The global femtech market is expected to reach $60bn by 2027, according to Emergen Research. A mounting burden of chronic diseases in the female population, alongside a growing global emphasis on reproductive health and empowerment, has created the demand for high-tech healthcare solutions that put women’s unique healthcare needs at their heart.

Now, a new technology accelerator called FemTech Lab is aiming to support the scale-up of new companies developing innovative solutions tailored to women’s health and wellbeing.

The firm’s first-ever program began on 27 February, helping a cohort of femtech founders from ten companies prepare for their first ever venture capital funding round. These start-ups have been given access to industry experts and specialist resources to help them scale their product development and raise funds.

Medical Technology spoke with FemTech Lab co-founders Karina Vazirova and Katia Lang about what the programme has to offer and where femtech is heading in 2021.

Chloe Kent: What defines femtech for you?

Katia Lang: Femtech is any solution or product targeting women’s health and wellness. A period tracking app is femtech.

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A breastfeeding app is femtech. A community platform that connects mothers, like Peanut, is femtech – you don’t always need a medical professional to advise you, sometimes you just want peer to peer support.

Women are so different from men in every possible way, and all these studies are coming out saying diseases and medications operate differently in women’s bodies. Most of the medication we’re using these days has only been tested on men, because women have hormonal fluctuations that make it hard to test.

But does that mean they don’t work on us as well, that we need smaller doses, or we need something else entirely? Femtech is something that respects and acknowledges the difference between female and male bodies and the ways we operate.

CK: Why did you set up FemTech Lab and what are your individual roles within it?

Karina Vazirova: My background is in product strategy. I’ve built over 30 digital products globally and launched them to market. About a year and a half ago I came across femtech as a sector, and at the time I was working in fintech and legal tech. I was amazed at how much potential the sector had, even at such an early stage, with so many incredible companies already emerging into the space.

KL: I was just exiting my fourth company in January 2020 and I wanted to start an accelerator because all my businesses have been about supporting other companies or other people. I wasn’t sure which sector it would be in, and then Karina started telling me about femtech and I immediately felt the great potential of it. It’s a great new trend sitting atop two other trends – telemedicine and digital health.

CK: What is the role of an accelerator programme?

KV: What we really do is help companies in this space get from that early pre-seed stage to at least their first venture capital round. We do that by bringing together world-class seeding experts across industries, individuals that are incredibly prominent and passionate about helping the sector grow. When companies join the pack, they get access to that kind of support.

CK: What can companies expect from your three-month scheme?

KV: It’s split into three sprints: a product sprint, a go-to-market sprint and a fundraising sprint at the end. Then there is a fourth module that we’re also really proud of around mental wellbeing and leadership. Every Friday we have mental wellness coaches, leadership coaches and inspiring founders coming to meet the entrepreneurs.

That’s quite important because companies fail not just because there’s no market fit but because founders don’t make it, there are issues between co-founders or the journey is not easy. That kind of mental resilience is extremely important, so it’s also a skill we feel is quite key to add to the programme.

CK: What were the key trends among the start-ups you’re supporting?

KV: We had quite an intense process in terms of selecting start-ups to be a part of the programme. We’ve selected ten, but we had a shortlist of 26 that we interviewed together with our admissions board.

When we say that we are very excited about the ten that are joining the programme it’s definitely not an understatement – every single one of them went through serious review in terms of their product feasibility, market size and investability, so we’re really excited about all of them.

There are a lot of apps in the space. There’s some hardware as well in terms of direct-to-consumer devices like wearables, anything that measures your biomarkers, your body performance, testing your urine or your breast milk.

We also have some medtech devices that would be selling to clinics and are going to be disrupting women’s healthcare from the inside. We’re excited about all of them.

CK: What are some of the fastest-growing areas across femtech in 2021?

KL: I think the most popular one is fertility. You can probably imagine all these stories of desperate couples trying to conceive for many years, and they pay crazy amounts of money to do IVF or other forms of fertility treatment. This market is due to be disrupted, with lots of new players coming in making it cheaper, faster, easier and healthier.

Then I would say menopause is one of those spaces which has been underserved for years. There are loads of solutions coming up in that space from peer-to-peer community support, to telemedicine, to supplements, to devices that can cool your skin if you’re having a hot flash.

It’s considered one of the most promising areas because a lot of people in the perimenopausal state have money and independence, so they demand solutions.

KV: Another thing I would add is hormone health, that seems to be the next wave coming. Some apps are now helping to track what phase you’re in in terms of your menstrual cycle, and what that means in terms of how you should exercise, how you should eat, what kind of symptoms you’re getting as a result of a hormonal imbalance and what you can do to deal with that.

That space has been a bit of a mystery, with endless forums and Facebook groups of women discussing their symptoms and trying to help each other, and now there is a range of products coming in.

Which start-ups are involved in the lab?

Aurat Raaj, a local language chatbot for adolescent girls in developing countries that delivers educational content on reproductive health.

The Fertility Circle, an educational fertility platform and app which connects people undergoing fertility treatment.

Femcy, personalised wellness solution that helps manage symptomatic menstrual pain.

LactApp, an artificial intelligence (AI) enabled personalised maternity advice and breastfeeding support platform.

My Milk Lab, a device to track breastfeeding and prevent low milk supply via direct breast-milk sensing.

The Nest Club, an education platform connecting parents with obstetricians, midwifery, health and wellness via masterclasses and social online learning experiences.

The Nourish App, a platform that offers bite-sized emotional support and wellbeing to parents.

Selectivity, a patented platform for at-home intrauterine insemination.

Stork Women, an on-demand, 24-hour continuity care and virtual pregnancy clinic, giving users access to midwives and pregnant/postpartum women on the platform.

Worry Tree, a mobile app-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tool.