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Here’s What’s Keeping FemTech From Making Better Progress

Updated: Oct 4, 2023


Femtech has transformed the ways in which women are able to learn, connect, and take agency over their health like never before.

Yet there are some key aspects getting little or no recognition in these conversations. These considerations are necessary if we want to help as many people as possible on their maternal care journey in a truly sustainable way.

As a female founder myself, I’ve noticed a few elephants in the femtech space that I feel need some more focus—and I’m not afraid to talk about them.

I launched The Maternal Health Project with the intention of making sure the maternal care journey is more seamless for women and their families, with the hope of backing companies that bring evidence-based outcomes-driven results for improved care in the future. Here are some ways I think we are still falling short, along with a few different areas that femtech innovators can keep in mind as they strive to grow and improve their missions.

Observations on Obstacles in FemTech Trends

We’re in app overload.

As leaders in the tech space, we may be hesitant to address this reality given that it is the bread and butter of many founders’ initiatives…but it’s the truth.

While simplified patient education and telehealth are major breakthroughs that have become a new normal in our everyday lives, we can’t possibly expect an individual to have an app for every single nuanced aspect of their health. This is simply not practical. I believe this only adds the burden on the pregnant patient as they attempt to navigate, stay engaged, and get the support they are looking for.

Plus, there have been valid concerns over the lack of privacy and security when it comes to user data, with one study finding that 20 out of the 23 women’s health apps shared data with third parties. This has become increasingly concerning with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 and the aggressive measures that are being taken to use this data against women.

Apps are great, but not for everything. Especially when we build an app to secure VC funding.

We all know and understand the playbook for building and executing our core product if it's an app. We know the metrics to hit, marketing channels and acquisition strategies etc. without much imagination which leads to easier decisions on whether to fund or not. But will those solutions make an impact in 5 years from now?

As founders, I believe, we make apps to appeal to investors and it leads us away from making an impact the way a device, drug, or test could because those startup journeys are much longer and more challenging.

I’m interested in figuring out how we determine when and why an app is the right format for driving outcomes. I would love to see more newcomers thinking outside the app. For me, this is imperative to actually turn the tide of the women’s health crisis we have in front of us. Five years from now, we need drugs, devices, SaaS, biotech, patient education, digital diagnostics, and more. How do we build the case for VC to see the value in other innovations and longer exit time horizons?

The gap is still vast, with undeniable disparities everywhere waiting to be addressed.

Where there is opportunity, there is also significant existing struggle. This is a truth that femtech founders and leaders know well, as it is entirely where their products and services stem from: a desire to close the gap.

Awareness of the inequities within women’s health and maternal care have gained momentum and understanding. Higher rates of maternal morbidity for Black women compared to their white counterparts, for example, is completely preventable while still being a more complex issue to solve effectively and sustainably within the healthcare system.

The reality is that some barriers are much harder to break down from a solution side, and can naturally be even harder to overcome from the patient side.

Let’s look at infertility and its treatments. From IVF and freezing eggs to related supplements and drugs, there are many options for those looking to build their family. Yet the cost of various fertility treatments has proven to be a major obstacle, and it is objectively not possible for the average person to afford.

A single round of IVF is estimated to cost as much as $30,000, and studies have shown that more rounds increase your chances of success, with many suggesting six rounds. The World Health Organization even warned it could be a “medical poverty trap,” which does not reassure anyone involved that it may be worth the risk to pursue.

Beyond the major financial investment and strain this can create for pregnant individuals and their families, the other resources of time, energy, and access to the right support during this process are also incredibly important to underscore. It can be all-consuming on a physical, emotional, and mental level—and that much more complicated and exhausting when navigating the process as a single individual, a person of color, or part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

We need to be able to say v@ginas, vulv@s, ab0rti0ns and peri0d bl00d online.

With censorship and restrictions, starting the conversation is a challenge in itself.

