Femtech Companies Closing the Gender Health Gap | 2022
30 June 2022
By Lucy Wilson
Across the UK, femtech companies are working hard to address women’s health issues and overcome gender biases in healthcare and medical research. Femtech covers everything from breast cancer screening and hormone replacement therapy to tampon subscriptions and period-tracking apps—with the latter making headlines this week, amid data privacy concerns, following the Roe v Wade ruling by the US Supreme Court.
By 2027, the global femtech market is expected to be valued at $60b+ (up from $22b in 2020), as interest in the sector continues to grow: just this month, leading UK femtech startup Parla was acquired by Holland & Barrett, while last year, US-based Maven Clinic became the world’s first femtech unicorn. And with an increasing number of VCs and accelerators now focused on female founders and digital health, we expect to see lots more fast-growing companies emerging in this space in the future.
Here, we discuss what femtech is exactly, the different sub-sectors of the femtech industry and how femtech investment is changing in 2022. We also profile the UK’s leading femtech startups—high-growth companies that are developing new technologies in women’s healthcare, while disrupting the eHealth, pharmaceuticals, clinical diagnostics, fitness and artificial intelligence sectors in the process.
What is femtech?
The term ‘femtech’ refers to any technology that is specifically focused on women’s health needs. This covers a broad range of areas of healthcare, from menstrual products and period pain relief to female birth control, pelvic health and sexual wellness. Despite growing interest from entrepreneurs and investors, femtech is still a very nascent industry—Ida Tin, Co-Founder of period-tracking app Clue, is credited with coining the term, but even Clue (a forerunner in the global femtech market) was only founded in 2012.
What are femtech companies trying to achieve?
Despite representing 50% of the population, women are significantly underrepresented in health research and clinical trials. This gender gap is contributing to worse health outcomes for women, with much less known about female health conditions than those that also or only affect men. Endometriosis, for instance, still takes an average of seven to eight years to diagnose. Meanwhile, figures show that five times more research is carried out into erectile dysfunction (which affects 19% of men) than into premenstrual syndrome or PMS (which affects 90% of women).
Femtech companies aim to address this gender gap, developing innovative technologies across different areas of women’s health, including:
- Female fertility
- Sexual health and wellbeing
- Pregnancy and post-natal care
- Hormone health
- Clinical diagnostics
Whilst it’s clear that women’s healthcare requires more attention, research, and funding, the femtech industry is not without its controversies. Some critics argue that the label reinforces gender stereotypes and could actually deter male investors further, while downplaying the scope and potential of the sector—after all, we don’t refer to male-focused health technologies as ‘mentech’. The term femtech is also seen as being exclusionary of trans men and non-binary individuals. Meanwhile, others suggest that femtech products might encourage gender-based price discrimination, also known as ‘pink tax’.
Femtech investment in the UK
Femtech companies have traditionally struggled to raise funds from investors, especially compared to other healthtech startups. Rock Health found that, in the US, only 3% of digital health fundraisings go to women’s health companies, with very few focused on areas besides fertility. This is despite research indicating that women are 75% more likely to use digital healthcare tools than men.
Alongside gender biases surrounding the femtech sector, most femtech companies were also founded by women, who already receive a disproportionately low level of equity investment in the UK (and are significantly underrepresented amongst venture capital and angel investors themselves). Indeed, 85% of the companies spotlighted in this piece have a female founder, compared to just 25% across the UK’s wider high-growth ecosystem. Fortunately, however, femtech has seen rising popularity in VC portfolios in recent years, with several funds and programmes being created specifically for female entrepreneurs.
Femtech investors and accelerators
Last year saw the launch of FemTech Lab, Europe’s first accelerator programme for femtech startups. The London-based accelerator supports new businesses to take femtech products to market and secure investment. In a recent interview, FemTech Lab co-founder Karina Vazirova commented on how “some FemTech sub-sectors are getting a lot of interest (eg fertility, menopause), but products that solve taboo topics (eg sexual health, menstrual health) have a harder time with investors.”
