Entrepreneurs reflect on 4 big trends in femtech: holistic healthcare, personalization, devices, and the move away from a niche industry
2019 has been coined femtech’s billion dollar year. As new startups crop up in the space and legacy healthcare companies demonstrate renewed interest in women’s health innovation, the buzz around femtech continues to grow. Whether the industry will reach a projected $50 billion in funding by 2025 will largely be determined by how well companies can predict trends in user needs and VC interest.
According to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and service providers working at the industry’s cutting edge, four key trends will define femtech in the year to come:
Trend 1: Shifting to a more holistic healthcare model
Trend 2: Tech-enabled, scalable personalization
Trend 3: Medical devices made for women
Trend 4: No longer a “niche” category
The rise in preventive medicine has brought with it a wave of holistic health and wellness philosophies. Holistic health aims to see patients as people rather than simply health records and draw connections between physical, mental, and emotional health. Many individuals frustrated with the dysfunction of siloed health specialists have turned to solutions that seek to identify and address the root cause of a health problem rather than simply suggesting a medication to deal with its adverse effects. One area in women’s health benefiting from this paradigm shift is fertility.
“Fertility is one of these interesting areas of medicine where it’s an art and a science,” says Marianna Zaslavsky, founder and CEO of Norka Health. “Treatment is not linear as with some other areas of medicine. Therefore, there is a lot of room for patient management as a supplement to medical treatment.”
Zaslavsky explains that a more holistic view can dramatically improve the patient experience while actually saving money for employers who sponsor healthcare: “We want to emphasize nutrition, exercise and incorporating acupuncture and stress management where needed. Even simple tracking of a women’s cycle or using an ovulation strip can improve success rates. Because patients are not supported they often overlook lower-cost strategies and instead head immediately to a clinic for a very expensive medical procedure. The patient is losing out, but the employer is too by just providing coverage for IVF without patient support. Could that person have gotten pregnant naturally by modifying these other aspects of their life? It does happen. That’s part of the model that we employ.”
Another take on holistic women’s health comes from industry up-and-comer Tia, which launched a cycle tracking app in 2017 that sought to help users identify health trends related to their own inputs. Now that same company is weaving together digital and physical health tools with a new clinic in New York City that offers “integrated gynecology, wellness and primary care under one roof.” Even industry giants like Mayo Clinic are expanding into holistic health offerings for women with a new Center for Women’s Health.
The second trend goes hand-in-hand with the rise of holistic healthcare. The key to integrated health and wellness is a thorough understanding of the factors and behaviors that influence each individual’s health outcomes. Cookie cutter health solutions miss the opportunity to deliver tailored, relevant information to each patient. With the help of AI and machine learning, entrepreneurs in women’s health are trying to personalize healthcare at scale.
“Thanks to advancements in health technology (e.g. AI, cloud-based informatics), personalized solutions have become more accessible and affordable,” says Kerranna Williamson, COO and Co-Founder of Jessie Health. “With the rise of digital tools that aid users in understanding and managing their health data, there will be a surge of solutions targeted to women to help them create health experiences that are more personal and meaningful to them and their families.”
Williamson goes on to explain the market gap that Jessie hopes to fill: “Today, the Jessie platform helps improve awareness as to what healthcare services are accessible to patients (i.e. sinus infection treatment, lactation consulting via live video consult, at-home STD testing) based on their personal data such as location, risk factors, and their digital preferences. Jessie is developing tools to help empower users to track, manage, and predict health events for themselves, their children and their aging parents all the while providing the most affordable and reputable solutions to meet their needs.”
Mylene Yao, CEO and Co-Founder of Univfy, also points to the enormous potential of technology—particularly AI—to improve personalized care solutions for fertility patients: “Univfy combines AI, machine learning and fintech to help patients reach their goal of growing a family sooner and to make the process easier along the way. The highly scalable Univfy AI Platform for IVF helps fertility centers integrate personalized medical and financial counseling for patients from diverse demographics. We deliver scientifically validated, personalized prognostics based on the patient’s comprehensive health profile and her fertility center’s specific IVF outcomes data. The result is an improved experience and lower financial risk for patients and increased efficiency and growth for the provider.”
Following several alarming reports of medication and medical devices with harmful effects for female patients in recent years, industry experts and policymakers are shining a light on the gender disparity in clinical trials.
In addition to revisiting devices originally designed with men in mind, the industry will see an influx of new devices built for women’s unique medical needs. One such device that has garnered a lot of buzz is Elvie’s silent, wearable breast pump. The hands-free product promises to eliminate much of the hassle of breastfeeding. Another new device, iBreastExam, is changing the landscape of breast cancer detection. The small, noninvasive device can detect breast tumor tissue in a matter of minutes without radiation or patient discomfort. Even a pocket-sized “mini-lab” intended to test hormone levels as a form of natural contraception has recently received $8.8 million in series A funding.
Another area of focus for femtech devices is pelvic floor health and urinary incontinence, which affects one in three women throughout their lifetime. Solutions range from absorbent undergarments from brands like Speax (sister brand of Thinx period underwear), to Elvie’s smartphone-linked medical device to train the pelvic floor with the ultimate goal of decreasing bladder leaks and improving overall pelvic health.
The final 2020 prediction is the eventual move away from women’s health as a separate, niche category. Though focusing on the needs of women is crucial to correct the industry’s historical disparities, several entrepreneurs agree that it will be a win when women’s health is no longer seen as separate.
“When trying to build a successful women’s health business,” says Yao, “it’s important to give back to women’s health through support of other women entrepreneurs and companies and contributions towards making women’s health mainstream. Look to a day when you don’t have to say women’s health—where the broader health inherently meets the needs of women across diverse populations.”
When asked what role men play in moving the women’s health industry forward, Zaslavsky first points to the importance of lived experience and representation among leadership: “If you don’t have the voice of someone who’s experienced the patient perspective, the question around fertility coverage is always going to be a business decision.” But she continues by emphasizing the importance of a dialogue with men and repositioning fertility as a family benefit. “30-40% of infertility cases are completely the male factor and another 30-40% are a combination of the female and male factors. Fertility coverage is a family issue.”
As described by Yao and Zaslavsky above, women’s health has implications for the health of the entire population. Whether instituting fertility benefits, parental leave, flexible work environments, or additional mental health and wellness resources, creating a world focused on women’s health has massive implications on work, school, insurance, and family structures. It’s a conversation that must include everyone, regardless of anatomy or gender identity.
It’s no wonder that innovation in women’s health shows no sign of slowing. And Venture funds are keeping a close eye on promising players in the femtech space.
“In many ways, 2020 looks to be the year of women’s health,” says 7Wire Ventures’ Alyssa Jaffee. “For the last couple of years, AI and machine learning have dominated many of the narratives, conversations and headlines in the healthcare industry, but the women’s health space is expanding rapidly and I couldn’t be more excited. Our team is paying hyper-close attention to a number of amazing entrepreneurs that are dedicating their efforts to this space and we commend those that are growing quickly and making a real difference in such a needed section of healthcare.”