But when Tanier Boler, the founder of Elvie (right), spoke at Wired Health earlier this month, it became apparent that for all the talk of female empowerment on International Women’s Day, actually one of the least empowered areas of women’s life around the world, is health.
Elvie claims to give its users instant biofeedback. It’s hard to exercise a muscle you can’t see, and without feedback you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important you do because this "most personal trainer" tones the pelvic floor to avoid a host of common female complaints from incontinence to painful sex. Elvie provides a safe and comfortable digitally connected solution, with an overall mission to "help people feel happy and confident about their whole bodies".
This Femtech market, as it is known, is growing fast. It includes several sub categories including fertility solutions, period care, pregnancy as well as contraception, and pelvic healthcare. CB Insights estimates that Femtech start-ups have raised over $1bn in funding over the last three years. Many think there is far more potential too, as most estimates of future growth instinctively feel cautious.
As Boler said in her presentation, there are three big macro trends coming together right now: the female surge; technology and connectivity; and the rise of health and wellbeing. Those are three massive signals of change that once aligned make for a cultural and technological environment, fertile for female health innovation.
The question is why is it a separate market? Why do we need the female prefix before the word technology?
It’s because the mainstream healthcare options are geared towards men rather than women.
Often, women’s healthcare is lumped in with those of their children. I often pass by the Portland Hospital which describes itself on the outside of the building as the hospital for "Women and Children". And I think that’s how lots of innovators, technology firms and venture capitalists think too: that women’s health only needs to be thought about when it is tied to births and babies.
We all know the famous case of the Apple Watch launching with all kinds of tracking and monitoring tools. Everything that is, except for menstrual cycle tracking, probably the most regular, measurable, trackable event in everyday life that exists. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that if Apple cannot remember to include women in its design processes, other businesses too will overlook us. But when women are ignored as users of a product, they will inevitably look to design their own solutions. And that’s why we have something called ‘Femtech’ because women have had to go out and talk about the problems and issues in healthcare that are relevant to them, and then design and market their solutions.
This isn’t about female empowerment but female entrepreneurialism.
What’s amazing about this, is that the innovators in this area, are creating brand new categories. They haven’t just disrupted existing categories, they are creating a brand new one. And this could be a really exciting time for brand communications and ad agencies.
The whole health and wellness market in general is opening up to consumers now, as we move into a world that regards preventative measures at least as important as curative ones, and that finds the holistic approach to wellness more attractive than ever. It must mean that the clients and briefs that used to reside in specialist health agencies, will come out into the main agency and be treated in a more generalist way. As health becomes more mainstream, more of an everyday commercial driver and consumer need, these health agencies will come to the fore, too. And the important point here is that it’s the female consumer who will be driving this.
This isn’t about female empowerment but female entrepreneurialism. Culturally, we have seen time and again, products made by men but marketed to women. Now we seem to be in a transition period in which culturally we are impressed most by "designed by women, for women" products and services.
That, however, is not the endgame. The endgame is that the whole market opens up for as many female innovators as male innovators so that we see more designers and innovators who happen to be women and who just happen to design and make products and services that could appeal to either women or men.
It is in this world, that we no longer need the prefix ‘fem’ to describe tech that is appropriate for more than half of the population. Not needing to reference the feminine at all is the endgame. That’s empowerment.