The rise of femtech
Only 1% of the funding for medical research and development will be aimed at women’s health this year. That is despite women spending nearly twice as much on healthcare as men, and often being the decision-maker for health-related decisions in a household.
However, a collection of female-led companies are trying to tackle that imbalance.
A decade ago the co-founder of Clue, Ida Tin, coined the term “femtech” – female technology. Clue launched an app that tracks a woman’s period.
Audrey Tsang, Clue’s co-chief executive, said that important health issues are being “categorically marginalised and under-diagnosed” because so little is still being spent on R&D in this area.
She added: “The health concerns of women and people with cycles are categorically marginalised and under-diagnosed, and as a result go untreated and remain misunderstood. Research and innovation in the space lags what is necessary to close these gaps in health equity.
“We know the need is there, and we are very confident in the future of women’s health being brighter thanks to more female-led and backed companies building the personalised, accessible solutions we know we need.”
Clue raised €8.4 million (£7.3 million) in a fundraising earlier this year, attracting more than 5,000 retail investors through crowdfunding. 86 per cent of the investors were women, a record proportion for a fundraising on Crowdcube.
Clue is one of a collection of companies driving the rapid growth of femtech. The global femtech market was estimated at $51 billion (£42 billion) in 2021. But that is set to treble to $103 billion by 2030.
Lucy Purdon, a senior tech policy fellow at Mozilla Foundation, the not-for-profit research group, said: “It is understandable that women are increasingly taking matters into their own hands and turning to technology to seek information, manage and improve their health, wellness, and sexual pleasure. This is a new market where there is potentially a lot of money to be made, says There are increasing calls for government support to develop new business models that do not rely on monetising data.
“On the one hand, products collectively known as “FemTech” are helping to open the conversation about women’s health and break barriers and taboos. On the other hand, FemTech products rely on women inputting a lot of intimate information about themselves- a goldmine for companies where the business model is collecting and monetising data rather than improving women’s health.”
However, there are concerns that a lack of government support and regulation on advertising could hold the industry back. A new study by the Mozilla Foundation found that femtech had issues with public trust, online advertising and protecting data.
The study – called Unfinished Business: Incorporating a Gender Perspective into Digital Advertising Reform in the UK and EU – covered 1,000 women and femtech users across the UK. It found that 82% of respondents were unclear about how reproductive apps were safeguarding users’ data, over 60% showed distrust in the apps’ ability to safeguard their privacy and 44% had deleted an app due to privacy concerns.
“The UK should firstly recognise the importance of protecting women’s data as a safety issue,” said Purdon. “Maintaining control over personal and intimate information is paramount for women’s safety, particularly in situations where they are temporarily vulnerable.
“As some technology is phased out, other tracking methods surface, leading to a cat-and-mouse game between those actors trying to improve online protections and those trying to work around them or find loopholes.
“There is a clear desire for advertising models that rely less on personal data and tracking people across services, however these are still a work in progress.”
Lloyd Price, the founder and chief executive of Hive Health, a healthtech consultancy, said that three trends are likely to emerge in femtech in the UK. Firstly, products and services will become more personalised and data-driven, thanks to the increasing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. This will allow women to get more accurate and tailored insights into their health and wellbeing.
Secondly, products and services will become more integrated with each other, making it easier for women to manage their health and wellbeing holistically. For example, there could be platforms that offer a range of products and services, such as menstrual cycle tracking, fertility tracking, and contraception management.
Thirdly, femtech will become accessible and affordable. “The sector is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the coming years, and we can expect to see more personalised, data-driven, integrated, and accessible FemTech products and services in the future,” Price said.