In 2012, investments in female-specific health technology (femtech, as it is now known) totaled $57 million. By the close of 2019, they’re projected to reach $1 billion. That’s a 1,651% increase in a mere seven years — and the numbers are continuing to climb.
The boom can be pinned to a multitude of causes, not least among them a growing (though still very much in the minority) number of female venture capitalists and their interest in investing in female-driven solutions. But at the root of the phenomenon is something much more basic and fundamental than an uptick in female leadership: VCs are investing in femtech solutions simply because women need and want them.
Until very recently, medical research operated under the assumption that, with the exception of breast cancer, gynecology and obstetrics, there was no difference between men’s and women’s healthcare. Not surprisingly, a meta-analysis of important medical trials conducted in the late part of the century found that participation numbers were highly skewed toward males, with women rarely making up more than one-third of trial populations.
As a result, many of the protocols and solutions targeted to manage chronic illness and other health concerns were developed based on the physiology of men — a physiology that is now acknowledged to be significantly distinct from that of women. In the modern workforce, women freeze in offices that are controlled by temperature equations developed in the 1960s… and based on the metabolism of men. In the same way, women have been woefully underserved by a healthcare system that services them with standards of care based on male physiology.
Until now. As healthcare innovators have recognized the distinct needs of females and the biases of former research trials, resources and solutions have proliferated to fill the gender gap in the delivery of healthcare. We talk about women’s health vs. general healthcare, but that’s really a false dichotomy. “General healthcare” is typically designed with men in mind, and allocating resources to women’s care isn’t taking away funding from men. Rather, it’s simply trying to right the scale.
Women are the primary healthcare decision-makers in most households. They’re also the more likely of the two sexes to have healthcare, go to the doctor and use tools geared toward their health and wellness. By offering femtech solutions to their female patient populations, healthcare providers are doing more than the necessary and important work of filling the gender gap — they’re engaging their constituencies.
A positive experience with a health provider can bring a woman back to a health system for her pregnancy, pediatric care, or her live-in mother’s care. Targeting her experience is crucial for a health provider to build its customer base and establish brand loyalty.
And what do women want? The success of femtech should answer the question. They want convenient solutions – and, specifically, digital solutions that are personalized for their needs. These needs that have been left out of the scope of “comprehensive” care even in our age of innovation, an age that we expect to be synonymous with inclusion and progress.
By way of example, consider Apple’s HealthKit. Upon release in 2014, it was billed it as a “comprehensive” health tracking solution – yet it included no function for tracking female reproductive health. (The app has since been updated to include such a function).
Femtech is also meeting the needs of women who don’t fall within the scope of general healthcare. It’s a both/and issue: General health protocols should be based on male and female physiology, but we also need tools to address the specific needs of females, whose unique physiology demands something outside the limits of general healthcare.
Pregnancy, menstruation and menopause are just a few of the unique health events that solely affect women. And possibly because of their gender-selective nature, there’s been an implicit embargo on any conversation surrounding them. A history of shame and stigma around the “problems” femtech addresses has made the market all the more ripe for it, to make up for the years of sweeping female needs under the rug.
Women crave solutions that meet these needs. There’s a reason the “pink tax” is effective: Women will pay more (though they shouldn’t need to) for products that complement their individual experiences. And, significantly for customer building and brand loyalty, they will patronize and return to the businesses that offer them these tailored products and experiences.
If health systems are going to retain and attract new customers, femtech is a critical starting place. It’s what women want.
Judith Nowlin is chief growth officer at Babyscripts