Many good things are born from adversity. After 30 years in the corporate world, I decided to make a change.
I woke up one day in June 2008. I was 38 and felt emotionally paralysed, scared and unable to drive my son to school – a trip I had done daily for 15 years. I did it regardless, but I had no idea how. Suffering with anxiety, palpitations and gynae issues, I turned to my GP for help and I was diagnosed with burnout.
This made complete sense at the time, as I had experienced an incredibly challenging few months with work and personal issues. I was referred to various cardio and gynae consultants yet no one mentioned perimenopause or menopause. I now know that’s what it was, albeit lower than the average UK perimenopause age.
Several years passed but I still wasn’t firing on all cylinders. During yet another GP appointment I mentioned menopause but I was informed I was too young at 43. Cue another five years feeling meh. Not one GP – male or female – ever mentioned perimenopause or menopause during my numerous appointments.
After visiting Dr Google yet again, I returned to the GP to request HRT. I walked out with the prescription thinking ‘how do I know this one is right for me?’
I never picked up that prescription and began to do my own research. In the meantime, I was prescribed another HRT but again, confusion reigned. Dr Google can be your friend as well as your enemy.
In 2018, I conducted mammoth research, I joined menopause support groups, I contacted various ‘specialists’ and in 2019 I saw yet another GP where I requested body-identical HRT.
The GP had zero knowledge of this HRT, even though it was quite widely used at this stage, hence me having to spell it. He prescribed the wrong amount, but due to my extensive research I identified this and informed the practice.
I could write a book on these all too common experiences which so many women have encountered, and continue to encounter, from being prescribed antidepressants to being completely misinformed.
Astonishingly, GPs do not receive mandatory menopause training, hence their lack of HRT/menopause knowledge. Fortunately, the tide is slowly turning with some GPs are now undertaking independent menopause training.
I became more knowledgable than any GP I had ever seen. At networking events, women in the business world were turning to me for advice as they were scared of losing their career. So, I researched further and began my training to become a menopause coach as well as signing up for a functional health course. With a new focus and drive, I said farewell to the PR world I had known for 13 years.
I founded Menopause Mentor to provide evidence-based, factual training and help employers and individuals navigate the menopause journey. Menopause Table Talks are workplace menopause awareness training workshops to enable businesses to support their employees, to prevent tribunals and a host of other benefits.
I also provide one-to one menopause coaching for individuals requiring personal support on nutrition, stress reduction, supplements and overall menopause understanding to enable individuals to take back control.
Figures show that women over 50 are the fastest growing section of the UK workforce. However, the average age for menopause in the UK is 51, with nine out of ten women stating their menopausal symptoms impact their work, including fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and loss of confidence.
One in four say they do not feel supported in the workplace while a third hide their symptoms, fearing for their jobs. Nearly one million women have had to give up work due to menopause and often individuals feel helpless.
There’s so much misinformation out there, leaving many women feeling quite lost at this stage of their lives whilst workplaces face the threat of losing experienced employees. It’s time for a change.
For more info, visit menopausementor.uk.
“Let the activists keep beating the drum around female health inequalities”
By Nicola Finn, associate director at OggaDoon
For decades medical research has been based on data from the male body, but we now know that women’s bodies respond in different ways to drugs and disease.
The research and application gap in healthcare is starting to be recognised and thankfully, the landscape is changing. After all women account for 50 per cent of the global population.
We are going to witness a massive explosion in female health solutions over the next five years. Femtech is predicted to grow at around 15 per cent CAGR, with solutions around mental health, ovarian health, menstrual health and menopause health – to name a few.
More female founders who connect and understand the different health challenges women face are starting businesses to help fill the female health gap in different ways. However, this is not for the faint of heart as the female founders must overcome other barriers such as the bias in capital funding, access to business loans and support for childcare to help free up women’s time.
There is additional research conducted by Extended Ventures which also spotlighted the huge investment gap facing diverse founders over the past decade, according to race, gender and educational background, with all-ethnic teams and female entrepreneurs receiving just a fraction of available funding versus all-white teams and male founders. The finding of baked-in bias holds true across all funding stages, per the findings.
Lack of diversity across the capital landscape – angel, venture capital (VC) or private equity (PE) – is no secret. At present, it is a male-dominated space globally.
