Femtech innovators are leading the way on personalised, consumer-focused solutions specifically targeting women’s health needs.
Dr Colleen Fogarty Draper is the co-founder and CEO of PhenomX Health, a pioneer in perimenopausal health and nutrition. The startup, which was founded in 2021, is a platform “for women who wish to know more about their personal experience during this life transition and how to treat their health symptoms using nutrition therapies for a healthy and empowered ageing experience”.
It is one of many businesses in a burgeoning category that has experienced incredible growth over the past few years.
A burgeoning category with space for all
Despite the fact that the term was only coined in 2016 – by entrepreneur and Clue CEO Ida Tin –femtech has a market size that is estimated to be worth anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion, according to analysis by McKinsey.
However, the same report found that femtech companies currently receive just 3% of all digital health funding.
“The [personalised nutrition] industry is just beginning to realise how important it is to target women, since they are the largest purchasers of personalised nutrition and health for themselves, as well as their families,” said Draper.
She highlighted the work of investor groups such as Goddess Gaia Ventures and Portfolia, which are stepping up to specifically support femtech.
An unequal history: Lack of female-specific research
Draper highlighted the historical lack of female-specific research as a major challenge for the sector, citing a 2020 study that found women experienced twice as many adverse reactions to drugs as men.
“Historically… results were analysed by including males and females in the same group and statistically adjusting for their differences to sufficiently normalise the data so that both groups could be included in one larger group to be analysed,” she said. “Higher numbers of people in the same group equated to stronger statistical results.
“Unfortunately, this also equated to serious consequences, such as women experiencing adverse drug reactions nearly twice as often as men. The NIH [US-based National Institutes of Health] now requires sex as a biological variable to be considered in all research. This is an important step in the right direction.”
She pointed to an expanding body of research, including global impact publications “on pregnancy, preconception, lactation, fertility, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, bone health, and even sports nutrition”.
She added: “With more and more digital health products, like the one we are building at PhenomX Health, we are in a position to collect data that help the end user which can concurrently be used to research impact of nutrition interventions on health outcomes.
“This is a less expensive way to conduct clinical studies, which may not replace classic clinic research but can augment and substantiate research to propel the field forward.”
Femtech startups in the UK, France, and Switzerland
Draper conceded that within the startup community, there have been “improved efforts” to support women’s health entrepreneurs in the femtech arena.
She said: “There are new accelerator programmes, such as Tech4Eva, the first femtech accelerator in Switzerland; Station F, Paris’s startup megacampus, [which] initiated a femtech programme last year; and Femtech Lab in the UK, which helps gear up new startups to obtain their first rounds of funding.
“These programmes are helping founders take the early steps they need to build meaningful business enterprises.
“What was different before this? Women’s health startup ideas were often squashed in favour of more masculine solutions. This natural, subconscious bias has occurred as most investors and even startup coaches are male.”
However, she highlighted the fact that femtech companies “are supported by men and women”, adding: “The truth is, the more we collaborative inclusively, the more likely we will be to successfully commercialise meaningful solutions to women’s health challenges.”
Investing in female-focused research
What might these meaningful solutions look like?
“I do think brands need to find ways to invest in the research needed to cover the female life cycle,” said Draper. “It would be great to see how programmes could be developed that could incentivise this, since direct-to-consumer brands often lack the funds to invest in the research that is needed.
She added: “In recent years, more and more research has been conducted on the menstrual cycle and nutrition, including athletic performance; and now we see publications in the area of menopause and the Mediterranean diet.
“A recent study of over 100,000 women on menopause symptoms is very encouraging.”