Bridging Gaps in Women’s Health: The Rise of FemTech Innovation

As innovations in FemTech continue to evolve, the future of women’s health holds promise for improved equity and accessibility. In this blog, Lavinia Pamparau, NHS Navigator for DigitalHealth.London, delves into how FemTech solutions tackle prevailing health disparities and empower women to proactively manage their health and well-being.

Stemming from a historical lack of representation in medical research and gender bias, the absence of women-specific healthcare solutions has long been compounded by socioeconomic factors, ethnicity and geographic disparities.

In particular, women from diverse backgrounds (those who identify as being from the global majority, are neurodiverse and/or disabled) often experience poorer health and care outcomes. This has been evidenced by elevated rates of maternal mortality and childbirth within these communities, as well as barriers they face in accessing vital women’s health services such as reproductive healthcare and support for female-specific conditions (e.g., endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and the menopause).

With women’s healthcare and health disparities becoming more of a national priority, new digital health technology companies that are dedicated to developing women-specific healthcare solutions have emerged. Known as FemTech (Female Technology), the sector encompasses a diverse array of software, devices, and diagnostics designed to address the unique health needs of women through innovative technology.

The FemTech sector is growing at an astounding rate – more than 60 per cent of FemTech startups were founded in the five years leading to 2022, and is forecasted to be a $100 billion industry by 2030 (Femhealth Insights). FemTech innovations demonstrate significant benefits, including the potential to address health equity, diversity, and inclusion by: 

  • Removing barriers to healthcare access – particularly for underserved populations – while giving women fair access to clinically safe technologies (diagnostic, therapeutic, or preventive) 
  • Filling in gaps in women’s health data and evidence, addressing gender bias in data sets  
  • Empowering women to make informed choices over their health decisions by providing them with reliable, easily accessible and personalised healthcare information 

Collaborative efforts between the NHS, academia, policymakers and industry are needed to drive meaningful change in women’s healthcare and accelerate the adoption of innovative solutions that address health inequalities for women across the UK. These include: 

Enhancing Education and Awareness of the Huge Potential of FemTech 

  • Efforts to champion FemTech opportunities are underway, such as collaborations with FemTech Insider on FemTech TV, and a series of interviews exploring innovation in women’s health. Organisations like Women of Wearables (WoW) are also playing a pivotal role in inspiring and connecting individuals in this space.

Increasing Female Representation among Researchers, Founders, Investors, Leaders and Decision-makers

  • Reflecting the wider population and their specific healthcare needs is vital to ensure that equality is built into our systems, structures and processes. While FemTech is largely driven by female entrepreneurs – with over 70 per cent of FemTech companies having at least one female founder, contrasting with the 20 per cent average for new companies (Pitchbook, 2021) – there is still a shortage of women in leadership roles in digital, tech and AI (approximately 20 to 25 per cent of leaders are women). 35 per cent of FemTech patents have women listed as inventors, compared to 19 per cent in other technology areas (e.g., 22 per cent of AI workers are women). 

Improving Support and Access to Digital Resources for NHS Staff and Patients

  • We must place particular emphasis on women’s health professionals and female individuals. Initiatives such as the Digital Academy and DigitalHealth.London’s Digital Pioneer Fellowship are examples of programmes facilitating the adoption of innovations among NHS staff.  

Bridging the Gender-based Data Gap

  • The introduction of new NHS data sets focusing on female health outcomes, underscored in the annual NHS Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance, will help to ensure that female health considerations are integrated into decision-making on how clinical services are designed, delivered and promoted. FemTech offers huge potential in gathering better data, and improving women’s health literacy, while empowering them and improving health outcomes in the process.  For instance, voice-recognition is 70 per cent less likely to accurately understand women than men- because many algorithms are trained on male data sets.

Tailored Education and Networking Programmes for FemTech Entrepreneurs and Inventors 

  • The national Health Innovation Networks play a pivotal role in supporting innovators to boost the development of technology solutions to address current challenges in women’s health. Established by NHS England in 2013 to spread innovation at pace and scale, the Network brings the NHS, industry, academia, third sector and local organisations together to improve health outcomes and generate economic growth. 
  • Specialised programmes like the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, FemTech Lab, the NHS Innovation Accelerator and the Accelerating FemTech programme are instrumental in supporting FemTech founders. The latter in particular was strategically designed to address challenges outlined in the Women’s Health Strategy for England, by empowering small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to pioneer early-stage innovations in women’s health through bespoke support, expert-led workshops and mentoring. It was led by the Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London, and in collaboration with all 15 health innovation networks and various partners from across the UK, utilising Innovate UK funding as part of the Biomedical Catalyst.  

Investment in the FemTech Industry:

  • Adequate funding, including government grants and venture capital investments, is essential for the growth and sustainability of FemTech businesses. While awareness of the potential of the FemTech market is increasing, investment remains far too imbalanced and under-exploited.
  • Less than 2 per cent of all venture capital is invested in women-led companies, with 1.4 per cent of capital investment in FemTech and 4 per cent of healthcare research and development (R&D) funding targeted at women’s health. Addressing this disparity is critical to ensuring the continued advancement of FemTech innovations and their integration into the NHS. A $300 million investment into women’s health research across just three diseases could generate around $13 billion for the global economy. (Women’s Health Access Matters, The WHAM Report)

Femtech Start-ups Leading the Change in Bridging the Gap in Women’s Health 

A wave of FemTech start-ups are developing innovative solutions tailored to address the unique needs and challenges faced by women: 

  • Ellescope, an alumnus company of the Accelerating FemTech programme, is on a mission to close the health inequality gap in maternity care through more reliable and accurate screening of maternal psychosocial risk, which disproportionately affects women with social disadvantage. The company has developed MpRisk, a tool based on a predictive model developed for healthcare professionals to more accurately assess and stratify psychosocial risk during pregnancy, enabling personalised care and improved outcomes.   
  • Bloomful, another alumnus company of the Accelerating FemTech programme, is an AI-driven triage solution that delivers streamlined, personalised, and accessible gynaecological care for underserved women globally. Their platform collects organised and longitudinal data that can identify patients for trials, as well as data assets to facilitate drug discovery which enables better research in the field. 

At the HIN and DigitalHealth.London, we are proud to champion FemTech solutions as vital tools in improving women’s health services that help close the gap in healthcare access. Our various programmes support FemTech start-ups through mentorship, funding opportunities, and access to healthcare networks. By doing so, we aim amplify their impact and accelerate the adoption of innovative solutions that address health inequalities for women across the UK.

Find out more about Accelerating FemTech and how our programmes help NHS staff, academia and industry across the digital health landscape.

Accelerating FemTech was delivered by the Health Innovation Network South London (HIN) and partners (the Network, CW Innovation, Mills & Reeves and others), utilising Innovate UK funding as part of the Biomedical Catalyst in collaboration with the Medical Research Council.