When I first heard the term ‘FemTech’ last year, one product came to mind: Elvie’s silent and smart breast pump. I still clearly remember the excitement several years prior when a friend passed me her new wearable pump and said ‘hey, you’ll like this’. She was right. With my background in industrial design and engineering, she knew I’d be instantly fascinated with how it worked, and how they had cleverly balanced revolutionary styling with subtlety and elegance. But there was something more to this product, she was clearly delighted by it too. It was a step change in innovation for breastfeeding mothers and how they pump, and it had clearly been designed with the user at the heart of it.
In 2022, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to FemTech Lab; a London-based accelerator dedicated to ‘all things women’s health and wellbeing’. This was the catalyst for fully immersing myself in the industry, navigating the empowering network, opening conversations on the taboo, and ultimately trying to understand what role engineers can play in supporting future innovations in women’s health. FemTech perfectly straddles the medical device and consumer goods industries but is not a niche segment, with a market spanning half of the planet’s population. It is deservedly becoming its own pillar of healthcare and wellness.
Starting a conversation is what matters
The FemTech industry – sometimes referred to as ‘women’s health’ or ‘women’s wellbeing’ – is attracting attention globally. Here in the UK a health improvement policy paper titled “Women’s Heath Strategy for England” was commissioned by the government in August 2022, highlighting its commitment to making women’s health a priority. Investment in the industry is growing at an explosive rate. Depending on the source, the investment figures that have been reported range from hundreds of billions to one trillion dollars. This obviously hasn’t always been the case and lack of investment previously posed a significant threat to the women’s health sector (in both public and private funds), despite continuous innovation. The investment sector historically lacked diversity, with 90% of investment decision-makers being men. FemTech innovators were therefore pitching to investors who potentially didn’t share the same experiences, education, or awareness of women’s health, so the potential and benefit of the product may not have resonated.
So, why is this changing now? I’ve been looking at the patterns and trends in this ever-growing and boldly innovative landscape and have been trying to absorb as much as I can from events like ‘Brown Rudnick Women’s Health & Wellness Pitch Event’ and ‘FemTech Lab’s Win the future female consumer. Key trends in women’s health tech’.
What follows are the four key takeaways to consider when developing a FemTech device.
1. Get personal
Addressing women’s health issues requires a personal approach. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, especially when the tech relates to the menopause or reproductive health. This encompasses everything from menstrual health, fertility, pregnancy, post-pregnancy care, breastfeeding, and any associated mental health issues. Women who were previously categorised and given a generic response, be it nutritional advice or medication, are making a stand – this is no longer good enough.
There’s a need for more bespoke and tailored recommendations to an individual’s very specific set of circumstances. Baby2Body is one such company doing this through their app for personalised wellness plans for fertility and pregnancy. Similarly, unfabled is a one stop shop for menstrual wellbeing products, where curated recommendations are made for the consumer using AI. Leveraging AI to aid this personalisation is increasingly powerful as long its sources have been carefully considered and it isn’t just an ‘all internet’ approach.
2. Data vs. Trust
Next up, the holy grail of data. FemTech start-ups have the opportunity to be the voice of women’s health needs through the data driven insights they gather. With personalisation comes a plethora of data points, collected from many women through key cycles, stages, and events of their life. Start-ups have a unique way of building trust with their consumers, and as such can gather all the insights on what they’ll want to buy next, and when. The healthcare and wellbeing industry was previously driven by big pharmaceutical companies telling consumers what they needed to buy. A new type of consumer is here though; empowered and demanding products that work for them.
Blue-chip organisations (such as Unilever, GSK & Boots) will have to listen, and their product innovation will now need to be driven by what the consumer wants. Successful start-ups may well see the big corporates come knocking, hungry for the data driven insights defining the products consumers are looking for. Start-ups must tread the line responsibly by balancing what they share to get the exposure and backing from a corporate entity, whilst maintaining the trust of their users. Data and trust are intrinsically linked, and the key to being successful in this space is managing both.
Understanding how to interpret user and market data to drive your development is also crucial. Whilst discussing market trends, Karina Vazirova from FemTech Lab shared that ‘Generation Z’ tend to want data at their fingertips and the ability to forward plan. Financial management and forecasting are generally very important to Gen Z, so, it’s not uncommon for them to start planning for life events, such as pregnancy (from a financial and even nutritional angle), years in advance. Harnessing this synergy between FinTech (financial technology) and FemTech and incorporating the data into your route-to-market strategy will stand any developer in good stead.
3. Understand industry compliance
FemTech innovation is pollinating across multiple industries; but what does that mean for a start-up’s regulatory route? As mentioned, FemTech pulls together both MedTech and consumer industries. It is no secret that the route to market for a healthcare and well-being device or app is well-trodden. We’ve worked with clients who previously leveraged the lesser-regulated pathways to rapidly get a minimum viable product on the market, thereby generating traction, revenue, and data. This then de-risks the investment into developing and certifying a second-generation MedTech product.
This could be an applicable route for many FemTech start-ups but needs to be assessed with the risks of potentially diluting their value proposition. Despite being pushed back, the Medical Device Regulation (MDR) is still approaching, and I’d advise start-ups to be cautious of regulatory classes. They should consider engaging with a regulatory professional as early as possible to understand what implications compliance will have on their products.
4. Create a user experience that delights
Finally, for hardware-based FemTech, the next big thing is wearables. If data isn’t being manually put into apps, its being collected organically using wearables. Fitbit launched its first activity tracker in 2009 and since then the market has expanded enormously. There’s a wearable for just about every part of the body. We can’t get enough of them and the data they provide, so I think those pursuing wearables in the FemTech space have a lot of potential. However, they will only be successful if they answer the demanding needs of their consumers, build trust with them, keep their data safe, and most importantly – truly delight in their user experience.
So how does a FemTech start-up nail what the user wants? This will be a careful consideration and balance between the embodiment of the device itself, its comfort, weight, material, as well as the execution of how the data is presented and the recommendations it makes. The secret to success, (which hopefully by now isn’t a secret) is that the user must be central in the development of any new product. Consider your user at every stage of development, don’t decide on a route forward until the use scenario, user pain points, and user requirements have been fully explored with your user – this cannot be stressed enough. This ethos has been engrained in our approach to development at eg, and there’s more information about how we do this in our recent eBook: ‘User-Centred Design; the key to developing successful medical devices’.
As a designer at heart, it’s this new tech hardware in a tangible form that really excites me, and I hope to continue helping FemTech companies that have the potential to give their users the reaction that Elvie gave me.
5. Final thoughts
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading about thoughts on women’s health tech, but written by a guy – the imposter syndrome was real! However, I want to play my part and have reassuringly been told; ‘men shouldn’t be afraid of getting involved in FemTech; women may suffer the issues that need addressing and approach it from a personal point of view but it’s the collective responsibility, regardless of gender, to address the needs and bias’. FemTech will continue to be an exciting industry to follow, and we have a breadth of experience in this space – putting the user at the heart of the next generation of engineered products. If you want to find out more about how we can support you with this, then I’d love to hear from you.
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