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The Future of Femtech


The Future of Femtech | Plug and Play APAC

Aimed at addressing women-specific health conditions, Femtech (Female Technology) is an emerging global market designed specifically to accelerate tech-enabled opportunities in women’s healthcare. With a projected 2030 valuation of $103B, Femtech continues to exhibit massive growth potential with countless different consumer-centric products and services popping up yearly to address the gaps in women’s well-being. 


At Plug and Play, we believe that Femtech is more than just a niche sector. This market will continue to grow as innovators seek to discover new ways to solve the gaps in our existing healthcare systems. This article will zone in on the topic of Femtech: what the sector is about, what key challenges the sector is currently facing, the 2024 market outlook, and the key drivers that will continue to propel the industry. We will also be speaking to Imaginable Impact - an inclusion studio that aims to empower women-led startups - to hear about their insights on the current Femtech landscape and what Femtech startups can do to overcome hurdles.  


What is Femtech? 

Plug and Play APAC Health

Femtech is the technology that is designed to cater to women-specific healthcare and well-being needs. Initially coined in 2016, the founder of women’s menstruation-tracking app Clue Ida Tin first popularized the term “Femtech” which helped define the sector in the larger global market. By 2021, the market has already grown to an astounding $51B with thousands of women-led startups at the forefront of innovation. 


Caring for women’s health goes beyond just focusing on reproductive health. For example, general health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases affect women differently and disproportionately. Gender bias in care delivery also affects the way women’s pain and mental health conditions are perceived by medical practitioners, potentially leading to misdiagnosis or a delay in receiving appropriate medical care. There are also a plethora of largely female-specific conditions from gynecology to onology that expand the breadth of women’s healthcare.  


Key Challenges that Femtech is facing

The Future of Femtech | Plug and Play APAC

1. Stigmatization and Culture Taboo 

Compared to men’s health, women’s health typically has been seen as a taboo topic. From menstruation to menopause, women become more hesitant to discuss their health with medical providers. In fact, in a study conducted by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), over 84% of women have reported feeling unheard by healthcare professionals. 


Systemic inequalities in receiving healthcare only contribute to the problem, limiting women’s access to key diagnostics and proper treatment plans. With endometriosis, almost 60% of women had over 10 doctor visits before receiving a diagnosis. This lapse creates a physical and emotional burden for women, leaving them to feel unsupported by medical professionals. 


2. Diseases and their impacts on women’s health being under-researched 

Gender bias in medical research is another long-standing issue that is yet to be resolved. Medical research tends to center on male physiology rather than women’s. As such, this puts women in a systemically disadvantaged position as the lack of research lends them an increased risk of misdiagnosis and medical misinformation. People of color are also often excluded or underrepresented in clinical research, leaving women of color doubly overlooked.   


3. Women are Under-represented in Clinical Trials 

Clinical trials continue to have blind spots regarding fair representation. Due to the perceived complexities of hormonal fluctuations and potential risks to future pregnancy, women are often under-represented in clinical trials even for diseases that tend to affect them more. For example, cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death for women, but their representation only reflects a third of participants in clinical trials. Inevitably, this lack of representation contributes to more medical mishaps down the line: As most drugs lack sex-specific dosing recommendations, women end up at a 2-fold higher risk of adverse drug reactions compared to men. 


4. Lack of Data on Women’s Health 

The Future of Femtech | Plug and Play APAC

A variety of shortcomings in the data value chain of women’s health have consistently undermined our holistic understanding of women’s health. This severely limits discovery and innovation opportunities that may adequately address more comprehensive issues. Women who belong to different economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities tend to be considered outliers in national data collection, resulting in gaps within public health initiatives that fail to address multi-layered issues. For example, of the 75 clinical trials on COVID-19 vaccines, only 24% presented their main outcome data disaggregated by sex, and only 13% discussed gender or sex implications. Evidently, this concerning lack of data signifies that the metrics of epidemiology studies need to expand beyond traditional measures to provide a complete picture of women’s health conditions sufficiently. 


