femtechHERO

    Industry • Inspiration

    What is 'Femtech' and Why Should the Beauty Industry Care About It?

    Beauty professionals can learn a lot from the way femtech companies unabashedly champion issues that have long been stigmatized.

    After many years of stagnation and stigma, femtech is now a growing business sector receiving huge amounts of investment. As tech companies turn their attention to women’s health and wellness for people with uteruses, the dearth of tools and resources dedicated to this huge category of potential consumers is becoming increasingly clear. 

    Everything from period tracking apps and breastfeeding support to smart vibrators and disease detection falls under the femtech umbrella. And in addition to creating enormous opportunity for investors and founders alike, the femtech movement is making a difference in real people’s lives while destigmatizing health issues that were once too taboo to talk about. Here’s what’s happening in the world of femtech, and what the beauty industry stands to learn.

    What is femtech, anyway?

    The world of femtech encompasses both hardware products and software solutions that cater to issues related to the female-assigned reproductive system and women’s health. The term “femtech” can be traced back to Ida Tin, the founder of period tracking app company, Clue. Tin used the term while pitching Clue to mostly male investors, and the name stuck. 

    Femtech tools can be applied in a range of ways, in the sense that the same period tracking app might be used to avoid pregnancy or to encourage it, for example. Generally speaking, the femtech category helps people manage wellbeing around:

    • Fertility

    • Birth control

    • Menstruation and period care

    • Menopause

    • Hormonal health

    • Chronic conditions

    • Pelvic health

    • Sexuality and sexual health

    • Pregnancy

    • Parenthood

    • Breast feeding

    • General wellness

    Sounds great! So what’s the problem?

    As there are in any industry, there are a number of obstacles standing between today and the future of femtech. Here are two major challenges worth paying attention to:

    Exclusionary language

    There are a lot of social issues swirling around the very term “femtech”. The tech solutions on offer don’t just apply to women, or even the broader category of women-identifying people; not all people with female-assigned reproductive systems identify as women. That’s why there’s a push toward more inclusive language that doesn’t alienate trans, nonbinary, and gender-conforming people who may very well benefit from tools that currently fall into the femtech family. There is also an argument to be made that designating femtech as its own separate category is exclusionary; highlighting tech created for women as outside the “norm” of other medical technology tools positions the people who use femtech as other. 

    Beauty industry pros who work in femtech should be sensitive to these topics and follow closely as the lexicon evolves. Making sure to use inclusive language whenever possible will allow you to call in the myriad of people who might benefit from using your products and services.

    The investment question

    One of the biggest challenges facing the femtech industry is the question of investment. According to Crunchbase, 80% of femtech founders are women. Imagine those pitch meetings; female founders talking about period blood, lactation, and ovarian health in front of a panel of the men who hold the purse strings. The image may be an exaggeration — not all femtech companies are run by women and not all investors are men — but it’s a common refrain in the industry.

    Due to a huge range of social and cultural forces, women are also less likely to ask for funding. The combination of female founders either not asking or asking for less and the stigma associated with the female-assigned reproductive system makes bringing femtech companies to fruition an uphill battle.

    What the beauty industry can learn from all this

    Despite those challenges, investment in femtech is on the rise in a big way. In 2019, the femtech market was valued at an estimated $18.75 billion. By 2027, it is expected to surpass the $60 billion mark. A number of notable high profile investment rounds occurred in the femtech space in 2021, like Flo’s $50 million Series B fundraising round and Maven Clinic’s $110 million Series D round (which made it the first unicorn in femtech). Deals like these demonstrate the clear interest in companies that broach topics that were once considered too niche, weird, or embarrassing.

    The impressive response to femtech innovation also indicates just how ready the world is for this category to blossom. Guidelines for the inclusion of women and minorities in government-funded medical research weren’t issued by Congress until 1993. It took Apple until 2015 to add basic period tracking functionality to the Health app. The world has been slow to acknowledge the call that femtech answers; instead of marketing products to women with pink color schemes and delicate designs, the femtech category takes health seriously for women and all people experiencing life with uteruses.

    One main way the beauty and femtech industries are alike is the predominance of female founders. The challenges standing in the way of femtech growth — social topics, gender issues, and questions about how those identity-based elements influence investment — are familiar to many beauty business owners. Together, women-led companies in both femtech and beauty are pushing society toward a more inclusive and accepting future. In the meantime, the beauty industry has a lot to learn from the way femtech leans into what makes their community unique.

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