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The femtech pioneers making headlines this year

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This year seems to have been a pivotal moment for the femtech market, with some experts predicting it to be worth US$60bn by 2027.

What started off with period tracking apps has developed into a lucrative industry, tapping into what has traditionally been a somewhat neglected field of healthcare. While medical expenses attributed to women amount to approximately US$500 billion per year, only four per cent of healthcare R&D is targeted at women’s health issues.

Added to this a global pandemic, where we’ve all struggled to see a healthcare provider face-to-face, and it appears women are taking their healthcare into their own hands.

From fertility trackers to breastfeeding and menopause support, 2021 has been the year of femtech – with 2022 looking set to bring more of the same. Here are some of 2021’s femtech headline makers…

Health and reproductive care

Start-up Hertility Health raised £4.2m in seed funding earlier this year to help grow its hormone and reproductive health-related product range.

The funding will help the firm expand its current product offering of fertility and hormone testing, along with menopause, miscarriage, postnatal care, polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis testing.

It will also support the expansion of its current clinical trials, which aim to reduce the diagnosis time for some of the most common reproductive conditions.

Hertility Health helps women to understand their reproductive health and infertility risks, working with experts to provide personalised care pathways for all aspects of women’s health, including symptom management, egg freezing and IVF.

It was founded by female scientists while on maternity leave and launched during lockdown last year, as demand surged for remote and accessible help as a result of the pandemic.

Hashimoto’s disease

Hashimoto’s disease is a condition with nearly 500 million sufferers worldwide.

It affects the thyroid, which is responsible for hormones by regulating the processes in the cells of almost all systems in our body, such as immune, endocrine, digestive, nervous and reproductive.

Diagnosis can take up to eight years as there are thought to be 45 different symptoms, and women are five to eight times more likely to suffer than men.

One of these women is Eva Galant, founder and CEO of Hashiona, an app that helps sufferers to change their daily habits and put the disease into remission.

The app was launched last year and has already attracted more than 10,000 users, mainly women, suffering from Hashimoto’s disease and thyroid-related conditions.

Its interactive design contains videos, infographics, articles and tests, all designed to help achieve remission in 20 weeks.

Periods and exercise

In 2019, Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill launched Jennis, a fitness app to help women perform safe post-natal workouts.

In 2021, the app added a cycle-mapping function, which helps amateur exercise fans train, eat and sleep in patterns that work with their hormonal cycles.

Recommendations are varied across the four phases of a menstrual cycle, as this helps to create more efficient training programs, lean muscle gains and increased energy levels.

Jessica said: “By making it easier for women to understand their cycles, I want to help women all over the world feel better, train better and understand their bodies better. That’s a legacy I will be really proud of.”

Conception support

Femometer is a Chinese-based firm that has developed a number of smart devices for women’s health and wellbeing.

Its first product was a basal thermometer, which can act as a natural contraception method or help women who are trying to conceive, followed in 2019 by Femometer Ivy, which monitors luteinizing hormone (LH) levels, to help women determine when they are ovulating.

Earlier this year, the company launched Lilac, which it claimed was the first smart Kegel exerciser on the market to help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles.

The silicon device has 360-degree pressure detection and connects via Bluetooth to the user’s smartphone, providing real-time biofeedback through the Femometer app.

Increasing representation

In April, Bristol-based innovation and product development agency, Kinneir Dufort (KD), launched an initiative called XXEquals, the UK’s first mostly female team designing products for women across the consumer, industrial and medical markets.

Around half of the world’s population is female and women buy 85 per cent of household products, yet data shows only five per cent of the product and design industry is female.

Inspired by the growing need to design more female-focused products in the femtech space, XXEquals is working on projects including smart femcare solutions which monitor and diagnose women’s health conditions, digital ecosystems delivering personalised health and wellness solutions for women and voice recognition software.

The agency has previously developed women-centred products including a breast scanning bed and a device to increase success during IVF.

 

 

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Fairtility’s AI decision-support tool granted CE mark under new MDR

CHLOE EQ™ is the first AI-powered tool for embryo classification and selection to achieve CE MDR approval

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Fairtility’s AI decision-support tool CHLOE EQ™ has earned the CE Mark under the European Medical Devices Regulation (MDR) regulatory requirements and is now commercially available to fertility clinics across Europe.

