The importance of funding femtech
We’re all aware of the gender pay gap – it’s something that all businesses (including ourselves) know they need to tackle. However, on my holiday last week my youngest daughter brought me up to speed with something that I’m ashamed to say I know far too little about. The gender health gap.
Women’s health, from periods to fertility and menopause, is shrouded in taboo. And taboo can be incredibly powerful, stopping us from sharing experiences or seeking help when we need it most.
I’m in a slightly different position to most men in that my wife has had six operations over the last decade or so – four to tackle her endometriosis (a condition affecting 10% of all women, with an average diagnosis time of eight years), one to deal with a burst ovarian cyst and the final one a hysterectomy. In spite of this, however, my knowledge around the gender health gap was a long way short of where it should have been.
Over the last week or so I’ve done some research. It turns out that most women’s health conditions are under-researched and under-funded and that means that even the most well-meaning medical professionals can find themselves under-informed and ill-prepared to offer effective solutions and support. Worryingly, this seems to cover a huge spectrum of women’s health issues, including miscarriage, post-natal depression, period health, female pleasure, infertility, menopause and incontinence.
Less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated to women’s reproductive health
And from an industry perspective, the numbers don’t seem to make much sense. For example, less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated to women’s reproductive health (despite the fact that one in three women in the UK will suffer from a reproductive or gynecological health problem). And there is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women.
The rise of femtech
Thankfully, change is afoot in the form of the growing femtech sector. Over the last decade, a collective desire to end shame around women’s health has accelerated female healthcare technology. Many of these early stage femtech businesses have been set up by women who felt under-served by a traditional approach to healthcare. And one of the best things about these businesses is that they’re not just creating products to solve a problem, they’re creating brands that start a conversation.
Elvie: Approaching problems as women, and solving them as engineers
One of these companies is Elvie. Its mission is simple – to improve women’s lives through smarter technology. They approach problems as women, and solve them as engineers, scientists and designers, starting with a real need and innovating to find the solutions. Armed with genuine female insight and world-class design expertise, their first two products – a pelvic floor trainer and a silent wearable breast pump – are transforming the way women think and feel about themselves.
The impact a company like Elvie can have on society is startling. An estimated 80% of women wish they could breastfeed for longer, while one in three women suffer in silence with pelvic floor issues.
When Tania, the founder of Elvie, first pitched her business to investors she was told women’s health products were a ‘niche issue’ (despite affecting 52% of the population). That perception is changing, and in a couple few years femtech has gone from “niche” to a billion-dollar industry.
Elvie, and Tania, are two of the trailblazers but plenty more companies and entrepreneurs will follow in their footsteps. And they’ll achieve the investment equivalent of the holy grail – removing the taboo and delivering huge benefits to society at the same time as generating fantastic returns for their investors.