Business ideas for 2018: Women’s health tech

From period-tracking apps to smart contraceptives, this fledgling market is already busting taboos around the world – and 2018 is the time to join it

Historically, technical innovations in women’s health have been few and far between, prevented by a culture of silence which, for decades, has hidden female-centric, ‘taboo’ subjects like menstruation and breastfeeding from open discussion.

In recent years, however, the story has started to change; beginning with a handful of entrepreneurs who questioned why emerging technology couldn’t also be used to improve specifically female experiences.

Now, tech start-ups across the globe are offering their own advanced solutions to everything from contraception and fertility to breast reconstruction – and most of these disruptive ideas are welcomed with open arms by consumers as well as garnering strong interest from investors.

Better still, they’re encouraging honest, practical conversations to take place around these topics.

Yet there’s still plenty of room to address a variety of unmet needs; and with the vast majority of these pioneering start-ups launching overseas, we see a huge opportunity for UK entrepreneurs to disrupt this country’s women’s health market with fresh ideas.

Starting a women’s health tech business: Why it’s a good business idea

As Elvie founder Tania Boler puts it, “we’re at a very special time for women’s health technology as we are gaining momentum, both from a feminist point of view in terms of how women think about their health, combined with huge technological advances in terms of big data”.

According to a report from Research and Markets, the global women’s health market is set to hit $51.3bn by 2025 – though you don’t need a figure to understand that there’s an immense audience to tap into here; roughly half of the population, in fact.

And women – who Boler calls “avid consumers of tech” – tend to meet upcoming ideas with excitement and attention; so much so that we highlighted femtech (technology for the female market) as one of our hottest technology trends for 2018.

Alongside consumers, investors may too be on your side. Although access to capital has long been a contentious issue for female-centric businesses – which have often reported being dubbed “too niche” by investors – recent years have seen this pattern make a definitive U-turn.

In late 2016, for example, seminal period-tracking app Clue raised $20m, while fertility-monitoring wearable Ava closed a $9.7m round. In March 2017, Elvie, Boler’s app-connected Kegel muscle trainer, closed a $6m Series A. Early last year CB Insights examined the total funding raised between 45 femtech start-ups and found that it topped $1.1bn.

We’re now at an intersection where taboos surrounding female health issues still linger, but new innovations are just starting to lift them. Monica Karpinski, founder of women’s health website The Femedic, says femtech is “a great field for someone to launch a business in” as the fledgling market comes with “a shorter list of competitors — especially historically — and more scope for innovation.”

Yes, there’s no better time than 2018 to launch a women’s health tech business – but what opportunities can be found in the sector?

Women’s health tech business opportunities

As a process that almost all women go through for a significant portion of their lives, menstruation is a big opportunity – and considering that the last major innovation in this area was the self-adhesive sanitary pad in the 1980s, there’s plenty of scope for new ideas.

Entrepreneurs can look to develop smart period paraphernalia – LoonLabs, for example, has developed a Bluetooth-connected menstrual cup which measures and analyses its contents – or a period-tracking service or app. Founded in 2012, Berlin-based Clue is a pioneer in this area, telling users when their period is due and how heavy it will be on particular days.

Contraception, too, is a potentially lucrative sector. Research and Markets has called it the women’s health sector set to experience the fastest growth in coming years, due in part to advancements in technology – so there’s certainly potential for new tech start-ups, whether you’re looking at implantable devices, disposable products or innovating new methods.

If you need evidence that technology has a place among contraceptives, look no further than Natural Cycles, an app which tells women whether or not they are fertile on any given day based on a morning temperature reading – and the first app to be certified as a contraceptive.

Or, if you’d rather help than hinder conception, fertility may be the sector for you. Entrepreneurs might develop online directories and review systems for fertility services, fertility trackers which help women maximise their chances of getting pregnant, or – with the right expertise – tech-based fertility-enhancing solutions.

There are ample start-ups in this area to draw inspiration from. FertilityIQ, for example, is a website which features expert doctors’ advice and patients’ reviews on everything from IVF to egg-freezing, while fertility tracker Ava is a smart bracelet that measures nine physiological factors to reveal, via an app, how fertile the wearer is each day.

From pregnancy to recovering from childbirth to breastfeeding, maternity is another vast area to explore. Naya, for example, is developing a smart breast pump which – contrary to others on the market – is comfortable and quiet, while mobile app Sprout provides a personalised pregnancy-tracking timeline and tools to track the baby’s weight, count its kicks and more.

If medicine calls to you, you could instead focus your efforts on the detection, prevention or treatment of diseases which mainly affect women; from breast and cervical cancer to uterine conditions and hormonal disorders. DotLab, for example, has developed a non-invasive testing device for endometriosis, which previously required surgery to be diagnosed.

Insider opinion

Ida Tin, CEO and co-founder of period-tracking app Clue, tells Startups: “With the rise of femtech, this sector is finally beginning to get the recognition that it deserves. Femtech is seen as a huge opportunity for the wider tech sector, and the interest from investors is increasing at a rapid pace.

“The market for female health is enormously underserved, and the area vastly under-researched. To further push female health into the spotlight we need support from doctors and researchers, but also more female health champions in the shape of start-ups like ours — they are equally important for this development.

“All women across the globe face the realities associated with menstruation, fertility, and overall health, and this space has a ton of potential for anyone who dreams of developing technology that can support them.

“Female health technology, such as tracking apps and gadgets, are becoming more and more intuitive as we speak, and it is safe to predict that female health technology will only continue to advance in the future.

“I see this development as one of the key ways that apps and other technology developed for women will contribute to shaping the future. The more women that are turning to technology, and generating data, the more we can learn about ourselves and our bodies.”