Supriya Dixit, Head of Marketing
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the need for a robust healthcare system in India. The Indian femtech sector also witnessed multiple entrepreneurs introducing their innovations through technologies in diagnostics and doctor consultations. However, the main challenge is the reluctance of Indian investors to fund these femtech startups. The male-dominated investor community is unwilling to talk about women’s health issues.
Now is the time to shift our attention from the digital savvy consumer to the common population, which includes women who have lesser exposure to education.
Increasing the awareness and popularity as well as the availability of technology options and encouraging their adoption will help in enabling the progress of the Indian femtech industry.
Fig. 1: A Peek into the Millennial Women's Menstrual Health
Source: The Economic Times
What Is Femtech?
Femtech encompasses an amalgamation of science and advanced technologies to innovate products, services, wearables, and software that address women's health and wellness requirements. The term ‘Femtech’ was coined by Ida Tin, a Danish entrepreneur, in the year 2016.
From Clue by Ida Tin – a period tracking app, to Acne Healing Patch by Nua – a science-backed skincare product, that aids in getting rid of period-caused acne, the femtech market is persevering to raise awareness for women’s individualized needs based on their menstrual cycle/hormonal changes. Femtech is considered a USD 22bn industry, which is disrupting the healthcare sector in several ways.
The global femtech industry is predicted to reach USD 71,000mn by 2026. India's femtech sector is redefining itself like never before. The sector received 40 funding deals amounting to USD 98mn in the last seven years. The market is now poised to grow at a healthy rate of 17% from 2020 to 2026.
Fig. 2: Indian Women's Health Device Market Size
Source: Fortune Business Insights
The Dawn of Female Technology
With femtech garnering some limelight in recent years, women’s health is finally enjoying its moment in healthcare and technology sector. It is also safe to say that currently, the spotlight is on stigmatized, yet crucial, health needs such as menstrual health, sexual health, maternal health, menopause, and so on.
A comprehensive analysis stated that women reported changes in their menstrual cycle following the COVID-19 vaccine dose. Many pointed out that the COVID-19 infection also affected their menstrual cycles, further impacting their quality of life. Irregular periods, unusual period blood clotting, changes to the menstrual cycle, or worsened premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are some of the significant symptoms experienced by many women.
What has led to this long-overdue awareness is the rise of female technology and she-economy through which India is witnessing the growth of numerous brands and services such as Nua, Get Rael, Hims & Hers, etc. These upcoming brands are consistently striving to raise awareness around women's health and hygiene through science-backed products and technology-led services or applications to address feminine healthcare necessities.
The shift toward enhanced treatment for improved health outcomes and acceptance of innovative personalized diagnostics, smart tools, and evidence-based recommendations is evolving the healthcare ecosystem. This tectonic shift of women’s increasing financial autonomy, specifically during the pandemic, has caught more attention to self-care and self-love.
Fig. 3: How Often Women Seek Guidance from a Gynecologist
Source: The Economic Times
With their primary offerings and services, brands are incorporating today's digital platforms like social media engagement, marketing campaigns, community advocacy, personalized engagement, and period guides/education through blogs on their websites. These technology-led applications are creating awareness, which is helpful in breaking the already existing stigma and barriers and offering a safe and judgment-free platform for women to address their concerns.
Indian Femtech Start-ups Leading the Way
While healthcare has evolved over the years, it remains largely biased towards men, as most solutions and diagnoses are designed for the standard male body.
India’s millennial women, predominantly the working professionals between the age group of 23–38, are the emerging torchbearers leading the way and bringing about a transformation in the Indian femtech sector.
Today, India is home to around 5% of the world's total femtech enterprises.
The start-up sector is now embracing new innovative tech solutions to fill this gap in women's healthcare. Referred to as ‘femtech start-ups’, these enterprises are catering to women’s wellness and healthcare around menstruation, sexual health, etc. The women-centric healthcare apps focus on presenting solutions for a range of medical issues, including menstrual health and hygiene, infertility, birth control, and sexual wellness. Femtech apps are also extending their horizon and offering mental health support and medical assistance to the LGBTQ+ communities.