In 2019 women comprise 30 per cent of venture capital personnel – a small increase from 27 per cent in 2017. Whilst this is encouraging and implies more representation, it still lags behind the average of UK working professionals. All groups of humans have similar biases, naturally gravitating to people and scenarios that they can personally relate to. This extends to bias around investment decisions, intentional or not. But we need more female investors to be in these positions, as they can personally understand the impact of innovations, specifically targeting female health.
After years of male investors ignoring the female health space, it is finally being recognised as a hotbed for investment due to its predicted growth. Thankfully, more women are coming into the female health investment industry and more funds are also headed by female investors.
This is needed to drive and ensure inclusivity and unbiased access to the industry and will need historic investment for innovation and collaboration. In order to build towards the brave new world that prioritises individual female needs in healthcare, there needs to be a movement. Not just front-line activists championing and fighting for equality in female health, but also activist angels, VCs and PEs, providing funding support to visionary founders.
Right now, it is a critical time to keep taking those meaningful steps to bridge the gender health gap. With that, here are some of the UK femtech founders bridging the gender health gap:
Sarah Bolt, founder of Forth has always been part of the movement to highlight and bridge the female gender data and health inequality gap. Forth’s mission is to empower women to become experts on their own body through scientific knowledge and understanding. Historically, women’s bodies were deemed too complicated for clinical trials due to the complexities of their hormone network. This has resulted in women reacting differently to drugs and often misdiagnosed as they do not present with the same symptoms as men.
It was only six years ago that the National Institutes of Health required medical investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. But there is still a long way to go in closing the gender data gap in health.
Forth’s contribution to closing this gap in data is their ground-breaking solution MyFORM™, an advanced female hormone blood test that addresses the lack of clinical insight from current single day hormone blood tests. The single-day tests assume every woman has an average length cycle of 28 days and offer little in the way of personalisation.
MyFORM™ uses a combination of blood analysis, advanced mathematical modelling and endocrinology expertise to scientifically map how a woman’s hormones are fluctuating across their entire menstrual cycle rather than a single day.
With two blood tests taken on day 14 and day 21, the test is able to predict the woman’s own cycle length, creating charts of her four key female hormones across her menstrual cycle, as well as providing personalised ranges for each hormone.
Forth has also developed a unique way to assess a woman’s ovarian health. The Forth Ovarian Response Metric (FORM) takes the results from the blood tests to provide a score on how well a woman’s ovaries are responding to her control hormones. A score above 75 indicates a healthy hormone network. This is particularly useful for women entering perimenopause when their ovaries begin to become less responsive.
The product is designed for women who are experiencing natural menstrual cycles and not using any hormonal treatments such as the pill, Mirena coil or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It is particularly useful for:
- Women who want to check for hormone imbalance
- Women in their 40s who want to understand if the symptoms they are experiencing are due to perimenopause
- To identify or manage an existing hormone related condition
- Women who consider starting a family
- Exercisers, athletes and dancers who want to perform to their personal best throughout their cycle and ensure their hormones have not been compromised by their training load and fuelling strategies
- Women whose menstrual cycles have recently resumed following recovery from RED-S – relative energy deficiency in sport – discontinuation of hormonal contraception or in the postnatal period.
The highly accurate, personalised results are based on eight hormone measurements, which are translated through AI and delivered on the Forth app. This offers scientific data and actionable insights as hormones are intrinsically linked to a woman’s wellbeing and have an important role to play not only in fertility but in heart health, bone health and the nervous system.
Dr Chen Mao Davies started LatchAid after facing her own struggles with breastfeeding, pain and subsequent depression. She realised that mothers needed maternal support fit for the 21st century in an interactive way.
With the pandemic currently paralysing the predominantly face-to-face support model in place, her app is more necessary now than ever.
LatchAid supports breastfeeding mums and their families through interactive 3D technology, artificial intelligence, virtual peer support groups and live healthcare specialists to combat problems experienced with the latching technique. The app prides itself on being inherently accessible and democratic, empowering women everywhere, regardless of their economic or environmental circumstances.
As well as positive health outcomes for mothers and babies, breastfeeding offers social, economic, and environmental benefits. The UK, however, has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. 90 per cent of women give up breastfeeding before they want to because of pain, health issues or lack of support. Unsuccessful breastfeeding also costs society around US$1B per day globally.