In Conversation with Imaginable Future: FoundHER Ecosystem and Empowering Women-led Startups

A significant amount of Femtech startups are founded by women-led teams. By highlighting their lived experiences, these women-led femtech startups are crucial in identifying the gaps in women’s healthcare and presenting innovative solutions for these problems. Investors and early stakeholders have also noticed the benefits of women-led ecosystems, and have been showcasing a vested interest in increasing the capabilities of such spaces. As such, the conversation on co-creating safe and scalable environments for women founders has been growing steadily, gradually shifting the mainstream consciousness on women's empowerment. 


To learn more about the importance of empowering women-led startups, we spoke with Niña Terol and Candice Quimpo, founders of the women-led inclusion studio Imaginable Impact


The Future of Femtech - Imaginable Impact | Plug and Play APAC

Imaginable Impact is a women-led inclusion studio that strengthens women leaders, nurtures leadership communities, and develops inclusive leadership needed to build a more equitable world. One of their signature programs, titled FoundHer, aims to create a community that supports women founders and helps them thrive in the entrepreneurial environment. Niña herself has been long-time active mentors within the Plug and Play ecosystem. She has mentored several startups that participated in our Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) program, which seeks to help Singaporean startups gain market access into regional and global markets.

The Future of Femtech - Imaginable Impact | Plug and Play APAC

For the founders of Imaginable Impact, their inspiration for setting up such a women-centered inclusion studio stemmed from wanting to build an ecosystem in which women founders can feel empowered. By gathering women leaders, Niña and Candice sought to build solidarity and support within their ecosystem and promote social change based on the gaps in gender equitability they have identified throughout their years in the field. When speaking about the barriers in the social climate of today, Niña and Candice pointed out that women leaders often wear many hats, both in the workplace and at home. For example, women tend to bear the unspoken brunt of caring for the family on top of their entrepreneurial goals. In funding spaces, women also often receive personal questions about whether their commitments to their family will intrude upon their ability to concentrate on work that their male counterparts are usually never asked. These slight micro-aggressions end up contributing to the hostility of the environment where women founders find it difficult to develop a sense of belonging in their industries. 

The Future of Femtech - Imaginable Impact | Plug and Play APAC

Candice passionately asserted, “The bottom line is that human connection and empathy for one another is crucial.” Simply put, people want to feel valued and respected in the spaces they are involved in. By taking the first step of caring for one another, it can get the ball rolling in addressing these gaps in the system. It may seem small, but it will ultimately develop into a monumental change that will propel more social betterment for gender inequalities in the industry. As such, it’s all the more important that we encourage more conversations about these issues and build a sense of solidarity across the board from both women and men. There are no cookie-cutter solutions to these issues. As we work to involve people from all diverse walks of life, the conversation can develop into something more comprehensive, allowing for more innovative solutions to multifaceted problems. Building a safe, inclusive, and diversity-centered environment also becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved. If women-led startups feel inclusive, they can better thrive and boost overall innovation in all verticals. These small steps will eventually snowball, resulting in profitability and productivity across the value chain. 


Moving Forward: The Future of Femtech

1. Regulatory Changes 

Regulatory changes mark the innovation scope for femtech corporations. Although the care regulatory landscape remains fragmented, innovations in digital healthcare resources can supplement clinical care. 


Take the overturning of Roe V Wade. for example. As one of the most prominent recent regulatory changes in the United States, the impact is reflected in the growing demand for digital access to emergency contraceptives. 


Reflexively, Femtech corporations can also target the gaps in legislative support to drive the direction for innovation. As mentioned earlier, the current care landscape leaves much to be desired, especially for women who fall in under-represented demographics. 


2. Evolving Investor Priorities 

As the landscape changes, so do investor priorities evolve. We are seeing a growing appetite for investment in larger medtech players. Plenty of global medical tech corporations have been steadily acquiring smaller women’s health-focused startups.


Generally, we’re seeing a rise in B2B startups, especially in deep-tech, covering diagnostics, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and digital solutions. This trend will prove transformative to the healthcare system. Reflectively, investment priorities have also pivoted in a similar trend. We are also seeing more series A and later-stage funding that focus on scaling up digital B2C startups, showcasing the general rise of B2B2C business in the overall femtech landscape. 