Many femtech applications are transforming the women’s wellness and healthcare market in India. Here are some of the pathbreaking solutions:
Proactive For Her: This application offers teleconsultation service. Through its clinics, the company facilitates offline services for problems related to skin and haircare, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), menstrual health, sexual health, and others.
Healthfab: A Bengaluru-based femtech start-up founded in 2019, the company’s flagship product is ‘GoPadFree’, a reusable period panty.
That Sassy Thing: This women-focused sexual and menstrual wellness brand sells products, including a menstrual cramp care roller, pubic hair oil, underwear detergent, and an intimate wash to cleanse the intimate areas.
Hera: This Hyderabad-based start-up focuses on general pregnancy and sexual health. The start-up's e-commerce platform offers clean nutrition, health checks, and follow-up care products.
However, for many entrepreneurs, working on a femtech start-up is still a personal journey, more than a commercial pursuit, even though it caters to nearly half of India’s population.
Fig. 4: Funding Deals in Femtech
Challenges Faced by Femtech Start-ups
In a market where fintech start-ups are garnering attention and funding, femtech start-ups are taking a backseat due to the male-dominated investor community which refuses to comprehend women's health issues. Many femtechs are starved of the money they require to operate. Today, the femtech industry accounts for 1.4% of capital invested in healthcare; however, only 4% of healthcare R&D funding is targeted at women's health.
Founder of Proactive For Her, a women-focused healthcare start-up, Achitha Jacob stated, “The stigma attached to women’s menstrual, sexual, as well as reproductive health issues coupled with a lack of access to non-judgemental support has prevented women from addressing their healthcare needs.”
Yet another concern is cybersecurity and the threat of data thefts. Apps are more susceptible to cyberattacks which can lead to disclosing users' private details. A significant issue that prevents femtech start-ups from scaling is the absence of public support and awareness, stemming from the taboo around women's health and hygiene, which still exists.
Data theft is also a major challenge that femtechs face. It is often suspected by users that period apps, which are available for free may trade their private data to generate revenue.
Harry Sehrawat, co-founder of Sanfe, a feminine hygiene and period care label, believes “the market is poised to grow at a healthy rate as the innovative technologies are targeting menstruation issues, pelvic health, fertility and birth control, sexual wellness, and general healthcare.”
Femtech start-ups in the US have recorded to have received 12x more funding than their Indian counterparts in the past four years.
Women-centric start-ups in India have been largely focused on disease detection as well as hygiene issues.
Tech platforms are yet to fully address concerns like pre/post-natal care, mental depression, etc.
Arriving at a Crossroads for Accelerated Growth
The onset of COVID-19 in India led to the finding that women residing in tier 3 and 4 cities, along with those already suffering from chronic diseases, the elderly, and expecting mothers, were the most vulnerable sections of society. Through the digital dissemination of data, along with telemedicine, e-pharmacies, remote monitoring, and digital healthcare devices there was an attempt to bring this wide gamut of the population into care coverage.
Against this backdrop, femtech digital platforms and mobile applications have been leveraging technology infrastructure to cater to women’s health & wellness and address these shortcomings. and machine learning coupled with next-gen technologies like 3D sensors, enhanced imaging, and screening solutions are fueling the adoption of remote monitoring solutions and telehealth.
Through digital healthcare access, India’s femtech entities are presenting women with advanced, standardized, and same-cost coverage insights, irrespective of their location, community, or other considerations, such as communities where women are not allowed to venture out of their homes. This deeper penetration of telemedicine is connecting women directly with the best medical experts from within their homes.
The rising wave of femtech in India is presenting opportunities to enhance the lives of half the population, directly and indirectly. A global management consulting firm, McKinsey's recent article reported, 'women's health is not deemed as a niche market. It incorporates much more than just maternal or reproductive care. Indeed, women's healthcare offers enormous opportunities for value creation.'
It is now time for stakeholders to turn their attention toward women's health and wellness start-ups and for the general population to wake up and smell the coffee.