major life stages—and areas of opportunity that we’re tracking:
Are you building something interesting in women’s health or know someone who is? Please reach out to Winnie Lau at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn to chat.
Exploring femtech’s potential as a $60 billion industry
After years of suffering in silence and shame, many of these concerns are finally reaching a tipping point as a category that’s estimated to be a $60 billion industry by 2027. With potentially deep-pocketed buyers further down the line—think hospitals, big pharma, and insurance companies—women’s health is largely untapped and ready for disruption.
The importance of women’s health starts during her teenage years and continues for the length of a woman’s life, which we’ve broadly broken down into five phases. Of course, not all phases or life events will apply to every woman while many will experience more than one of these categories at any given moment.
Transitioning from girl to womanhood
The scoop: As this age group starts to go through puberty, they’re smart, digitally savvy, and share information virally among their friends. Since most are still financially dependent on their parents, this group’s willingness to pay may be lower.
Pain points: Puberty, sexuality, menstruation
Opportunities: Early messaging around positive, empowering messages and products can make a tremendous difference in how a young woman relates to and takes care of her body. Educational platforms that supplement otherwise inadequate sex-ed programs at school can teach young women about the complexities of vaginal, sexual, and urinary health early on. Informative sex-ed tools can potentially help women avoid larger issues later in life.
- August helps women reimagine their periods as a powerful time, with personal care products to reflect that ethos.
- Lessonbee tackles topics like sexual health, bullying, anorexia, and gender identity via digestible videos and gamified content, so that teens can better explore their new identities.
Forming an identity
The scoop: These are formative years that often include college, workforce training, and the formation of significant relationships in one’s professional and personal lives. Women in this age group are learning more about their sexual preferences and health, and they may be finding their potential partner.
Pain points: Mental health, stress, UTIs, STD checks, sexual health (+ previous pain points)
Opportunities in fertility: Most women don’t think they’re infertile and by the time they do, IVF and other fertility treatments are extremely costly and invasive. Some startups are enabling women to be more proactive about their fertility and reproductive health.
Examples: Companies such as Kindbody, Modern Fertility, and Lilia make it so that women can easily prioritize their fertility before they need to worry about it, and be educated around egg freezing options, process, and costs if needed.
Opportunities in sexual health:
Every year, 60 million women will have a vaginal infection. Within a year, bacterial vaginosis (BV) has a 70% recurrence, followed by UTIs at 45% and yeast infections at 35%. Most women treat them with antibiotics and antifungals prescribed by their doctors, but they’re not always effective and often have other undesirable side effects. Additionally, symptom-tracking apps can help catch endometriosis symptoms early.
- Jingu targets UTI prevention through non-prescription supplements that build vaginal immunity against infections.
- Evvy’s at-home test uses metagenomic sequencing technology to help women better understand and strengthen the defense of their individual vaginal microbiome. Personalized results help craft a custom wellness plan, with insights about probiotics and supplements, lifestyle changes, further resources, etc.
- Women often have to try out different types of birth control because of side effects they experience. At M13, we invested in adyn, which uses your biology to personalize your birth control choice by assessing genetic risk for two of the most serious side effects: blood clots and depression.
Balancing career and family
The scoop: These women are gaining or have achieved some footing in their career; they may or may not be starting families. They may also be an active member of the sandwich generation, caring for their aging parents. Although women in this age group have the highest willingness to pay, they are often inundated with competing priorities and thus demand the most convenient experience. Time is their most limited resource.
Pain points: Infertility, motherhood, postpartum depression and/or anxiety, breastfeeding difficulty, perimenopause, caregiving
Opportunities: There’s a need for more family-planning platforms and services that focus on fertility, pregnancy, childcare, and caregiving. There’s also demand for programs that work with employers and insurance companies to help sponsor and reimburse fertility treatments, caregiving support, and other parenting resources. This frees up time and money, allowing women to better balance conflicting priorities.
- Expectful’s go-to wellness platform for motherhood resources, including meditation, wellness content, mom groups, product discovery, and services.
- Given the importance of gut microbiome to one’s overall health and immune system, Tiny Health’s at-home test kit allows mothers to actively monitor and track gut health for the baby before birth (via the mother’s stool samples) and in the baby’s development. Personalized results will be supplemented with actionable recommendations and access to health coaches.
