FemTech -Necessity is the mother of all invention
For decades medical research has been based on data from the male body, however, we now know that women’s bodies respond in very different ways to drugs and disease. This research and application gap is starting to be recognised and thankfully the landscape is starting to change after all women do account for 50% of the global population.
We are going to witness a massive explosion in female health solutions over the next five years. In that time FemTech is predicted to grow at around 15% CAGR with solutions around mental health, ovarian health, menstrual health and menopause health to name but a few. More female founders who connect and understand the different health challenges women face are starting businesses to help fill the female health gap in different ways. However, this is not for the faint of heart as the female founders must overcome other barriers such as the bias in capital funding, access to business loans and support for childcare to help free up women’s time.
The funding divide is real
In the UK, there is a widening funding gap between male-founded and female-founded companies. In 2020, just 2.3% of VC funding went to women-led start-ups and this fell to 1.7% in 2021. There is additional research conducted by Extended Ventures which also spotlights the huge investment gap facing diverse founders over the past decade according to race, gender and educational background, with all-ethnic teams and female entrepreneurs receiving just a fraction of available funding versus all-white teams and male founders. The finding of baked-in bias holds true across all funding stages, per the findings.
Diversity in investment
Lack of diversity across the capital landscape, angel, venture capital (VC) or private equity (PE) is no secret, at present, it is a male-dominated space, in the US, Europe and globally. In 2019 women comprise 30% of venture capital personnel – a small increase from 27% in 2017. Whilst this is encouraging and implies more representation, it still lags behind the average of UK working professionals. All groups of humans have similar biases, naturally gravitating to people and scenarios that they can personally relate to; this extends to bias around investment decisions, intentional or not. We need more female investors to be in these positions as they can personally understand the impact of innovations, specifically targeting female health.
Female VCs and female health
After years of male investors ignoring the female health space, it is finally being recognised as a hotbed for investment due to its predicted growth. Thankfully, more women are coming into the female health investment industry and more funds are also headed by female investors. This is needed to drive/ensure inclusivity and unbiased access to the industry and will need historic investment for innovation and collaboration. In order to build towards the brave new world that prioritises individual female needs in healthcare; there needs to be a movement including, not just the front-line activists championing and fighting for equality in female health but also activist angels, VCs and PEs providing funding support to support the visionary founders, creating tech to aid female health. Right now, is a critical time to keep taking those meaningful steps to bridge the gender health gap.
With that here are some of the UK FemTech founders bridging the gender health gap.
Behind every good woman, is women
Sarah Bolt, Founder of Forth has always been part of the movement to highlight and bridge the female gender data and health inequality gap. Forth's mission is to empower women to become experts on their own body through scientific knowledge and understanding. Historically, women’s bodies were deemed too complicated for clinical trials due to the complexities of their hormone network. This has resulted in women reacting differently to drugs and often misdiagnosed as they do not present with the same symptoms as men.
It was only six years ago that the National Institutes of Health required medical investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. But there is still a long way to go in closing the gender data gap in health.
Forth’s contribution to closing this gap in data is their ground-breaking solution MyFORM™. An advanced female hormone blood test that addresses the lack of clinical insight from current single day hormone blood tests. These single-day tests assume every woman has an average length cycle of 28 days and offer little in the way of personalisation.
Personalised hormone health barometer
MyFORM uses a combination of blood analysis, advanced mathematical modelling and endocrinology expertise to scientifically map how a woman’s hormones are fluctuating across their entire menstrual cycle rather than a single day.
With two blood tests taken on day 14 and day 21, MyFORM is able to predict the woman’s own cycle length, creating charts of her 4 key female hormones across her menstrual cycle, as well as providing personalised ranges for each hormone.
Forth has also developed a unique way to assess a woman’s ovarian health. The Forth Ovarian Response Metric (FORM) takes the results from the blood tests to provide a score on how well a woman’s ovaries are responding to her control hormones. A score above 75 indicates a healthy hormone network. This is particularly useful for women entering perimenopause when their ovaries begin to become less responsive.
The product is designed for women who are experiencing natural menstrual cycles and not using any hormonal treatments such as the pill, Mirena coil or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It is particularly useful for:
● Women who want to check for hormone imbalance
● Women in their 40s who want to understand if the symptoms they are experiencing is due to perimenopause
● To identify or manage an existing hormone related condition.
● Women who are thinking of starting a family and want reassurance that their hormones are fluctuating as expected.
● Exercisers, athletes and dancers who want to perform to their personal best throughout their cycle and ensure their hormones have not been compromised by their training load and fuelling strategies.