The Future of Femtech - Fathom X | Plug and Play APAC

FathomX is a good example of a B2B startup. Founded in 2019, FathomX aims to deploy clinician-friendly solutions to enhance the existing workflow. Their flagship product is an AI Assistant that significantly improves breast cancer screening by reducing false positive rates by 80% and enhancing the clinical workflow by cutting down the number of radiologists required per screen by 50%. They have also been collaborating with leading universities and hospitals in 8 Asia Pacific regions, including Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, to validate the accuracy and relevance of their AI.


3. Demand for Data Strategy 

Building a data strategy has become a crucial part of growing a femtech startup. For later-stage startups, their long-term data repositories can be capitalized upon to drive growth. This is especially important during the fund-raising phases, in which presenting a formalized data strategy to stakeholders can help propel the startup’s campaign. 


Data has also become a key topic in the eyes of many. As consumers become more wary about their data privacy, B2B companies need to clarify their data strategy to their stakeholders to bolster their reliability. Similarly, angel investors and venture capital firms are emphasizing data transparency as a key factor for their investment decisions. As such, companies have to focus on improving their privacy safeguards in order to avoid the misuse of sensitive data. 


4. Evolving Consumer Needs and Preferences

The Future of Femtech | Plug and Play APAC

The priorities of the femtech landscape have evolved as the sector continues to grow. These evolving consumer preferences have contributed to an overall increase in awareness of women’s health which has propelled innovation of traditional devices and products. Redesigns of traditional women's healthcare products such as tampons and speculums have been made to increase the comfort and safety of its users. There is also heightened support for underrepresented populations and underlying stigma in the healthcare sector. 


In this social climate, the general public is also more cognizant of the environmental impacts of the products they consume and thus has been calling for corporations to focus on sustainability and footprint minimization. For example, there has been an uptick in reusable or fully disposable menstrual products in the market.  


The Future of Femtech - Ease Healthcare | Plug and Play APAC

Ease Healthcare is a great example of how startups are catering to evolving consumer needs. By focusing on revolutionizing access to women’s health by making it more convenient, affordable, and discreet. From contraception delivery and at-home STD tests to sexual health consultations, they enable users to manage their sexual and reproductive health from the comfort of their homes. Amidst the pandemic in 2020, their platform enabled telehealth consultations for its consumers to receive discreet, affordable prescription delivery.


5. Digital Health Technology Evolutions 

The utilization of AI, ML, VR, and population genomics platforms has encouraged innovation on traditional standards of care such as digital therapeutics, breast imaging, and the like. For example, startups have started incorporating AI into radiologist workflows and image viewing for improved detection and therapy. AI has also been used in sperm, oocyte, and embryo viability prediction to improve IVF and egg-freezing outcomes. 


The Future of Femtech - Kai Health | Plug and Play APAC

Founded in 2021, Korean startup Kai Health's mission is to increase the chances of having a healthy baby in a cost-effective and noninvasive way. Their program, Vita Embryo, assists in identifying embryos with superior pregnancy prospects. Once implemented, it functions akin to a ‘partner’ for medical staff, aiding in the crucial decision-making process of selecting promising embryos.


Success Tips for Corporations and Startups


For Corporations

  • Women’s health is more than a niche market, with many unknowns and gaps presenting vast opportunities for comprehension and solutions

  • Solve women’s health issues with a strategy that incorporates evidence generation and the active inclusion of women

  • Explore partnerships with B2B FemTech solutions to enhance your value propositions and improve female patient care

For Startups


For more insight into our investment activities and service, sign up for our platform here. To learn more about our programs in Singapore, click here.


References:

  1. Study from National Institute for Health and Care Research on “Women’s Health: Why do women feel unheard” (https://evidence.nihr.ac.uk/collection/womens-health-why-women-feel-unheard/)


 

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ARTICLE CONTRIBUTED BY: ALVIN TAY & HUITING LIM

Alvin Tay, Ventures Analyst (Health), Plug and Play APAC.

Hui Ting Lim, Programs Associate, Plug and Play APAC.


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