LatchAid is an app that utilises 3D interactive technology to help mothers learn breastfeeding skills intuitively from 3D avatars. It offers virtual peer support groups to connect mothers to a close-knit peer-to-peer support network and an AI-powered virtual supporter chatbot to provide users with personalised expertise and companionship 24/7.
Elvie is a women’s healthcare company providing products which take women’s tech out of the dark ages. Tania Boler started the business after working on women’s health policy for global NGOs and the United Nations.
She believes that the release of health products targeting a female audience must go alongside the breaking down of societal stigmatisation of women’s health.
One such product is the sleek, innovative breast pump – the smallest and lightest wearable electric one on the market. It is a silent, wire-free, fully electric device that fits subtly into a nursing bra, ensuring new mothers can pump whilst moving around comfortably.
The pump connects to a mobile app which releases a notification when the bottles are filled. The app can also be used to adjust the suction, monitor pumping history, monitor real-time milk levels and pause and start pumping. The product also includes bra adjusters to ensure less pressure on the breast.
Another product by Elvie is the pelvic floor trainer. Now available on the NHS, this product connects to the Elvie app and encourages training with fun games for five minutes, three times a week. The trainer is fully waterproof, rechargeable and covered with medical-grade silicone and it is safe to use with an IUD and coil. The app encourages use with four different skill levels and six different exercise types including strength and lift.
Kim Palmer founded the women’s mental health app Clementine in 2017 which uses hypnotherapy to lower stress levels and build confidence. She created Clementine after suffering herself from panic attacks during pregnancy. The app has both a free and a subscription-based version with sleep sessions, confidence and anti-anxiety courses as well as mantras.
Deborah Brock founded Nua Fertility following the challenges she had through her own fertility journey. Following her own successful pregnancy through optimising diet, she started researching the connection between the gut microbiome and reproductive health. After three years of research, Deborah developed two fertility supplements – one for men and one for women – that focus on the microbiome to optimise fertility health.
Nua fertility supplements, have a microbiome focus and are designed to support the nutritional needs of men and women when trying to conceive. The company’s NuaBiome Women supplements combine fertility-supporting vitamins and minerals with a blend of strains of good bacteria to promote healthy conception, egg health, and foetal development.
The friendly bacteria offer three significant benefits: absorption of essential fertility vitamins and nutrients, strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation in the body.
All these female founders have fought to gain funding for their propositions and succeeded despite the obstacles due to the baked-in bias and lack of diversity across the business capital arena.
However, more female investors need to be appointed as they can personally understand the impact of female health tech innovations.
Let the activists keep beating the drum around female health inequalities. As we continue to make these meaningful steps to bridge the gender health gap we can remember that necessity is the mother of all invention.
“There is a huge need for both support and education about women’s health”
By Afua Basoah, Head of Health Strategy for RAPP UK
For generations, women have lived with health and care systems that are mostly designed by men, for men.
Despite representing 51 per cent of the population, women are still significantly underrepresented in clinical trials and research. This has meant that not enough is known about conditions that only affect women, or about how conditions that affect both men and women impact women in different ways.
This gender gap contributes to worse health outcomes for women, with much less known about female health conditions than those that also or only affect men. In the UK, women have a longer life expectancy than men, with life expectancy at birth being 83.1 for women and 79.4 years for men in 2017 to 2019. However, women in the UK spend a greater proportion of their lives in ill health and disability.
In summer 2021, the UK government opened a consultation process to inform the development of a national Women’s Health Strategy. The ambition is to build a health system that better understands and is, therefore, responsive to the realities and needs of women throughout their lives.
There is a huge need for both support and education about all aspects of women’s health. Personalised, accessible and delivered in a way that evolves as their lives change. As women’s healthcare becomes an increasing priority, the femtech industry is rising to meet the challenge. The industry has already demonstrated impressive early wins and with appropriate access to funding, greater disruption could be ahead.
In 2019, the femtech industry generated $820.6m in global revenue and received $592m in venture capital investment. Femtech pioneers, many of whom are female-founded, have benefited from cultural shifts, sparked by events such as the #MeToo movement, a growing interest in diversity and inclusion and pandemic-related digital acceleration.
