We speak to three strong voices on innovations, challenges, and future predictions for the booming industry — and how technology can improve women’s health.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
September 28, 2021
Refering to products, services, and software based on new technologies and focusing on women’s health, the total global market for femtech products and services was valued at some 22 billion dollars in 2020. Forecasts say that this will increase to over 60 billion dollars by 2027.
According to Forbes, the global fertility tech market alone is estimated to reach $36 billion by 2023. Anna Sane has a background within management consulting and marketing before becoming what she describes as a ”full-time fertility nerd”.
— I worked with developing better digital tools at the same time as I went through the biggest crisis of my life — facing many miscarriages and a long row of fertility treatments. And, I felt that something has to be done here. That’s how Tilly was born. We’re building a one-stop-shop for fertility support providing better, more personalised information regardless of where on the journey you are — from proactive testing to IVF. Our app enables users to get tested, keep track of their cycle and treatment schedule, gain new insights based on their specific needs and from others in the same situation, as well as tools helping them to cope mentally.
Viktoria Elman has 12 years of experience in scaling global businesses focusing on growth.
— I’m an intrapreneur turned entrepreneur. I took RedBull to Norway and built the sales team as a 22-year-old, established and launched the leading restaurant booking platform TheFork in the Nordics, got headhunted by TripAdvisor globally to build their now fastest-growing department. I lived in 5 countries, resigned, and moved back to Stockholm in 2020 to pursue my dream in combining my business side with doing social good. So, I founded VoiceHER. Our mission is to empower women and boost their self esteem by connecting them with professional female coaches and women in transformation. All in an audio-first safe space. This allows us to heal, support, thrive, and grow together through sisterhood and the power of female collectiveness.
”We are helping women with the type of healthcare that the society have failed to address”
Zeinab Daugaard studied law and has worked within the private sector in the care industry. She’s now the CEO of HerCare.
— We’re a women’s clinic that provides a comprehensive, individualized patient care, focusing on the underlying causes instead of a pill for every ill. We inform, educate, and treat women through all their hormonal phases: PMS, perimenopause, and menopause. In Sweden, there is a huge gap in health care for women with problems in different hormonal phases. Our founder Mia Lundin founded the practice on more than 30 years of clinical evidence-based experience. Since opening 3,5 years ago, we have helped over 6,000 women to feel good through their whole life, helping them with the type of healthcare that the society have failed to address.
How do you work with tech and innovation?
Viktoria Elman, VoiceHER: Low self-esteem is a major issue in today’s society, particularly among women. Loneliness and depression that is linked to low self-esteem is said to be the leading cause of disease burden on society by 2030 according to WHO. We aim to empower women and boost their self-esteem through the use of technology. We do this by using the unique, valuable, and successful combination of an audio-based social media platform, an emphasis on community with live interactions and social sharing, and the inclusion of female coaches that brings knowledge, insights, and trust. The focus on audio conversations is particularly important, as this creates an atmosphere of intimacy and connectedness, prioritising feelings over visual distractions, which advances our overall goal of meaningful, healing and supportive conversations. It is this fusion of elements that makes us distinctive and innovative.
Zeinab Daugaard, HerCare: We recently launched an app on iOS to digitalize our healthcare model, that has had more than 4,000 downloads within two months. In the app, we offer a hormone test for women so they can get an individualized answer of which hormonal phase they are in — the mentioned PMS, premonpause, and menopause. This is unique since there is a huge lack in knowledge when it comes to perimenopause (PMS) and other hormonal phases and the treatment of those. With the digital test, women can map their well-being and seek the right type of health care immediately. The test result gives an indication of which hormonal phase the women is in and recommendation for the next step. There is also a possibility to learn more about the different hormonal phases in the app. We are currently working on new features to help women more in substantial well-being. With this development, we can help more women wherever they live.
Anna Sane, Tilly: Tech is at the core of what we do. There is no lack of fertility information today — rather the opposite — and there’s now a need to make this information searchable based on individual needs, to make it more relevant to the individual. That’s part of what we’re trying to do. Modern patients want to take control over their own journey and digital tools are a great complement to traditional care that has its natural limitations.
What’d you say is the current status for femtech and femtech startups? The industry is flourishing, is that something you notice?
Zeinab Daugaard, HerCare: Yes, we have seen great development in the industry and there is more to come. Women’s chemical set is different than men’s and therefore we need different and more frequent support through our daily, monthly, and yearly changes. We can see that the more knowledge women get, the more we can demand. There is an important development in how we see ourselves which also gives us the confidence to demand support and health care to be able to feel good and function. I am sure that this development gives women tools to function better which is a great gain for the individual but also for the society when women can be productive through their whole life and not lose momentum due to different phases that we go through.
