Femtech is set to break $1.3 billion in investment in 2020, according to PitchBook—and estimates suggest that around $200 billion is being spent on femtech products each year.
What is femtech?
Femtech is female-focused technology, typically designed to support women’s health. Fertility, menstruation, gynaecology and sex are common focuses; some femtech startups support women in building their families, while others encourage healthy attitudes to sex.
Why is femtech important?
Despite making up 50% of the population, women are underserved and underrepresented across many areas, including tech. Just 4% of all healthcare research and development funding goes to women’s health, yet it represents a yearly economic burden of more than $500 billion. To put that into context, the World Economic Forum reports that diabetes cost the world economy a little less than $500 billion in 2010, while cancer cost $290 billion.
Just 10% of global investment and 2.2% of US venture capital goes to female-led startups. According to Forbes, femtech companies face additional barriers to raising money because women’s health issues are not always understood by investors, women are underrepresented in the investment community, and female founders are reluctant to ask for funding.
With women at the helm, businesses develop products that women actually need; they also raise awareness of poorly understood health issues and equip women to take control of their health.
10 femtech startups to watch
We couldn’t start this list without Clue: founder Ida Tin coined the term femtech in 2016, three years after releasing the cycle tracker.
Clue tracks more than 30 health categories including menstruation, mood, productivity, hair, skin, and digestion, using the data to predict ovulation and menstruation. The app also includes science-backed information on how these symptoms are relevant and what is common during each part of the cycle.
Clue supports research with its unprecedented data set: anonymised data from its 8 million users in 180 countries has contributed to groundbreaking research in women’s health. For example, a new collaboration with Stanford University is analysing menstrual pain patterns and how they might predict illness, while an ongoing study with the University of Oxford explores evolutionary perspectives on PMS.
Leading the British femtech charge is Elvie, a startup designing smart devices for women’s health.
Its flagship product is a Kegel trainer which helps to build better bladder control, enhances intimacy and speeds up postnatal recovery. It’s recommended by over 1,000 health experts and can be prescribed by NHS health professionals in secondary or tertiary care services.
Elvie’s latest release is a silent wearable breast pump that fits into a standard nursing bra and requires no tubes or wires, making it truly portable and discreet. The vision? Comfortable pumping anywhere, any time—on the bus, in a board meeting, or relaxing at home.
Most women are wearing the wrong size bra. At best, this means uncomfortable, unflattering lingerie; at worst, poorly fitted bras can cause lasting back problems. There are many reasons why women wear the wrong size, from never being fitted properly to being unable to find attractive bras in larger cup sizes, and the Brarista app aims to tackle all of them.
Brarista cuts out tape measures completely, determining size by eye like a seasoned bra fitter. It can identify common symptoms of a badly fitted bra, like cup spillage and a back strap that rides up. Once it determines the correct size, the app will work with your preferences to recommend bras that suit your lifestyle and budget, available to purchase immediately and at the lowest price.
Ava is a clinically tested wearable that identifies the five most fertile days in a woman’s cycle based on her vital signs. The Ava bracelet tracks skin temperature, resting pulse rate, heart rate variability, perfusion and breathing rate at night while the body is at rest, matching data up to known fertility patterns; the startup is so confident in its science that it offers a 1-year pregnancy guarantee.
In the three and a half years since the initial product launch, the company reports 30,000 pregnancies, including successful pregnancies in women with endometriosis.
20% from the sale of every Ava bracelet funds women’s health research and development. Anonymised data from users’ cycles helps to refine its machine learning algorithms, and the product itself undergoes rigorous clinical testing with results published in peer-reviewed medical journals.
LactApp bills itself as “a breastfeeding expert in your pocket”. Packed to the rafters with guides, answers and advice, the free app autonomously answers more than 35,000 queries every week. It’s able to answer more than 76,000 possible questions with more than 2,300 in-depth, medically backed answers. On top of that, LactApp offers a one-to-one chat service with trained lactation experts.
Incredibly, one in four breastfeeding women in Spain already uses LactApp; the startup has since launched an English language version for international users, with more languages to come.
inne is a saliva-based hormone tracker designed for fertility control. The startup explains that it is a non-invasive alternative to standard contraception methods as it doesn’t alter hormone levels within the body, but rather tracks natural rhythms and offers reliable insights.
The method is simple: users collect daily saliva samples, plugging them into a reader for analysis. It takes just ten minutes to analyse the sample, which pairs with a cervical fluid reading to produce what inne calls a “hormonal portrait”.
Slated for launch this year, inne was built with a team of biochemists and marries new technologies with the traditional rhythm method. The goal, founder Eirini Rapti says, is to reconnect women with themselves. “I want women to start tuning into their hormones early so they understand more about their bodies,” she said in a statement last year. “If you have an insight into how your body works from an earlier age, you can understand how to give yourself the best chance at starting a family at a time that’s right for you.”
NextGen Jane is developing a platform that tests for early signs of disease by analysing period blood from tampons. As founders Ridhi Tariyal and Stephen Gire put it, the body provides a natural biopsy every time it sheds its lining; their goal is to provide the tools to listen.
The potential benefits are huge. With the Smart Tampon system, it’s possible to run diagnostics every month; traditional forms of screening are offered every few years. This means that diseases such as endometriosis, fibroids and cancer can be picked up earlier, and from the comfort of your own home.
Smart tampons could also empower women and people who menstruate to get the medical care they need. Women’s health issues often aren’t taken seriously by doctors or are chalked up to individual experience, but being able to share solid data could speed up diagnosis and treatment.
NextGen Jane is currently building a database of tampon samples from around the world; you can sign up as a beta tester here.
Syrona Women is a British startup offering specialist women’s healthcare on a single platform. Founders Chantelle Bell and Anya Roy are researchers at the University of Oxford; they describe the platform as “a one-stop shop for women’s health”.
The startup’s offering so far includes online gynaecologist consultations and pregnancy massages with qualified therapists. Soon to come are non-invasive home tests that can tell a user how many eggs she has left, potential IVF and egg-freezing outcomes, whether PCOS or endometriosis is present and whether she is at risk of gynaecological cancers.
ATUSA, developed by iSono Health, is the world’s first portable and automated 3D breast ultrasound scanner.
The patented scanner combines with artificial intelligence to perform breast scans that are as consistently accurate as trained ultrasound operators. Scans are painless and take one minute per breast; that’s fifteen to twenty times faster than manual probing. The device does not require a trained ultrasound operator to take images, thus freeing up more time for physicians to interpret the scans.
The device is initially aimed at doctor’s offices and women’s health clinics and is in the research phase of development; qualifying healthcare professionals can sign up for a three-week pilot.
Maven is a virtual clinic dedicated to women’s and family health. Over 1,700 specialist providers make up the network, including ob-gyns, midwives, doulas, mental health providers, nutritionists and paediatricians; while one major selling point is end-to-end support through pregnancy, Maven is for women at all stages of their lives.
Maven puts a small percentage of every appointment fee towards its Maven Foundation, which partners with nonprofits to provide free healthcare to women in need. One such partner is The Children’s Village, which serves homeless young women in New York City.
At present, Maven operates exclusively within the United States, although international users can make appointments on an education-only basis.