Attempting to remedy the gender funding gap, several investors are now focusing on female founders, such as Voulez Capital. There’s also Angel Academe and Alma Angels, both angel networks that only invest in female-led businesses, including those in the healthcare space. These are just a few of the funds supporting diversity in the UK right now. The UK is also home to We in Social Tech, a female-focused accelerator, plus healthtech programmes like the P4 Precision Medicine accelerator and Panacea Stars, which have already backed numerous femtech companies.
20 of the top femtech companies in the UK
We’ve handpicked some of the most exciting femtech companies in the UK, to showcase the wealth of opportunities on offer to healthtech and life sciences investors right now. These private femtech businesses are all headquartered in the UK and have hit at least one of our high-growth tracking triggers.
Elvie is one of the UK’s most well-known femtech companies, operating primarily in the breastfeeding space. It aims to improve women’s lives through wearable technology, including a silent breast pump and kegel trainer. Elvie wearables link back to its mobile app, to help women monitor milk volume and exercises, and track their activity history.
Since its founding in 2013, the London-based company has secured seven Innovate UK grants, worth £1.30m in total, alongside £108m in equity investment. Its investors include Octopus Ventures, BGF, AllBright and Impact Ventures UK. Elvie has also attended three accelerator programmes so far, including Tech Nation’s Upscale and Future Fifty, and was named on four high-growth lists in 2021 alone.
Next on our list of innovative femtech companies is Daye, which provides monthly subscriptions to period products. It allows customers to choose from a selection of sustainable, organic tampons (either standard or CBD-infused) and ‘ProViotics’ (probiotics for vaginal health). The company is also investing in projects to overcome gender biases in medical research and product innovation.
Founded in 2017, Daye has raised £5.51m in equity investment so far, across two funding rounds. The latest of these was a £4.23m deal, completed in May 2019, which saw participation from venture capital funds Index Ventures, Kindred Capital VC and Khosla Ventures, alongside angel investors.
Also adopting the subscription service model is Freda. The London-based femtech startup delivers natural and environmentally-friendly period products to customers on a monthly basis, including pads and biodegradable tampons, made from 100% certified organic cotton.
Freda has secured one equity fundraising so far, a £150k round completed in 2017. The company also attended the Business Growth Programme, between December 2018 and March 2019. The three-month accelerator programme, managed by London & Partners, is designed to offer growth support to SMEs headquartered in the Capital.
Clinical diagnostics company Micrima was spun out of the University of Bristol in 2006. Still headquartered in Bristol, Micrima is developing and commercialising radar breast imaging technology for improved cancer detection. Its MARIA breast scanning system is designed to be more comfortable than existing medical devices, and can be used from a younger age. It is going through clinical trials at the moment.
To date, the spinout company has secured six rounds of equity funding, totalling £14.8m, alongside numerous innovation grants. In 2021, it was named on BusinessCloud’s MedTech 50 list of companies deemed to be developing the most innovative medical technologies in the UK.
Syrona Health is on a mission to help women, trans and non-binary people, through evidence-based research of endometriosis, fertility, PCOS, menopause, and mental health. Founded in 2018, the virtual health clinic has been described as “the Amazon of gynaecological care”. Its mobile app, Sora, also offers expert insights, online consultations, a range of health tracking and analytics tools, and access to peer support.
In 2021, the Essex-based company attended KQ Labs, an accelerator programme designed for early-stage companies in the data-driven health sector. Syrona has also gone through the Panacea Stars and Bethnal Green Ventures accelerators, and Cambridge Judge Business School’s Pre-Accelerate programme. It has secured three equity funding rounds so far, worth £104k in total, alongside two Innovate UK grants.
Tuune offers personalised contraception services and at-home hormone tests, aiming to better support people with menstrual cycles. Tuune was founded in 2017 by CEO Shardi Nahavandi, who set out in search of answers after her own hormone imbalance was misdiagnosed as bowel cancer. The Cambridge-based company has since developed several femtech products focused on hormonal health.
