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So what is FemTech?
Let me start by saying what it isn’t: we are not talking about male or unisex products that have been shrunk in size, painted pink and remarketed for women. FemTech is essentially a palatable term for VC men to describe tech products and services in the space of female health, including periods, menopause, fertility, breastfeeding, incontinence, contraception. It includes digital health apps and digital devices, though I have mentioned the vertical of fertility cautiously, as this is not solely a women’s issue.
Why is it important that FemTech receives attention?
Because we live in a world where there is one size, and it doesn’t fit all, it fits men. I believe that the statistics are that on average, smartphones are 5.5 inches too big for women’s hands. Cars are designed around the body of a ‘Reference Man’, meaning that women are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt in an accident.
Women are also hugely underrepresented in clinical trials, so drugs are designed for men. Take Ambien the sleeping drug for example: after being on the market for 2 years, in January 2013 the FDA announced that women should be taking half of the then-recommended dosage, as women take longer to metabolize the drug than men. I understand that most withdrawn in recent years had greater health risks for women.
One of the reasons for women being underrepresented in clinical trials is their unstable hormonal cycle, which affects the results of the tests. But on the other hand, women need to take these drugs throughout their hormonal cycles, so it doesn’t really make sense.
Right now only 4% of tech investment in life sciences are aimed for women’s health tech solutions, so I think it is obvious that this imbalance needs to be readdressed.
What are the early challenges for male and female founders in the space?
Well, one of the main challenges is funding, and one aspect here is gender: gender of the founders, and gender of the investors. With respect to the founders, FemTech has predominantly female founders. This is largely due to personal experience. Take for example Tania Boler, CEO of Elvie: she developed an app-connected Kegel tracker to help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles with real-time biofeedback. She explained that despite working in women’s health for over 15 years, it was only once she became pregnant that she realized many women’s health issues were not spoken about. In other words, women identify the pain in FemTech, the problem that needs to be solved, but female founders are underfunded compared to male founders. For example, in 2018, female led startups in the US received just 2.2% of the $130 billion in VC funding that was available.
Now, with respect to the money man, a colossal 94% of decision-makers in US venture capital firms are men, and it’s difficult to raise financing from someone who does not understand the problem and is uncomfortable by the still somewhat taboo subject matter. Writers write what they know, entrepreneurs innovate what they know, and venture capitalists fund what they know.
Another challenge is the legal landscape: healthcare, which includes both digital products and medical devices is highly regulated. Entrepreneurs in this space may need to secure FDA or CE approvals, comply with HIPPA, and other privacy and data protection regulations, as well as statutory limitations on the corporate practice of medicine, geographical medical license issues and referral restrictions, just as examples. So the business model and the product need to take all this into account from day one to ensure that the entrepreneurs do not shoot themselves in the foot before even getting started.
So what are my tips?
1/ Firstly, do your homework. Approach the right investors — corporate ventures where there may be synergy with your products, impact investors, health focused or direct to consumer focused ventures.
2/ The appropriate fit. There are a wealth of accelerators, incubators and mentoring programs out there seeking to address the problem of female underrepresentation in tech in general. Use them, use their networks. As with most things in life, it is more often who you know rather than what you know that is the game changer.
3/ If you are pitching to a woman, first tell the story and wait for the nod, the nod that she understands the pain, the need, the problem you are seeking to solve.
4/ If you are pitching to a male venture capitalist, it may be smart to put slightly more emphasis on the market and less on the product. This is true for all verticals, by the way: the investors may like the product, but they are going to be more excited by the size of the market an attractive ROI and a potential exit. Focus on the money.
5/ Leverage the fact that FemTech itself is getting traction at the moment, emphasize the power of the female driven economy, use these buzzwords.
6/ If you are developing a digital app, you can leverage the general trend towards digital health and personalized and preventative medicine and general wellness.
7/ If you receive a snarky comment about being a women, answer back with the research that startups with female leadership tend to be more profitable than male-only founding teams.
8/ And my final tip: don’t forget the ask. Founders often forget the ask in the pitch, and women tend to be even more shy or reticent to voice their need for money. If you don’t ask you probably won’t get.
I am very happy to be part of the 50inTech community and to help empower and support women in tech. Please feel free to reach out and speak to me by the platform.