CHLOE EQ™ is an AI decision-support tool that was developed to provide embryo viability assessment which supports the prediction of blastulation, the prediction of implantation and ploidy and ranks embryos in order of priority.

It provides automatic annotations for morphokinetic and PN count which support fertilisation assessment.

According to Dr. Cristina Hickman, Fairtility VP of Clinical Affairs and leading embryology expert, embryo evaluation and selection has traditionally been a manual process, limiting patient access to treatment while also opening the door for human error.

“One of the key advantages that CHLOE EQ™ was designed to offer is accuracy and consistency in assessment,” she adds. “CHLOE’s proprietary AI-based algorithms become more accurate the more data it gathers, leading to uniform and accurate embryo assessment.”

The information provided by CHLOE EQ™ can then assist embryologists and IVF professionals in the decision of prioritising the most viable embryo for treatment, especially when there are multiple embryos deemed suitable.

The tool is designed to add efficiency to embryologists’ workflow, automating manual steps, including annotation of each embryo and written daily observations into each patient’s electronic medical record (EMR).

Embryologists verify the system’s automatic annotations that are then immediately integrated from the Time Lapse Incubator (TLI) directly into the EMR.

Eran Eshed, CEO and Co-Founder of Fairtility, says that: “Having gained regulatory acknowledgement in Europe, under the more stringent directive that the CE MDR provides, we are now commercially launching CHLOE EQ™ in clinics across the EU while continuing to uphold the highest standard of this classification.

“With the EU IVF market size estimated to reach over $2 billion by 2027, we see tremendous opportunities to demonstrate the clinical efficacy and impact of CHLOE EQ™ ahead of US market entry.”

The European MDR came into effect in May 2021 and serves as the new European legal framework for medical devices. MDR has more stringent requirements for demonstrated compliance, vis a vis the obsolete Medical Device Directive (MDD), the previous industry standard.

Fairtility is showcasing CHLOE EQ™ at the 38th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), taking place in Milan Italy from July 3-6, 2022 with five oral presentations and seven posters supporting the clinical impact of the product.

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology. Due to the complexity of the procedure, however, prediction of embryonic implantation prior to IVF is key in decision-making.

The Israeli software company Fairtility aims to maximise IVF outcomes by using AI and computer vision algorithms to provide early, data-driven embryo quality.

For more info, visit fairtility.com.

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True Wealth Ventures raises US$35m to back its gender-diversity strategy

The Austin-based venture capital firm invests in companies improving human and environmental health

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General partners, Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand

True Wealth Ventures has announced the close a US$35m Fund II, focusing on investing in women-led companies.

True Wealth Ventures’ investment thesis is that women-led companies perform better financially, yet remain an untapped market.

Just 2.3 per cent of total capital invested in U.S. venture-backed start-ups in 2021 went to companies solely founded by women, and only 14.8 per cent of that capital went to companies co-founded by women, according to a May PitchBook report.

“While our primary mission continues to be getting early-stage capital to female founders whose core value proposition is improving environmental or human health, our secondary mission has been to facilitate more women investing into this asset class as LPs – limited partners,” says Sara T. Brand, True Wealth Ventures founding general partner.

“We not only believe this is the fastest way to change the gender inequality in the VC ecosystem, we also believe it is critical for our country’s innovation economy with the wealth shifting to women.”

Fund II will invest across the spectrum of software, hardware and consumer packaged goods start-ups. First checks typically range between US$500,000 and US$1m. True Wealth Ventures LPs often co-invest an additional 50 per cent on top of the Fund’s investment, with total rounds most often ranging up to US$3.5 to US$4m.

True Wealth already has already made investments from Fund II since its first close in May 2021, including Flourish, a start-up headquartered in Austin, Texas, which educates women how to build sustainable habits in nutrition, hydration, sleep, stress, relationships and movement.

The firm intends to invest in 15 companies from Fund II. Those start-ups must be women-led, meaning at least one woman with significant decision-making power must be on the founding or executive team.

About 80 per cent of U.S. assets will be controlled by women by 2030, but women largely are not active in investing in VC funds today.

“Investing in women-led companies personally resonates with women who know their peers have potential and should be backed much more than a mere 2.3 per cent,” says Kerry Rupp, True Wealth Ventures general partner.