While the US accounts for the lion’s share of femtech startups, the UK comes second in a market predicted to be worth in excess of $75.1B (£60.7B) by 2025. The industry represents a broad range of companies that are focused on developing technology aimed at improving women’s health and wellbeing that tend to fall into four categories: healthcare and diagnostics, reproductive health, pregnancy and family care and general health and wellness.
Of these, reproductive health, pregnancy and family care currently dominate the market and according to a recent McKinsey report “there are still significant white spaces” for growth.
The disruption in this space is driven by the need to create inclusive, individualised experiences that meet the unique identities, values and personal needs of women. The one size fits all approach has been sized out.
“The ability to understand the whole woman – her genetics, aspirations, experiences as well as unmet her health needs, provides an opportunity to holistically signpost the right solutions that takes her on a journey that touches every aspect of her well-being”.
Here, Idia Elsmore Dodsworth, co-founder of the AI-based reproductive health monitoring app, Tinto, has highlighted the fact that there is a real shift towards ‘well-care’ versus ‘sick-care’ in the femtech space.
Embedding AI into their own product has helped ensure granularity of data inputs that allows for “super-tailored” content that empower users to manage their health as seamlessly and effortlessly as with other aspects of their lives, and on their terms.
Below are a selection of femtech organisations to keep an eye on:
Founders: Dr Hannah Allen and Idia Elsmore Dodsworth
Year founded: 2019
Total funding: Undisclosed seed funding
As a provider of AI-based software solutions for reproductive health monitoring, the mission of the Tinto app is to nurture women through modern motherhood, enabling mothers to understand the full picture of their wellbeing, and to build a network through meaningful connection and proactive, personalised guidance.
The company offers a mobile app that allows users to communicate with health and wellbeing providers. It provides a curated online community where members can access information and advice from like-minded women going through similar challenges. It also provides online articles regarding baby health, women’s health and topics beyond motherhood.
Founder: Tania Boler
Year founded: 2013
Total funding: £116m
Elvie is a London-headquartered firm that manufacturers technology hardware for women. The first product by the company was the Elvie Trainer, an app-connected Kegal trainer. Followed by the Elvie Pump a quiet, wireless electric pump.
Last September it closed £70m in its Series C funding round to continue diversifying its product range.
Founders: Andrea Berchowitz and Dr Rebecca Love
Year founded: 2020
Total funding: £11.2m
London-based Vira Health focuses on women’s healthcare and improving the gathering and use of female data in healthcare.
Its first product is a menopause subscription app called Stella which guides women through menopause with tailored treatments based on the users’ symptoms.
Last month Vira Health raised £9m in a funding round to add new features to its menopause app, including telehealth and prescriptions.
Founder: Kim Palmer
Year founded: 2017
Total funding: £1m
Clementine is a mental health app for women that uses hypnotherapy to lower stress levels and build confidence. In the subscription-based app there are sleep sessions, confidence courses, anti-anxiety courses and mantras.
The app was created after founder Kim Palmer suffered with panic attacks during pregnancy. Earlier in the year, Clementine partnered with singer and songwriter Becky Hill to encourage young people on a journey to self-care.
Headquartered in London, Clementine raised $1.3m (£1m) in its seed funding round in October 2020.
Because women are not just consumers but the primary healthcare decision-makers for themselves and often for their families, better health outcomes for women can lead to better outcomes for society.
In sickness and in health, at RAPP we stand up for individuality to co-create better outcomes for all. We leverage deep understanding of the realities, values and intersectional identities creates personalised and connected brand experiences that drive healthier outcomes. We believe that predictive, preventive and inclusive health is enabled by creativity, behavioural science, data and technology.
Is femtech finally getting the attention it deserves?
Proptech, medtech, commtech – the digital revolution over the past decade has paved the way for technology to infiltrate every facet of our lives (both personal and professional) to make every day even easier.
While many viewed this as merely a ‘fad’ in the early days, more and more people, businesses and investors are starting to realise, acknowledge and admit that technology is clearly the way forward, and must be integrated into everyday life.
But it’s not simply being able to virtually tour a property, diagnose over the internet, or communicate with colleagues and counterparts all over the globe that technology can help with, it’s now having an impact on an often neglected element of healthcare: women’s health.
