When lifelong warrior Louise Stevenson asked her husband if her anxiety was harmful, her response stopped her. “He said it had a negative impact on absolutely everything.” It was the indication he needed to seek help.
Diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, she sought technology-based tools to complement her therapy. “But I couldn’t find any app that offered what I wanted,” he says. “I was literally writing my worries on the back of the envelopes.” Thus, the 41-year-old mother from Herefordshire left her job in financial services, created Worry Tree, one of 15 approved mental health tools in the NHS application library, and entered the thriving sector of femtech technology.
The app, which helps users notice and challenge their concerns, is available to everyone, but 75% of its users are women. It turns out they are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety. Stevenson has earned a place in a new dedicated accelerator, the London-based Femtech Lab, which presented itself as the first in Europe to focus on this sector.
The term femtech, which refers to products that address health or wellness issues experienced by women, was coined about five years ago, although “we barely scratched the surface,” according to Pauliina Martikainen, director of investments of venture capitalists Maki.vc. For example, it is estimated that 1.2 billion women worldwide will be menopausal or postmenopausal by 2030 and almost no one is satisfied with the care offered, she said, “creating a great opportunity to provide better products and services. It has a lot of potential. “
What’s new or on the horizon? For menopausal women, there is a range of technology to assess and treat symptoms: from a bracelet (currently in development) that sends cooling sensations to the wrist to combat flowers, to digital services like British companies Stella (an app that launches this summer). and Alva, who offer consultations, specialized counseling, even a virtual menopause trainer and home delivery of treatments. “Companies that manage to create feedback loops can leverage valuable data that can be used in research and to create and validate new treatments,” says Martikainen.
According to her, funding for the sector has skyrocketed worldwide, rising 171% in the three years to 2019 to just under £ 1bn (£ 949m / £ 1.1m) of euros), with particularly strong growth in the UK, where many emerging companies are bidding for their first tranche of cash.
Femtech has gone from the early days when it focused primarily on periods and fertility. Today it incorporates from hormonal awareness and personalized fitness to sexual empowerment and the fastest “sexual technology”: think of vibrators designed by women who understand their own physiology and sex therapy counseling applications based on the science. In 2027, the world market is expected to be worth $ 60 billion and is expected to grow by 16% year-on-year.
Karina Vazirova and femtech evangelist Katia Lang, the team behind Femtech Lab, claim that fertility, menopause and hormonal health (monitoring hormones and what that means for exercise and what you eat) are some of the fastest growing areas of this space. “Women are more than half the population, but we have unmet needs,” Vazirova says. “Many products are not designed for women and many clinical trials favor men.”
But there are risks. Femtech (a term that many don’t like) collects very personal information about women, their bodies, lifestyles, sex lives, pregnancies, and parenting issues. “This is an unimaginable amount of data,” says Jo O’Reilly, deputy editor of ProPrivacy, a digital privacy advocate. “Statistics that wouldn’t be priceless, but it’s also not the kind of data any woman would want to share.”
According to the tradition of the Internet, Google knows that before doing so she is pregnant. Just this January, one of the most popular period and period tracking apps, Flo, agreed with U.S. trade authorities (the Federal Trade Commission) over allegations that it had shared health information with third parties, including Facebook. and Google. Apps that track intimate health data are “a privacy bet,” O’Reilly says. “And that’s especially true in the free.”
However, Helene Guillaume, founder of the start-up Wild.AI, which analyzes data on women athletes, from sleep and vital signs to how they feel, says the business harshly protects users ’information. “We were born after the GDPR and data privacy is built into our core.” Ultimately, privacy is something that consumers can vote for with their virtual feet.
Is there a danger that a growing reliance on shared platforms will mean that serious health conditions are lost because women rely more on peer information and remote counseling and are less likely to see their doctors?
The obstetrician-consultant, Dr. Lucy Mackillop, who is also chief physician at Sensyne Health, argues that more accurate information about the conditions and sense of control women gain can be empowering for both the patient and the doctor: I see the potential: the “nirvana” of an alliance between patient and doctor, with a secure exchange of data. ” She’s not a fan of the term femtech, but she says the label helps highlight inequality in women’s investment and research in health.
And remember, Vazirova and Lang say, that most products are created for experienced Western consumers, while in rural areas of the developing world, some women and girls still lack basic knowledge about their own bodies. A startup of its program only deals with this: Aurat Raaj is a tool for girls up to eight years old, which provides education on menstrual hygiene and reproductive health, through a local language chat bot. This has already been put in place in Pakistan with the aim of increasing it.
“In some parts of the world, girls are put to sleep outside when they have their periods; they look dirty,” says Vazirova. “It is easy to forget that we are in a privileged position in our charming progressive bubble in London. Any technology that can empower women in these situations will do wonderful things. “