● Women whose menstrual cycles have recently resumed following recovery from RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport), discontinuation of hormonal contraception or in the postnatal period.
The highly accurate, personalised results are based on eight hormone measurements, which are translated through AI and delivered to a personalised digital dashboard on the Forth app. This offers scientific data and actionable insights as hormones are intrinsically linked to a woman’s wellbeing and have an important role to play not only in fertility but in heart health, bone health, the nervous system and many more.
Dr Chen Mao Davies started LatchAid after facing her own struggles with breastfeeding, pain and subsequent depression. She realised that mothers needed maternal support fit for the 21st century; a smart, on-hand, interactive way to learn vital and practical breastfeeding skills.
And with the pandemic currently paralysing the predominantly face-to-face support model in place, the app is more necessary now than ever.
LatchAid supports breastfeeding mums and their families through interactive 3D technology, Artificial Intelligence, virtual peer support groups and live healthcare specialists to combat, amongst other things, problems experienced with the latching technique. The app prides itself on being inherently accessible and democratic, empowering women everywhere, regardless of their economic or environmental circumstances.
As well as positive health outcomes for mothers and babies, breastfeeding offers social, economic, and environmental benefits. However, the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. 90% of women give up breastfeeding before they want to because of pain, health issues, and/or lack of support. Unsuccessful breastfeeding costs society $1bn per day globally
LatchAid is a pioneering app which utilises cutting-edge 3D interactive technology to help mothers learn breastfeeding skills intuitively from 3D avatars; virtual peer support groups to connect mothers to a close-knit peer-to-peer support network; and an AI-powered virtual supporter chatbot, leveraging empathetic AI and 1-1 live expert chats, all to provide users with personalised expertise and companionship, 24/7. It is available on the App Store.
Tania Boler started the Elvie after working on women’s health policy for global NGOs and also the United Nations. Boler believes the release of health products targeting a female audience must go alongside the breaking down of societal stigmatisation of women’s health.
Elvie is an international women’s healthcare company providing products which take women’s tech out of the dark ages.
One product is the sleek and technically innovative breast pump. Unlike the bulky, noisy and cabled market competition, the Elvie breast pump is the smallest and lightest wearable electric breast pump on the market. It’s silent, wire free, fully electric and fits subtly into a nursing bra ensuring new mothers can pump whilst moving around comfortably. The pump connects to a mobile app which releases a notification when the bottles are filled. The app can also be used to adjust the suction, monitor pumping history, monitor real-time milk levels and pause and start pumping. The product also includes bra adjusters to ensure less pressure on the breast.
Another product by Elvie is the pelvic floor trainer. Now available on the NHS, this product connects to the Elvie app and encourages training with fun games for 5 minutes, 3 times a week. The trainer is fully waterproof, rechargeable and covered with medical-grade silicone so it is safe to use with an IUD and coil. The app encourages use with 4 different skill levels and 6 different exercise types including strength and lift.
Kim Palmer founded the women’s mental health app Clementine in 2017 which uses hypnotherapy to lower stress levels and build confidence. There is both a free and subscription-based app with sleep sessions, confidence courses, anti-anxiety courses and mantras. Kim Palmer the founder suffered with panic attacks during pregnancy and this inspired the creation of the app.
Deborah Brock founded Nua Fertility following the challenges she had through her own fertility journey. Following her own successful pregnancy through optimising diet, she started researching the connection between our gut microbiome and our reproductive health. After three years of research, Deborah developed two fertility supplements – one for men and one for women – that focus on the microbiome to optimise fertility health.
Nua fertility supplements, have a microbiome focus and are designed to support the nutritional needs of men and women when trying to conceive. Nua works with global manufacturers to create NuaBiome Women. This combines fertility-supporting vitamins and minerals with a blend of high-quality strains of good bacteria to promote healthy conception, egg health, and foetal development. The friendly bacteria offer three significant benefits: absorption of essential fertility vitamins and nutrients; strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation in the body. A healthy microbiome is essential to optimise fertility.
So here are just some of the visionary female founders, identifying gaps in female health support, underserving approximately 50 % of the global population. These female founders have fought tenaciously to gain funding for their propositions and succeeded despite the obstacles due to the baked-in bias and lack of diversity across the business capital arena. More female investors need to be appointed as they can personally understand the impact of female health tech innovations. Let the activists keep beating the drum around female health inequalities. As we continue to make these meaningful steps to bridge the gender health gap we can remember that necessity is the mother of all invention.