Although half the world’s population is female, “femtech” – products and services catering to women’s health and wellness – has long been considered by tech giants as too niche. But with the market projected to grow by more than 13 percent annually, reaching $75 billion by 2027, it appears that femtech’s moment has finally arrived.
The question now is whether the industry will capitalize on the opportunity.
The term femtech was coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, cofounder and CEO of the menstrual cycle tracking app, Clue. Until a few years ago, global investment in the sector totaled less than $100 million a year. Between 2011 and 2020, only three percent of US digital health deals were given to tech companies geared toward women.
Today, things are changing. In 2021, 231 femtech deals were struck, up from just 23 a decade earlier, and investment in femtech applications has surpassed $1 billion. In the Middle East and North Africa, the industry’s value is projected to top $3.8 billion by 2031, and more than a third of the region’s femtech firms are located in the United Arab Emirates.
Best of all, 70 percent of femtech companies have at least one female founder, and venture capitalist firms such as Portfolia, an investment fund designed by women for women, are creating more opportunities. Even celebrities are supporting these trends. Last year, Oprah Winfrey backed Maven Clinic, a telemedicine-based virtual clinic for women’s health, as an investor in its Series D round.
Still, while the market is maturing, the road to parity remains rocky. Despite the global need for female-oriented health technologies, overcoming venture capitalists’ preference for male-dominated tech is a constant struggle. In 2021, female-founded businesses received just two percent of the $330 billion in venture funding. This despite the fact that startups founded and cofounded by women generate 10 percent more in cumulative revenue than male-founded businesses, and they do so while raising half the money of their male counterparts.
Given these numbers, it’s no wonder that 43 percent of female business leaders say they feel burned out compared to 31 percent of male leaders. The male-centric funding ecosystem has made it especially hard for femtech founders pitching female-oriented products to men unable to relate.
So far, femtech has focused most of its resources on reproductive health, which constitutes 51 percent of the industry. But other healthcare areas, particularly menstrual health, are ripe for development (only 14 percent of femtech companies currently focus on this issue).
Most women get a period, and menstrual and feminine hygiene is a $43 billion market. Why, then, has the industry failed to improve or invest in products that actually cater to women’s comfort?
The first modern tampon was patented in 1931 and modern pads date to 1956. Since then, the products have barely changed. Considering what’s been achieved in subsequent decades – moon landings, mobile phones, the internet – the failure to reengineer these essential hygiene items is disturbing.
Yet the need is far greater than the current output. About 80 percent of women worldwide experience period pain, and on average a woman spends 10 years on her period during her lifetime. That’s a lot of discomfort that femtech hasn’t even started to address.
Menstruation has noticeable effects on mental health, energy levels, nutrition, and overall daily performance. In sports, women have started raising the issue. In 2015, British tennis player Heather Watson attributed her poor play at the Australian Open to her period. Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui echoed the same at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
To revolutionize women’s health, and to make its mark on the global economy, femtech needs to expand its scope of research in menstruation and establish tailored solutions for women.
Modern medicine was developed based on the male physiology. It wasn’t until 1993 that women were allowed to participate in clinical trials. A November 2022 report from Reckitt, which makes Nurofen pain-relief medication, found that one in six women feel pain every day, and one in two feel that their pain has been dismissed because of their gender.
Closing this gap will require significant work. More funding is required for proper research and clinical trials. Femtech companies, which are changing how we view women’s healthcare, can lead these efforts. It’s time for women to make the executive decisions about women’s bodies.
Alexandra de Cramer is a journalist based in Istanbul. She reported on the Arab Spring from Beirut as a Middle East correspondent for Milliyet newspaper. Her work ranges from current affairs to culture, and has been featured in Monocle, Courier Magazine, Maison Francaise, and Istanbul Art News.