Historic upheavals such as the Texas abortion ban and the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan have strained women’s rights across the globe—including their reproductive health rights.
For ESG investors, one way to provide support is through investing in “FemTech.” Coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, cofounder of the women’s health tracking app Clue, the industry encompasses a wide range of products and services, including software such as period-tracking platforms, devices like smart breast pumps, and others that leverage technology to support women’s physiological and reproductive health.
A Rising Tide
FemTech businesses have raised a record amount of money this year—$1.3 billion through August 2021 alone, nearly doubling the $774 million raised in all of 2020. That compares with $231 million raised in 2016 and $62 million in 2012, according to TechCrunch.
The industry is expected to grow globally to $60 billion by 2027. Despite its exponential growth, however, the FemTech sector is by no means overheated. Investors can find ample avenues to get on board and make an impact in promoting women’s health.
Under-Researched and Underfunded
FemTech addresses an important blind spot in science and medicine. Women’s health is both under-researched and underfunded. Author Caroline Criado Perez argues in Time magazine that this is due to a gender data gap. She points out that resarchers rarely collect data that accounts for differences between male and female bodies, meaning that many medications do not work as well for women, health tracking apps do not always account for women’s periods, and potentially serious medical problems like endometriosis go undiagnosed. FemTech has an opportunity to step in and fill these gaps—especially with increased financial backing.
“The FemTech space has historically been underinvested, and while that’s a shame, it also means that there is a lot of opportunity and growth ahead,” Laura Chambers told Pitchbook. Chief executive of the cordless breast pump manufacturer Willow, Chambers and her company closed its Series C round at $87 million this year.
Fertility and Maternity Startups
Many of the most successful FemTech companies operate in the fertility, pregnancy, and maternity space. One shining example is Flo, a fertility-focused period tracking app that raised $50 million in its Series B funding round in September. Co-led by VNV Global and Target Global, the round valued the London-based company at $800 million.
Elvie, maker of smart, wearable breast pumps, in September topped up its Series C fundraising round to bring the total raised to $97 million with investors including BlackRock, IPGL, and Hiro Capital. In addition to its breast pumps, the British startup also pioneered an innovative smart pelvic floor trainer. CEO and founder Tania Boler told Forbes she wants Elvie to become the first FemTech company to launch an initial public offering, which would allow retail investors to buy in.
Big US deals this year include the virtual women’s health clinic Maven’s $110 million Series D round, which closed in August. Likewise, IVF and fertility app Kindbody’s $62 million Series C round closed in June.
Meanwhile, early-stage FemTech startups abound. A digital health platform for pregnant Black women called Mae raised $1.3 million in pre-seed funding in September. Pumpspotting, a mobile app that provides content about breastfeeding, raised $1.15 million in seed investment in August. Others such as British virtual health service Syrona Health have yet to even obtain seed funding—indicating the breadth of opportunities for prospective investors to explore.
Menopause: The Next Frontier
Products and services designed for menopausal women could become the next frontier for FemTech. The hormone replacement therapy market was valued at $17.4 billion last year and is expected to grow to $26.8 billion in the next five years.
Currently, this space is dominated by big-name pharmaceuticals: Novartis Pharmaceuticals developed Estradot patches for short-term menopause symptom relief; Novo Nordisk offers Vagifem to help reduce the vaginal symptoms of menopause; Merck sells Livial, a synthetic steroid medicine used for postmenopausal women; and Pfizer manufactures the estrogen medication Premarin.
Enabling more employees to feel their best during menopause makes sense for women as well as businesses: ample evidence shows that companies with more diverse management teams perform better. It is most common to reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, just as many women should be in the prime of their careers. However, some are prohibited from performing due to the challenges of menopause.
Large corporations are beginning to recognize this. Half of GlaxoSmithKline’s female employees are 45 or older, prompting the company to introduce a menopause support group at its London headquarters this summer. Vodafone estimates that some 15% of its 100,000-person workforce is experiencing menopause and made a commitment in March to better support them.
In the case that women need to take leave, FemTech companies have solutions. San Francisco-based platform Cocoon aims to simplify parental, medical, caregiver, and bereavement leave across the United States: it handles everything from compliance to payroll to insurance benefits. Founded in June 2020, the startup raised $20 million in a Series A round at the end of September.
Given that nearly 1.8 million American women dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic amid what CNBC has called an “ongoing caregiving crisis,” these services address a set of needs that will continue to attract attention and provide opportunities to support women and advance gender equity in business.