So far, Tuune has secured £3.51m in equity funding for its eHealth offering, across two rounds. The latest of these was a £3.38m deal in October 2021, with Octopus Ventures, intended to support the company’s R&D efforts and US launch. Tuune has also attended numerous accelerators, including KQ Labs and The Hatchery. It was also awarded a £325k Innovate UK grant for its work to automate the otherwise time-intensive process of oral contraception prescribing, using artificial intelligence.
viO HealthTech (previously Fertility Focus and trading as OvuSense) has designed medical devices to support fertility monitoring. Its mobile app and sensor technologies support ovulation and cycle tracking, as well as screening for common ovulation issues.
The Surrey-based company was spun-out from the University of Bristol in 2005. It later went on to attend Tech Nation’s Upscale accelerator in 2019. viO HealthTech has a long-list of investors already, including Envestors, ACF Investors, SyndicateRoom, Minerva Business Angel Network, Foresight VCT, and Midven. Altogether, it’s raised an impressive 13 equity funding rounds, totalling £8.39m.
Femtech startup Moody has developed a mobile app called Moody Month, which helps women better understand and manage their hormones, natural cycles and moods. The app acts as a daily health tracker and connects users with resources and solutions to alleviate their symptoms.
Since launching in 2016, Moody has secured £3.19m in equity funding, across seven rounds. These have been mostly unannounced ‘stealth rounds’, with undisclosed investors, but also includes a £142k deal facilitated by equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube.
London-based Callaly designs and sells a range of period products, including its innovative 95% biodegradable ‘tampliners’. The company is a certified B Corp and only uses sustainable packaging. It also donates a portion of its profits to fund hygiene kits and healthcare services for women in less economically developed countries.
Callaly was co-founded by Thang Vo-Ta (now CEO), gynaecologist-turned-entrepreneur Dr Alex Hooi (Chief Medical Officer) and garment technologist Ewa Radziwon (Head of Product). The company has raised an impressive £9.69m worth of equity investment so far, across nine rounds. On top of this, it has been awarded a further £3.25m in funding via Innovate UK grants.
Balance App is helping women to get a fast diagnosis and appropriate treatment for perimenopause and menopause. The company is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the West Midlands, and its mobile app has been downloaded by women in more than 150 countries already. Users can track their symptoms, access personalised content, share stories with the community, and download health reports to show to healthcare professionals.
Balance App is a Research and Innovation Health Accelerator project partner, and is also helping organisations like Bruntwood and the Ministry of Defence to remove taboos around menopause in the workplace. Since launching in July 2020, the company has raised £250k in equity investment, across two unannounced funding rounds.
Founded in 2019 by Olympic heptathlon gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jennis provides pregnancy, post-natal, and menstrual cycle-based fitness regimes via its mobile app. The femtech company has been designed to close the gender data gap in the fitness industry, helping women to train, eat, and sleep for optimised hormone health.
London-based Jennis has raised three rounds of equity investment so far, totalling £1.75m. The most recent of these was a £1.00m deal, raised in October 2021, with Venrex, Finnish venture capital fund Maki.vc, and angel investors. The purpose of the round was to support R&D and expand headcount in the company’s tech team.
Hormona is also operating in the hormone health space, having set out to address hormonal imbalances through daily tracking and data insights. Founded in Surrey in 2020, users can now sign up for early access to Hormona’s mobile app. Users will be able to log physical and mental symptoms, better understand their hormone patterns, and receive personalised recommendations.
The company will soon be launching additional features, helping users to detect polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause. To date, Hormona has secured £1.38m worth of equity fundraisings, across four rounds. The latest of these, in March 2022, saw it raise £927k, at a pre-money valuation of £6.44m.
Juno Bio is leading studies into the vaginal microbiome, whilst helping individuals access personalised healthcare advice, by collecting data via at-home testing kits. The Juno Bio team is made up of microbiome scientists that have set out to address the gender gap in healthcare research.
