Remember back in the 1990s, when the medical establishment realized — whoopsie! — that a woman’s heart attack looks very different from a man’s? Researchers didn’t know this, because it hadn’t occurred to them to research… women. Seemed crazy then; still crazy now. But the fact is, the fight for parity still goes on. As medical technology has exploded in the last decade, investors and innovators still sidelined women’s health as a “niche market” — despite the fact that women are half the population, are 75 percent more likely to use technology as a healthcare solution, and working-age women spend 29 percent more on healthcare than men. (Source: Frost & Sullivan.)
Fortunately, an army of Gen X women warriors stepped in, dreaming up necessary and vital tech solutions that are specifically for women’s health concerns — and then went out and got them funded (no small feat in a skeptical VC environment). Collectively, they developed a whole new sector in the marketplace while they were at it, called FemTech, which is slated to be a $50 billion business by 2025. But it’s not the tech that counts for women: it’s that these solutions are accessible, affordable, and one-hundred-percent built around a woman’s experience and her needs — because they’re built by women.
Meet these amazing FemTech pioneers and the products they’ve brought to life.
Ida Tin, 41, CEO Clue
Her brilliant idea: Clue, a period-tracking app
Her motivation: When Tin (a Dane now based in Berlin) first started taking the Pill, she reflected on just how little control she had over her reproductive life — and how few tools were available. “You would think it’s a big thing to figure out when to have children or how not to,” she said. She dreamed about a simple way to understand her body and her menstrual cycle – and figured other women craved that, too. So Tin co-created Clue, which helps more than five million women understand their cycles and know when they’re most fertile.
“I realized I could use the phone as this navigation tool for my life,” she explained, “and maybe we could come up with some new types of data-driven family planning methods.” All that data is key: Clue propels advances in female health, since the app uses the anonymous data it collects to collaborate with top research institutions.
The Big Win: Clue is beloved by OB/GYNs for “the impeccable science behind it, the transparent citation of supporting data, and the multitude of options you have for what you can track.”
Bonus points: Tin is credited with coining the term “FemTech.”
Erica Chidi, 34, CEO and cofounder of LOOM
What it is: An online education portal for reproductive and sexual health for women and those who identify as non-binary
Why she started it: After a stint as a doula, Chidi discovered that being an educator and advocate suited her perfectly. “One of my natural gifts is speaking and helping people understand things,” she’s said. And “people don’t know the difference between their vulva and their vagina. So for me, the education is the thing that creates a more empowered consumer experience.”
The big idea: The framework of reproductive justice — which centers existing racial and economic disparities in access to reproductive healthcare — is top of mind in how she and and cofounder Quinn Lundberg built LOOM. “We are 100 percent coming to market at an accessible price point,” Chidi has said. “We do not feel that there should be any kind of hierarchy in terms of people’s ability to access this information.”
The empowering POV: “Our value proposition is that sexual and reproductive health experiences are interconnected. They’re on a continuum. We should not be siloing postpartum from menopause, sex from fertility, or birth control from miscarriage,” said Chidi, who is Black and identifies as gay. “Any nonbinary [person] or woman—however you identify, if you have those reproductive parts—[is] going to flow through all of these potential experiences.”
The big win: Having raised an astonishing $3 million in venture capital, Chidi is ready to transform wellness for all, with pregnancy and postpartum classes launching first later this year.
Jill Angelo, 47, Founder Gennev
Her product: Gennev is a digital portal to connect women with the products and professional advice they need to get through menopause
Her motivation: Angelo, a former Microsoft exec who’s all about female empowerment, decided to take on this long-ignored rite of passage and help women optimize it, launching Gennev as “your online clinic for the second half of your life … starting with menopause.” Angelo shares inspo along with info on the platform. “Midlife is a time for creativity. For bringing all that awesome wisdom we’ve accumulated over the years. For living our soul’s purpose,” she writes. “Getting to work on Gennev every day fills my soul.”
How it works: Women can schedule telehealth appointments with OB/GYNs who are fluent in menopause (no more blank stare in the doctor’s office when you ask questions). The doctors can then diagnose and prescribe to help you manage typical issues such as insomnia, weight gain, anxiety, and hot flashes.
Bonus Points: Gennev also offers supplements and other products – plus a huge, supportive community of women going through the same changes.
Varsha Rao, 50, CEO Nurx
The product: Nurx is a home-delivery service for birth control prescriptions.
