The health tech industry is undergoing a revolution by women, for women.
The rise of the she-economy and a number of cultural shifts are transforming women’s health into a key growth market for global brands. These findings are part of the latest research by Frost & Sullivan, which estimates that the femtech industry could be worth as much as $50 billion in the next seven years.
The rise of women’s empowerment, evidenced recently in response to events such as Donald Trump’s locker-room talk and the birth of the #MeToo movement, has increased the profile of women’s health in the past year alone. According to a 2017 Crunchbase survey, 21% of all female-founded tech companies are weighted towards healthcare and that number is growing. New apps and direct-to-consumer services are making things such as fertility testing and birth control more accessible. The range of issues explored through femtech is also constantly expanding, spanning everything from sexual wellness to reducing the fear of visiting your gyno.
What many of these startups have in common is the goal of scrapping the stigma and shame that often surrounds women’s health issues. Businesses are also striving to raise awareness that women need individualized care which embraces an understanding of how a woman’s overall health is influenced by factors such as her menstrual cycle or hormonal changes. This revolution will benefit every woman, from working professionals to mothers to retirees. Here is the scope of innovations that consumers will be seeing in femtech in 2018.
Sexual health rebranded
Pioneers in the sexual wellness industry, such as Unbound and Hot Octopuss, have been working hard to remove taboos from the subject of feminine pleasure through more female-friendly retail and branding. The aim is to make achieving an optimal orgasm as acceptable and accessible as going to the salon. While some innovators are designing creative offline experiences, others are using biofeedback technology to educate in the bedroom—the Lioness smart vibrator, for instance, connects with a smartphone app that helps the user enhance their own pleasure.
More recent developments, however, have given a voice to those struggling with medical barriers to sexual intimacy. Emily Sauer is addressing deep dyspareunia, or painful sex, with the Ohnut, a silicone wearable that just reached its Kickstarter goal, with production set to begin later this year. The Ohnut is designed to offer both a sexual wellness solution and get young couples talking about issues surrounding discomfort during sex. Sauer started the project based on her own experience of painful sex and the lack of resources she faced when trying to tackle the issue.
“Painful sex for me was something that made me feel bad about myself, in addition to being a physical discomfort,” Sauer says, in an interview with Women of Wearables. “I was too embarrassed to speak to anyone other than doctors about the challenge, and when those doctors couldn’t help me, I couldn’t help myself either.”
Ohnut’s branding and social media is fun, hip, and millennial-focused—the brand has even teamed up with artist Carissa Potter Carlson of People I’ve Loved to create a cute lapel pin that you can wear proudly in support of the project. The idea driving the device is that sexual discomfort is experienced by at least 75% of women and can stem from a wide range of issues, from trauma to childbirth.
Other startups have taken a different approach to a similar problem. Kegel exercise apps, including Carin, Pericoach, and Elvie, offer solutions through technology such as smart underwear and gamified progress trackers. Ultimately, the goal is to put women in control of their vaginal health, taking into account on-the-go lifestyles and affordability.
Sex positivity comes to the clinic
Gone are the days when going to the gyno was painful, awkward or “universally hated”—or so hope Carolyn Witte and Felicity Yost, cofounders of digital health assistant startup Tia. The brand started as a chatbot app dedicated to helping young women answer questions relating to sexual health and wellness. Now, Tia is getting ready to showcase its philosophy of destigmatizing issues such as birth control and simplifying the world of women’s health with real-world Tia Clinics and gynecologists.
The brick-and-mortar clinics, the first of which is set to open in the United States in early 2019, will focus on improving the entire experience. The trendy interior design will be geared towards millennial women and there will also be integration with holistic wellness facilities, so that patients can get their nutritional needs assessed after they get their Pap smear. Doctors will be able to easily upload information from the Tia app to deliver personalized care.
“The all-too-rare face time with your doc would be contextualized by your historical cycle, health and wellness data—sparking a meaningful conversation about your body as a whole (not just your pelvis),” blogged Witte and Yost in May.
Other female entrepreneurs are customizing healthcare for women through judgment-free appointments with doctors. Established in 2015, the Maven Clinic offers virtual consultations with healthcare professionals, and will deliver birth control to patients’ doorsteps, making these services more accessible to women of all backgrounds. It also aims to empower women and parents in the workplace by offering maternity-leave support for employers and their employees.
In her Hard Knock Wife Netflix special, released in May, comedian Ali Wong doesn’t hold anything back in demonstrating all the barriers new moms face in society, from obstacles to breastfeeding to unfavorable maternity-leave regulations. Her message: parenthood can be a flat-out struggle for new mothers, and it’s OK to be honest about that.
Moms-to-be can cautiously rejoice as their needs are gradually becoming prioritizedby tech startups. Award-winning smart breast pump Willow was back at CES 2018 with responses to demands from user surveys. Demonstrating new colors and advancements to its hands-free, connected device, Willow aims to help women regain control of their busy schedules and overcome the frustrations that can occur with breastfeeding.
Then there’s Moment Health, a UK-based app that launched in November 2017, which provides virtual tools to enable new parents to deal with postpartum depression and other mental health issues. Moment Health combines resources such as a mood tracker, help in locating local services and support, and an online peer support group.
“Research shows that through early intervention, there is an 80 to 90% chance of recovery for those experiencing perinatal depression or associated anxiety,” explains Belfast-based femtech innovator and CEO of Moment Health Nuala Murphy, in an interview with the International Forum for Wellbeing in Pregnancy.“The sooner a parent can recognize signs and symptoms in themselves, and the earlier they can find and access perinatal mental health services, the better his or her chance of successfully recovering.”
Attention from major players
Femtech still has a way to go before it becomes mainstream, but companies that have traditionally dealt with broader health issues, such as physical fitness and sleep optimization, are beginning to recognize the demand for an integration of women’s health tech.
This spring, Fitbit not only teamed up with AI-powered period tracking app Clue for its Ionic smartwatch, it also launched the Fitbit Versa wearable for female customers. The Fitbit Versa lets women access their menstrual cycle information alongside other important health metrics, such as sleep and heart rate, to get a more comprehensive report of what’s going on with their bodies. The information collected from the advice, according to Fitbit advisor Dr Katherine White, MD MPH, might also provide researchers with access to the largest data base of menstrual health metrics, offering the potential for doctors to better understand this aspect of women’s wellness in the future.