While women’s health has been misunderstood, mistreated, and misdiagnosed for centuries, the term “femtech” was only introduced in 2016. Coined by Ida Tin, co-founder of period-tracking app Clue, the phrase encompasses all the technological innovations specifically focused on addressing and supporting women’s health. Since Tin introduced her new jargon to the world, the industry has boomed—so much so that femtech’s rapidly evolving global market value is expected to be worth $60 billion by 2027. But as the industry continues to grow, a new wave of brands—Gen Z founded and funded—are starting to take up space,and they have much more than profit and product in mind.
For an industry that focuses its attention on empowering and elevating the lives of those with female reproductive systems, there are still a few issues coming from within. While 70% of femtech companies have at least one female founder—as opposed to the 20% norm for new companies—the majority of products being released are still designed, made, and marketed by white cis men. And what’s more, most of these products assume their customer is white, middle class, heterosexual, childbearing, and able-bodied. “For generations, women have lived with a health and care system that is mostly designed by men, for men,” stated the then-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, when the UK government announced its new Women’s Health Strategy initiative. It’s all well and good voicing the problem, but when you look at the tech industry, it’s easy to see that it’s still very much a man’s world: recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission figures show that 80% of executives in high-tech are male, while just 20% are female. And then there’s funding—only 3% of total healthtech funding went to femtech start-ups in 2020, which suggests that those at the top do not consider the women’s health industry a viable economic venture, especially as 95% of those VC partners at said top are men. The millennial women leading the industry feel as though they're fighting a losing battle.
Modern millennials have come this far in the fight, but it might be high time for the next generation to take on the weight of the war. Currently, Generation Z earns $7 trillion across its 2.5 billion-person cohort, according to Bank of America research. And by 2030, they are set to become the largest demographic in the world economy, earning $33 trillion (that’s 27% of global income); one recent study from EY and NGO JA Worldwide found that 53% of Gen Zers hope to be running their own business in 10 years. We know that this highly engaged generation is culturally conscious; they struggle from climate anxiety; and they look to brands (and VCs) that align with their own values. So, naturally, the companies they found and fund will have slightly different mission statements to that of their millennial counterparts. These new brands entering the market focus on people, planet, and product first—profits second.
For example, a recent Deloitte survey of 200 US tech funds found that the 22 to 35 age range had the greatest diversity in business partners, with almost 40% of them non-white. The financial consultancy went on to suggest that as Gen Zers move into the business sector, this trend will only grow—founders are set to become more diverse, and their impact set to be greater, especially when it comes to funding minority-run, women-run, and LGBTQ-run companies. In the coming future, we expect to see more capital pouring into start-ups with a cultural purpose.
So what are the brands entering the femtech space with a Gen Z lens? “Sex sells now much more than ever, specifically for Gen Z—they’re very open about their body and what they stand for,” Catharine Dockery, founding partner of Vice Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital fund that has invested in sexual wellness company Maude and inclusive underwear brand Parade, states to WWD. The problem is that the sex category has a predominantly male-centric perspective. “Historically, sex toys were designed by men because, well, what wasn’t?” Polly Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of sexual wellness company Unbound Babes, explains to Vogue. The brainchild of Sarah Jayne Kinney along with Rodriguez, Unbound set out with a clear focus on inclusivity. With overly gendered toys in the sexual wellness space, Unbound’s offerings are universally sexy for all gender expressions (as well as affordable, functional, and accessible). “My most audacious goal is for Unbound to be a household brand name,” says Rodriguez, “and for vibrators and lubricants to be considered as mainstream as condoms and the little blue pill.” As well as an extensive offering of diverse toys designed with younger audiences in mind, the brand’s content comes through the Gen Z design standard: bright, brazen, and bold communications and aesthetics, funneled through a futuristic metaverse.
On a mission to change the way people think about their hormone health through the use of education, community, and technology, Aavia was founded in 2017 by Aagya Mathur, Alexis Wong, and Aya Suzuki. The Brooklyn-based brand is mostly known for its signature birth control case, which reminds women to take their birth control pills on time, however, it's its fresh and Gen Z-literate informative communications that make this company stand out from its competitors. According to Crunchbase, the business has raised a total of $10.1 million from investors like January Ventures, Awesome People Ventures, and Unshackled Ventures (an early-stage venture capital fund for immigrant-founded start-ups) among others. Another New York-located company launched by young friends is August, which creates sustainable, plastic-free pads and tampons for those who menstruate. Technically a femcare company—as opposed to femtech—Gen Z founders Nadya Okamoto and Nick Jain understand just how digitally native their generation is, which is why their social media strategy of posting 100 times per day led them to hit $1 million in revenue in 2021, according to Insider.
While not all of these aforementioned brands’ founders were born before 1996, they do find themselves at the end of the millennial spectrum and have taken on board all the consumer and behavioral traits that make up the Gen Z audience. And so, as we move into a (hopefully) more body-positive and body-literate world for people who menstruate, we expect to see more companies confirming funding, launching products—and perhaps most importantly creating positive change to peoples’ lives—within this new wave of disruptors. The future is female. Femtech that is.
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