Why it’s so vital: Who has time or patience to run to the drugstore for the Pill? Answer: No one. That’s precisely why Nurx was created by an MD, mom of two, and tech wiz in 2015, to seamlessly deliver contraception to women. Rao – an alum of Airbnb and other business successes – was hired a couple of years ago to drive the marketing and growth of Nurx. (Her digital know-how goes way back: In 1998, she founded online beauty retailer Eve.com and sold it for a sweet $110 million.)
The words that guide it: Nurx’s three-point mission is a thing of beauty. “Choice, so you can make positive decisions about your own body. Control, so you can plan ahead and look after yourself without complication. And freedom, so your access to medication is never blocked by cost, bureaucracy, geography, stigma, or anything else.”
How it works: Nurx democratizes the get-yourself-protected process with affordable initial consultations ($15), plus Rx’s that cost the same amount – or are sometimes free. The goods are sent straight to your mailbox, with 24/7 support (texting is available, a nice privacy plus).
Bonus points: At-home screening and treatments for sexually transmitted infections are another facet of this fab feminist service.
The Big Win: Rao’s impact has been exponential: Nurx raised $5 million in funding in 2016; that figure has now catapulted to $115 million.
Markea Dickinson, 28, and Debbie Dickinson, 53, co-founders of Thermaband
What they built: The mother-daughter duo calls Thermaband “a smart personal thermostat” — a wearable wristband and app that senses and modulates body temperature changes, especially those triggered by menopause
How they found the concept: Debbie, a lawyer and serial entrepreneur, was dealing with debilitating hot flashes. While she was venting about them to her daughter (then an MBA student at Yale) in 2019, she discovered that holding an ice cube to her wrist gave her some relief (similar to how overheated NFL players get relief on the sidelines). The duo decided to pursue the idea, moved on to concept validation, and then prototyping — and now are readying for launch.
Better together: After trying every product on the market to deal with hot flashes, Debbie said, “I discovered a safe and effective technique to cool my body and partnered with my daughter to develop a solution so women will no longer have to suffer in silence!” Markea, who says she’s “always been passionate about women’s empowerment,” was excited to improve her moms’ quality of life — along with that of the “1.1 billion women projected to be in menopause globally.”
The predictable hurdle: “We were told ‘menopause is too niche and ‘nobody is going to care,’” recalls Debbie. “Despite the objections, we were bullish on developing a product made by women for women, driving us to co-create the device with a small group of women.”
The big win: “Our team developed a hardware product leveraging software and AI from an idea to a functional prototype in under a year for around $100K,” says Debbie, adding she hopes it inspires anyone out there with an idea to “Just Do It.”
Cindy Gallop, 61, Founder/CEO Make Love Not Porn
Her Brilliant Idea: Gallop is founder of Make Love Not Porn, a platform for sharing sex videos created and shared by real people, not porn stars
What motivated her: In a groundbreaking, gone-viral TEDTalk, Cindy Gallop, a C-suite ad exec, proclaimed that she was sick of slick, male-centric porn. Since said she had seen first-hand how the (much) younger men she tends to date had skewed ideas about “good in bed” that had been molded by hardcore porn videos, their generation’s default form of sex-ed. But let’s be clear on one point: Gallop is in no way anti-porn. She is just very “pro knowing the difference,” as she puts it.
Making the leap: Gallop’s disruptive MakeLoveNotPorn.tv – described as the world’s first social-sex video-sharing platform – was born a few years after her TEDTalk. On it are real, un-airbrushed people, freely exploring their sexuality, “in all its glorious, silly, beautiful, messy, reassuring humanness,” Gallop points out. And no exploitation here: these real-people video stars receive half of the revenue paid by viewers of the videos.
Her biggest hurdle: Despite her charisma and connections, Gallop has fought hard to secure backing in a world that wanted nothing to do with X-rated content. She persevered and, after six exhausting years of pavement-pounding, got her funding and grew the venture. (She’s not one to back down from a challenge; as her LinkedIn profile says, “I like to blow sh*t up. I am the Michael Bay of business.”)
The big goal: The pandemic lockdown accelerated the site’s success, with membership and revenue up, and video submissions tripling in a single month. A staunch feminist and relentless cheerleader for other women, Gallop dreams bigger, hoping to secure the needed funding to expand MNLP into what she’s called the “Khan Academy of sex education” – providing alongside MLNP’s social sex videos a full educational platform for parents, teachers and youth, segmented by age-appropriateness.
Next for X, sponsored by #disruptaging
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