The London-based company was founded in 2018 by Hana Janebdar and Leighton Turner, after attending Entrepreneur First—a six-month accelerator programme that matches ambitious entrepreneurs together to start a new venture. Juno Bio has secured one equity fundraising so far, worth £111k.
Femtech products and services aren’t just limited to physical healthcare, with mental health startup Clementine developing a female-focused hypnotherapy app. Founded in 2017 and based in Milton Keynes, Clementine aims to help women find their inner calm, become more confident, reduce anxiety, and sleep better.
Clementine was selected for the third cohort of We In Social Tech, a six-month accelerator programme, designed for women-led businesses that are using technology to address social challenges. The company raised a £1m equity funding round in October 2020, with impact VC Fortunis Capital.
Hertility Health is enabling women to track their reproductive health through its mobile app and at-home fertility and hormone testing. The femtech company was founded in 2019 and is based in London. In 2021, it was named on the Startups 100 high-growth list of the UK’s most impressive startups.
To date, Hertility has raised £4.33m in equity investment, across two funding rounds. The company’s backers include LocalGlobe and Venrex. It has also attended the P4 Precision Medicine accelerator programme, as well as M:Tech, Mishcon de Reya’s early-stage tech accelerator.
DAME (previously Sanitary Owl) is a London-based femtech company that provides a delivery subscription service for tampons and sanitary towels. It puts sustainability first, developing a reusable tampon applicator and helping to save 130m pieces of single-use plastic from being wasted.
Since its founding in 2013, DAME has raised £1.28m worth of equity funding, across six rounds—investors include Jenson Solutions and Sky Ocean Ventures. The company has also been awarded three Innovate UK grants, amounting to £253k. Alongside these successes, DAME is a certified B Corp and was named on the Startups 100 high-growth list in 2020.
Founded in April 2020, Vira Health develops Stella, a mobile app designed to help users manage their menopause. It aims to improve menopause treatment by suggesting lifestyle changes that can help relieve symptoms.
Vira Health has attended both Panacea Stars and the Zinc Mission 3 (Later Life) accelerator, a programme focused on startups aiming to provide a high quality of life to people over 70. Altogether, the company has raised £10.7m in equity investment, across two deals. The majority of its funding came from its £9.20m fundraising in March 2022, with big name investors including MMC Ventures, LocalGlobe and Octopus Ventures.
Verso Biosense is working to improve clinical decision-making around women’s health. The innovative femtech company develops monitoring devices that measure temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen in the uterus. Its wearable technology is aimed at improving infection diagnosis and fertility levels.
Verso Biosense was spun-out of the University of Southampton, but is now based in Milton Park’s science and technology facility in Oxfordshire. In 2020, it secured a £3.90m fundraising via the UK Government’s Future Fund, to back the completion of a clinical feasibility study. Altogether, the company has raised £7.43m in equity investment, across five rounds, alongside £48.6k worth of innovation grants.
Unfabled has developed an e-commerce platform focused on menstrual wellbeing (or “cycle care”). It sells organic and sustainable femtech products, stocking several of the tampon brands mentioned in this list, as well as skincare, supplements, menopause and period cramp relief products, CBD, chocolate, and more.
Unfabled even enables customers to shop by phase (menstruation, follicular, ovulation or luteal) and create personalised cycle care plans. Founded in 2021, the London-based company is one of the newest entrants to this list, and is a recent graduate from the FemTech Lab accelerator. It has raised one equity fundraising so far, worth £264k.
Viramal is developing pharmaceutical treatments for a range of women’s health needs. These include endometriosis, fertility, menopausal hormone therapy, vaginal wellbeing and chronic pelvic pain.
Based in London and founded in 2013, Viramal has raised £11.5m worth of equity investment so far, across 10 fundraisings. Its investors include Discovery Park Technology Investment Fund, a life sciences commercialisation company that’s managed by NCL Technology Ventures.
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