- As millennials (both men and women) try to balance it all—careers, marriage, childcare, and personal lives—relationship and intimacy-focused apps such as Agape, Coral, and Dipsea help couples deepen their emotional connection and maintain sexual chemistry.
Finally finding yourself
The scoop: Women in this age group are working, balancing families that are growing and becoming more complex in their needs. Children may also be leaving the house and becoming independent. Women may also be undergoing significant life changes, including menopause, divorce, and so forth. By 2030, the median age in the U.S will be 40 (today it’s 37), and there will be more women between 40 and 64 than under the age of 18.
Pain points: Menopause during the height of a woman’s career while juggling increased demands for caregiving, empty nest syndrome
Opportunities: Menopause affects women differently, but there’s a strong need for community support, communication, holistic health approaches, along with traditional medical intervention such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
- We’re such strong believers in this market that we’ve incubated Kindra, the complete menopause wellness brand, providing estrogen-free supplements and products to help manage symptoms such as vaginal dryness, low libido, brain fog, hot flashes, night sweats, and more.
- Evernow takes a more prescription-focused approach, allowing women to receive customized treatments of estrogen pills, patches, and creams following a telehealth consultation.
- Other startups such as Elektra Health, Lisa Health, and Alloy support a women’s holistic menopause journey by providing evidence-based educational expertise and virtual care offerings to manage symptoms. More importantly, these companies create a community and safe space for women to connect with one another during this time.
- Embr’s wearable Wave tracks body temperatures to make you warmer or cooler.
- Revel mitigates loneliness with online and offline communities for women over 50 as they choose to age in place.
Living your best life
The scoop: Women may be still working, winding down their careers, or beginning a second career as freelancers, gig economy workers, resellers, or other interest-based side hustle. Today, nearly one-third of gig economy workers (1099 contractors) are over the age of 55. Activities—and concerns—may include travel, self-care, and taking care of grandchildren.
Pain points: Chronic diseases (cardiovascular, arthritis, osteoporosis), cancer (ovarian, breast, uterine, and more), endometriosis, loneliness
Opportunities: Early detection and screening is always ready for disruption. By harnessing the power of AI-powered healthcare solutions to train algorithms on medical data sets, emerging tech can help detect early signs of diseases and cancer.
- Bold offers a digital health and fitness platform to help prevent chronic health problems.
- Paloma Health provides hypothryoid care and prescriptions online from the best thyroid specialists—regardless of your insurance status.
- Hashiona is the first all-in-one technology stop for patients with Hashimoto’s, a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid.
What’s next for innovations in femtech
At M13, we’re excited by next-generation consumer technology that increases access and improves affordability of women’s health solutions—especially for age groups that have felt largely ignored by the current options. As investors in health and wellness startups like Kindra, adyn, Rae, Form Health, and Spora Health, we see so much more potential in using technology and data to improve the lives of women who are still largely underserved in healthcare.
We believe companies that leverage innovative technology—whether in its infrastructure, data, AI, or machine learning algorithms—can build a long-term competitive advantage. A few examples we are tracking:
- Verticalized telehealth and digital therapeutics that address taboo topics such as abortion or menopause. While men have been able to use telehealth to get prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction, we want to invest in the Roman and Hims equivalent for women’s health.
- At-home diagnostics tests that allow women to better understand their overall hormonal health, sexual health, and reproductive health. The convenience of at-home lab tests allow women to be more proactive about their health.
- Precision healthcare and personalized medicine that help women manage their specific pain points. Since not all women experience the same symptoms during every life stage, it is important for femtech companies to make precise recommendations based on an individual’s health profile, hormone levels, and genetics.
- Communities built to support women with stigmatized health conditions create a safe space to discuss specific topics that are often ignored. Companies such as Diem and Poppy Seed Health are creating a new social universe to normalize taboo topics and bring together women going through similar issues.
Many companies are approaching this area via features or point solutions versus platforms. At M13, we are most excited about platform approaches. For example, we’d love to combine that stellar app for postpartum depression with that app for postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction, so it’s all available to users in one place. This synergy can provide better coordination and solutions to patients—and more opportunities for large corporations looking to offer these femtech solutions as employee benefits.
As we’ve seen, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to women’s health, and so much more room for innovation. Some areas that we think are interesting include:
Sexual wellness and education
Sexual, reproductive, and uterine health
Chronic disease prevention and monitoring
The golden chapter
If you're building something in women's health or know someone who is, please contact Winnie Lau at email@example.com or via LinkedIn.