Anna Sane, Tilly: There’s definitely a lot going on and we’re riding this wave both in terms of investors understanding that this is a sector to count on and in terms of women becoming more aware of the support they deserve. We think there are things to be done in terms of creating actual value for women though and see the support as quite fragmented today — that’s why we’re bringing a range of different support that is needed during different phases into one service. I believe there will be some consolidation during the coming years.
Viktoria Elman, VoiceHER: Definitely. Femtech is growing rapidly, even though the concept of digital women’s health — originating in 2013 when Ida Tin, the founder of Clue, started the first period and ovulation tracking app — is relatively new. In the future, there will be even more companies that benefit women at every stage of their lives, focusing on less comfortable and more taboo topics, such as sexual health and menopause. With femtech on the horizon, the gender gap is closing and conversations start to open up.
”When more women support and empower other women openly, it will create a ripple effect”
What would you like to change to further improve the industry?
Viktoria Elman, VoiceHER: There are numerous femtech companies offering period and fertility mobile tracker apps, to reusable underwear that absorb menstrual blood with monthly and yearly subscriptions. This is great but is focused on the female body: the reproductive, fertility, and menstrual cycle. Our concept offers the accessibility of a safe space exclusively for women and non-binaries who can come together for supportive conversations with professional coaches, therapists, and light workers. This focuses more on female mental health and spiritual wellbeing. To improve the femtech industry, we need to have more female role models and mentors in the industry, showing young girls and women to dare to take action, follow their dreams, believe in themselves and speak up. It all comes down to working on self-confidence and self-esteem. When more women support and empower other women openly, it will create a ripple effect, and it will cultivate the curiosity and courage of a new generation of female entrepreneurs and female-led startups. I believe that this will make female-tech flourish, but we, as women, have to be bolder to dare.
Anna Sane, Tilly: I think the real change will happen when women become more educated and understand the wider value of understanding their cycle, hormonal health, and so forth as early as possible. It’s still a lot about problem-solving, getting pregnant for example, when it could be more about maximising general health. There are lots of great femtech companies trying to educate around this.
Zeinab Daugaard, HerCare: More knowledge and education in an early stage for both girls and boys. Education is the key to understanding. If we put more effort into educating young girls and boys we will provide them with the right tools to be able to understand and handle their well-being. And, also, more investment into female initiatives. Statistics still show that female-built companies get less investments — during 2020, only 1 % of the investments was made in female-founded tech companies.
”There’s a huge lack of research within women’s health — I think a lot can be done with data from tracking tools”
How do you see the future of femtech?
Zeinab Daugaard, HerCare: Except for what I just mentioned, I see great potential and continuous growth where we will have femtech companies going abroad. We believe that tech is the way to educate and support women in their whole life and also provide for the need of meeting other women in the same situation.
Viktoria Elman, VoiceHER: The industry’s current growth will create a more expansive variety of technologies. However, I believe this is just a humble beginning, since most femtech companies still face challenges in raising money. We have to get better at it. Female-led startups face challenges as women are still underrepresented in the investment community and women’s health issues are not always understood by male investors. These two go hand in hand. Yet, as the market grows, I predict that there will be a shift, as the demand for femtech increases and there is an increased awareness, acknowledgement and knowledge about the industry. Today, diversifying tech is massively about women, but it’s more to it, there isn’t any data on the number of trans people or gender minorities in the big tech companies, and there we have a long way to go.
Anna Sane, Tilly: I definitely see personalisation as the future — that will be possible to take to the next level with data-driven techniques becoming better and of course with a growing data set. I think that can make a real difference for women and improve a lot of services already out there. Co-operations between tech companies and researchers are important here. There’s a huge lack of research within women’s health and it is true we’re not always easy to research with our fluctuating hormones and so on, but I think a lot can be done with, for example, data from tracking tools. Here it’s of course important to find the right balance between privacy and research opportunities. Regulations will have to be carefully adjusted.
What else do you have coming?
Anna Sane, Tilly: New functionality and content are constantly added to the app. The next release includes tools for coping with the mental stress that trying to conceive creates for many. Fertility patients experience the same stress levels as cancer patients, but it’s often a misunderstood struggle and mental support is not an integrated part of treatments — although high stress can affect results negatively. This lies close to our heart and we think it’s an area where we can make a big difference looking at the available tools out there, which are basically none…
Zeinab Daugaard, HerCare: We are working into preventive health care and yearly exams for both men and women to be able to support them in early stage before they develop diseases.
Viktoria Elman, VoiceHER: VoiceHER is at a really exciting stage! We have many more coaches in the pipeline, who will talk about a variety of topics: NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming), HSP (Highly sensitive persons), spirituality, chakra healing, mental health, relationships, tantric sex, reiki, careers, leadership, and purpose. And we are just getting started. A majority of our users are Swedish but we are gaining traction in the US and the UK, and that’s where we are headed next.