“There’s a feeling of, ‘If not us, then who?’ Women are twice as likely to invest in companies that will have a positive social impact, and 10 times as likely to invest in companies with diverse teams.”

Brand and Rupp posit bringing more women to invest as LPs likely will pave the way for more women general partners to join the investment-decision-making VC table to ultimately fund more women entrepreneurs.

About 2.4 per cent of investment decision-making partners at VC funds are women. True Wealth Ventures emphasises that women accredited investors should have the opportunity to benefit from financial gains yielded by investing in venture capital. However, most are not invited to invest.

A majority of True Wealth Ventures Fund I women LPs, including the general partners themselves, previously had never had been invited to invest in a VC fund, according to a survey conducted by the firm.

The venture capital firm also believes that women are more likely to back femtech and silvertech companies than their male counterparts, presumably because the latter have less first-hand experience with the problems and opportunities in those sectors.

True Wealth Ventures Fund I has invested in 12 companies, all of which remain active.

For more info, visit truewalthvc.com.

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The Irish start-up on a mission to help women navigate menopause

identifyHer’s medical device will be able to monitor menopausal symptoms and help clinicians give a better diagnostic

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Heidi Davis, co-founder of identifyHer

Disease prevention means data. Heidi Davis, co-founder of the Irish start-up identifyHer, tells FemTech World why a medical wearable device is essential in understanding menopause and predicting future disease. 

The effect of menopausal symptoms on women’s future health is rarely talked about.

In the UK and Ireland, 3.7 million women are experiencing  symptoms that negatively affect their lives during perimenopause and menopause and untreated, such symptoms can lead to chronic diseases.

“Understanding menopause is extremely important to assess the future risks of disease,” says Heidi Davis, co-founder of identifyHer. The Irish digital health company focuses on predictive health services for women going through menopause, guiding personalised management of menopausal symptoms.

“When we started, we realised that nobody knew anything about menopause and that there was no real objective data to understand this life stage,” the co-founder explains. “So, we looked at a range of symptoms that we believed we could capture with a wearable sensor that could identify those physiological changes.

“We collected data from women who were going through menopausal symptoms and we understood that they are the ones who are looking for this information, who need this information and who are desperate to understand what’s going on.”

Along with the American manufacturing company, Analog Devices, the identifyHer team is developing a medical device that uses AI-enabled technology to capture physiological signals and personalise the management of menopausal symptoms to reduce the risk of disease in the future.

“The symptoms women experience [during perimenopause and menopause] can overlap with other symptoms that happen in daily life,” Davis points out.

“For that reason, clinicians find it hard to diagnose and give treatment because they don’t have diagnostic tests that can give a clear image. So, our mission is to help them differentiate those symptoms and provide objective data.”

The identifyHer tracker, which can be used from perimenopause onwards, sits under the breast and is activated by an app. The wearer goes about their business as normal and they will get daily, weekly, and monthly reports on their menopausal symptoms and lifestyle data.

The woman will wear the sensor for three months to track her symptoms and the data collected during that time will be used to initiate or evaluate the treatment she is already on.

The device will not only save clinicians time, but it will also offer them a better diagnostic tool and help them improve and change the treatment accordingly.

“Managing those symptoms correctly can actually set women up for a better future post-menopause because the severity and the frequency of the symptoms themselves are indicators of future risk of disease,” Davis adds.

“Women who seek medical help will be offered our solution and get remote monitoring of their symptoms while clinicians can use it for diagnosis and treatment.”

The device will be regulated both for cybersecurity and data protection and it will first launch in the UK and Ireland, followed by the EU and the US. The company will be working with health insurance companies on a paying claim policy and hopes that with time, the tracker will be integrated into the national healthcare systems.

“It’s been great to be working in women’s health,” the entrepreneur tells me. “It has been challenging, but the overall experience was good.

“We are hoping to close a round of €2.2 million by the end of this year and our aim is to become the gold standard in clinics to diagnose and help women get the right treatment. So far, we’ve had some good conversations and we are moving forward.”

Before we wrap up our Zoom call, I ask Heidi what is her biggest achievement since establishing identifyHer.

“Building the team. We wouldn’t be where we are now, if it wasn’t for the people that have helped us along the journey. It took us a long time to find them, but we knew they were the right people straight away.

“I hope we can continue growing it with as good people as we have now.”

For more info, visit identifyher.ai.

 

 

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