Facebook and Instagram, along with TikTok and Twitter, have become second nature for women to seek intel and validation, yet many social media platforms have implemented restrictions on words like vagina, vulva, abortion, period blood, and even endometriosis. In an attempt to get around it, users have begun replacing vowels in words with characters (like I just did above) across platforms to help circumvent being shadowbanned or exiled from platforms altogether.

With the censorship of the female body on social media, it makes it extremely difficult to have reliable resources and education on women’s health. This can lead to misinformation, a reluctance to seek help, and a slew of undiagnosed or misdiagnosed issues. How can women get answers about their health when the content they’re looking for, whether from credible medical professionals or vetted femtech brands, is restricted?

Bodyform, a women’s hygiene company, posted a video featuring words such as clitoris and vulva, aiming to reclaim censored words to normalize language around women's health. They were then notified by an automated message that they cannot promote “sexual and reproductive health products or services,” and the video was removed.

This censorship is a significant hurdle for any founder’s and business’s early growth potential and customer acquisition goals. Investors expect to see growth through new customer acquisition, which naturally includes implementing a social media marketing strategy. If your content and ads are banned because your product or service includes keywords that are censored due to your company focusing on women’s health problems and solutions, there will be no traction and no continued investor support—which puts you in danger of closing down.

It’s unacceptable when you consider the amount of ad content approved about erectile dysfunction that we’re inundated with on billboards, social media, and TV commercials, from Viagra to newer brands like Hims. The censorship has been so apparent and widespread that U.S. politicians are requesting the Fair Trade Commission investigate further into Meta’s restrictions and rejections of ads despite their updated rules.

Enraged? Go sign this petition to support the Center for Intimacy Justice as they continue to put pressure on this issue with Meta and the FTC.

We need more white men to step into the room.

As of 2023, the latest estimated FemTech market potential is $1 trillion. Yes, trillion! This is an unprecedented opportunity for growth, and it’s not only limited to startups. Investors, researchers, and healthcare professionals need to expand into this space to help elevate and accelerate the various missions within maternal care.

White women represent 30% of the general population, but they only represent 11% of venture partners managing just 3% of the wealth. This plus the lack of diversity in the venture capital space prevents funding from getting into the femtech space, as the need for development goes unrecognized.

As we work to improve these statistics and expand much-needed diversity in VC decision-making, we also need our male counterparts to show their support—and their checkbooks. In fact, as it stands, we can’t do this without men. Specifically, white men in power.

According to Forbes, white men manage a staggering 93% of VC dollars. With their overwhelming majority ownership of VC dollars, representation and advocacy by men is a key factor impacting funding for women’s resources. One check could impact many maternal health initiatives overnight. Imagine the ripple effect that consistent substantial support from these investors would create.

Men are not exempt from this movement, as much as they may be misled to believe it doesn’t impact them. Even the term Femtech itself has been discussed, because on many levels, this area of innovation does not only concern women.

Fertility, a key aspect of focus within femtech, is equally influenced by men. According to Gina Bartasi, CEO and founder of fertility company Kindbody, it is important to remember that “50% of all fertility issues are male-related,” she says. “It does directly affect them and they don’t talk about it. Women do.”

Plus, women are not only consumers of these products, but they frequently serve as primary healthcare decision-makers for themselves AND their families. The development of these resources directly impacts families, which in turn affect men.

There isn’t a man in VC that doesn’t have a mother, sister, female spouse, daughter, female friend, or co-worker that could benefit from better healthcare. The expansion of femtech resources leads to better outcomes for society as a whole. Funding ultimately improves the accessibility to resources for women and communities everywhere.

The Bottom Line

We need to become more comfortable having the uncomfortable but necessary conversations in femtech, because they are pivotal to the progress of women’s healthcare. Despite these frustrating and omnipresent obstacles, I’m optimistic in our ability to make major strides in a short amount of time.

Stay tuned for my next article that further dives into the areas of opportunity for maternal care that can expand the potential for direct impact.

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