Tech-Savvy Women

The Femtech Revolution

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The market for femtech services is growing, with the amount of venture capital raised by these firms crossing the billion-dollar threshold.

  • Facts


    • Femtech firms provide apps and products specifically catering to female health and wellness needs.
    • Forty-five startups in the industry have already received generous funding from institutional investors.
    • The biggest hurdle for femtech entrepreneurs is that most investors and engineers are male and sometimes uncomfortable talking about female health.
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Bay Area startups developing the high-tech way to make a baby
Julie Askland, right, tries on an Ava fertility-tracking device, while talking with co-founder Lea von Bidder at the company's San Francisco office. Source: picture alliance / newscom

Wearable technology tends to count the steps walked, monitor the heart rate or measure the quality of sleep – everything that men want from their gadgets.

Female needs, however, are often ignored by this technology, a fact that a new group of female entrepreneurs is taking advantage of.

One such entrepreneur is Lea von Bidder, whose company Ava produces a wristband that monitors women’s monthly cycle. The tracker collects data on sleep, breathing and blood flow, and is supposed to help women get pregnant more easily by telling them when they experience their most fertile days each month.

The idea was born out of the real-life problems many women experience. “My co-founder and his girlfriend were trying to get pregnant,” Ms. von Bidder said. “Even under the best of circumstances, chances of conception in any month are only 25 percent,” she added. To optimize that process, Ms. von Bidder and three co-founders developed the Ava wristband, which sells for €249 ($263).

Since 2014 more than $1.1 billion of venture capital has gone to tech companies that cater to female health and wellness needs, according to CB Insights, a service trying to predict technology trends. The list of 45 well-financed startups in the so-called femtech industry is likely to grow.

“Sixty percent of smartphone users today already use their phone to look after their health.”

Ida Tin, CEO, Clue

According to the World Bank, 49.5 percent of the world’s population in 2015 was female, but the IT industry with its mostly male founders, investors and engineers has tended to ignore this half. The first Apple iPhone tracking functions for example included everything that men consider important when it comes to fitness and health. There was no option to collect data about menstrual cycles.

Enter the femtech firms that count on tech-savvy female customers. “Sixty percent of smartphone users today already use their phone to look after their health,” said Ida Tin, chief executive of Clue, a startup that also offers a cycle-monitoring app. The Berlin-based company also has options to monitor pain during the period. “Women can take this data to the doctor and analyze them together to get better treatment,” Ms. Tin said.

And the femtech services don’t stop at fertility and health concerns. Women have their own idea of good sex? How about a smart vibrator that adapts to individual preferences, as offered by California-based start-up Lioness. Need to work while pumping breastmilk? The U.S. firm Willow Pump offers a model that can be worn in the bra and leaves the mother’s hands free for other tasks.

Some of the female entrepreneurs have had trouble selling their ideas to mostly male financiers. Miki Agrawal, whose New York startup Thinx sells period-proof underwear that absorbs menstrual blood and can be washed and reused, experienced this several times. “It was nearly impossible to raise money, because everyone we spoke to were men. Only 4 percent of women sit in senior-level, partner-level positions at funds to make these kinds of decisions,” she recently told Bloomberg. She got her first round of capital through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

Ms. von Bidder and her co-founders had fewer problems with financing. Ava has already attracted $12.3 million from investors and recently shifted its headquarters from Switzerland to Silicon Valley in order to become more global.

The entrepreneur said she approaches potential investors confidently, partly because she’s convinced that better technology will always win out. “My co-founder’s girlfriend who was trying to get pregnant is in her 20s, and used to using apps in her daily life,” Ms. Bidder said. Measuring her temperature every morning at 6 a.m. or urinating on a stick 10 times a month to find her conception window is just not compatible with modern life anymore, Ms. von Bidder added.

And the femtech products can speak to men too. Ava, for example, has a private Facebook group where customers can post about their experiences with the service. And the male partners, Ms. von Bidder said, look just as happy as the women when they announce in selfie videos that the couple is expecting a child.

A version of this article first appeared in business weekly WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author:

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