What is femtech?
Generally speaking, and according to femtechinsider.com, ‘femtech’ refers to: “software, diagnostics, products and services that use technology to support women’s health”.
The categorisation came about accidentally after the founder of period tracking app Clue, Ida Tun, introduced it as such to her mainly male investors.
While it has come under some scrutiny for not being inclusive (by definition excluding trans men), and that it is liable to encourage the Pink Tax, these are often refuted due to the latter mainly being aimed at products rather than services, and the fact that it is often understood as ‘a technology that improves women’s lives’ to counter the former (as that’s exactly what it does – more medtech, less lifestyle).
Femtech is more than period trackers; the category now encompasses pregnancy, sexual health, chronic disease and maternal care amongst many other.
What’s going on with Femtech investment?
While appetite for anything technology related is increasing, the world has started to realise that female consumer power has arrived – and the force is strong.
Global venture capital investment in femtech surpassed $1.2 billion for the first time ever in 2021 with some very big deals crossing the line ($80 million in Elvie, $75 million in Carrot and $50 million in Flo).
And while some deals are big, others are gigantic. Understood to be the largest amount of femtech funding raised ever, Maven Clinic reached unicorn status with investment of $110 million.
And the big factor? Women are more engaged in healthcare than men. In the US, women spend $500 million a year on medical expenses, and a survey by the US Department of Labor found that women make 70 per cent of the family’s healthcare decisions.
What’s behind this boom in investment?
For many, there are two key trends: Covid and feminism.
Across almost every industry, experts claim technological advancement accelerated spectacularly from March 2020, with projects expected to be completed within five years often being finished within eight weeks to meet a growing need.
While this undoubtably had an impact on femtech’s development, it was already well on its way thanks to the ongoing wave of female empowerment (supported by events such as the #MeToo movement), enabling half the world’s population to realise that there is a significant lack of solutions tailored to them.
So, they built them as the pandemic exposed the challenges women face when it comes to their health.
The prolonged lockdowns, for example, disproportionately impacted women dealing with the higher burden of housework, and domestic abuse against them also increased.
In an interview with Omnia Health, Das, an industry analyst, noted that “during the pandemic, women’s health worldwide suffered intensely, right from increased mental health issues to a surge in unwanted pregnancies and stillbirths”.
As Covid 19 simultaneously fuelled the popularity of online health tools, there had never been a better time for femtech to flourish.
What’s in the future for Femtech?
In 2020, only 2.3 per cent of venture capital funding went to female-led startups. As 90 per cent of investment decision makers are male, femtech developers are not only encountering the usual funding stumbling blocks, but mighty hurdles in the form of lack of understanding by those they are pitching to. Their issues aren’t understood, so why should their solutions be?
There is light at the end of the tunnel however.
While many femtech firms focus on menstruation and reproductive health, space is available for more taboo – and often uncomfortable – topics such as menopause, sex and other urogenital health matters to come to the fore.
By 2023, for example, figures from the Female Founders Fund suggest that 1.1 billion women will be postmenopausal – a huge market and spectacular opportunity for innovation and development.
Businesses and apps such as mySysters have already set waves in motion to support those going through perimenopause or menopause – an often confusing and misunderstood time.
What the future holds, we just don’t know. But what we do know is that thanks to bold innovators, the future of female health is digital – we just need to make sure people understand how vital it is!
- Fertility: The fear, grief and relief in accessing mental health support
- UNFPA appeals for £10.7 million for critical women healthcare in Sri Lanka
- Nike launches online maternity training programme
- Nanopath secures $10 million to develop diagnostic testing for women
- Nurses left with no time for training amid “workforce crisis”
News4 months ago
British entrepreneur launches the first online marketplace for menstrual care
News5 months ago
Woman’s case raises hopes of functional HIV cure
News6 months ago
AI could detect breast cancer in early stages, study reveals
Features2 months ago
Meet the world’s first Women’s Health Innovation Centre
Features2 months ago
The hidden dangers of chronic inflammation
Features5 months ago
This is what the US$72m women’s health fund would mean for the future of femtech
News6 months ago
Home insemination makes fertility care more affordable for thousands ineligible for NHS treatment
Mental health4 months ago
A childhood overshadowed by war inspired Mandana Ahmadi to make a change