The attention on fintech and the crypto space right now overshadows the work of techpreneurs in other subsectors especially the femtech sector. Frost and Sullivan estimates that the global femtech sector will be worth $50 billion by 2025 and $60 billion by the year 2027. This means that there is a lot of potential and possibilities to look out for in the space.
Femtech was coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, a Danish author and CEO of the women’s menstruation-tracking app, Clue. Her aim was to bring more focus to technology that caters directly to women’s health. The femtech space covers startups that develop period and fertility trackers, pregnancy and neonatal care, diagnostics, digital products, and other services that use technology to focus on women’s health.
Unfortunately, the percentage of women techpreneurs innovating in this space is very small globally and even smaller in Africa. This is mostly because tech has a small pool of women, to begin with, and from that pool, very few venture into the femtech subsector.
In this edition of Women in Tech, the founder of MumSpring, Abisola Oladapo discusses the need for more women innovators in the femtech space. With 99.13 million women in Nigeria, there is a present market for femtech startups. But one factor that prevents more women from operating in the space is the need to feel overqualified as a techpreneur.
MumSpring is a femtech startup that provides ante-natal information to low-income women and gives 24/7 access to certified midwives without requiring internet connection or airtime.
As Abisola puts it, “for most of us as women, we feel we need to have a thorough knowledge of the code, the tech and how it is going to come together to solve the challenge.
“We are able to relate to the problem because we are familiar with the challenges to female health being females ourselves. Where we stop is at the point of asking, ‘how can I use tech to solve this problem?'”
Creating a product brings in a variety of skills and it is no different in the femtech space. Women are indispensable in this space because of the invaluable insights that only they can give by virtue of their biological makeup. However, it is not compulsory for women to have the technical skills required to develop the product itself, except they are inclined towards that.
Coding and other technical skills should not deter us as women from innovating in the femtech space when we come across problems that we can solve for a large number of other women.
A graduate of Electrical Engineering herself, Abisola stresses that more girls need to be encouraged to take STEM-related courses and consider careers in tech. Yet she concedes that they “don’t have to be the one who builds the tech, you just have to be willing to work with someone else.”
Like MumSpring, Whispa, Nabta and Grace Health, femtech startups are able to innovate more effectively with more women fueling the ideation process.
“It is a symbiotic relationship between me and my CTO at MumSpring. Without my deep insights and connection with other women who help us to understand what they are going through, he is not able to create a product for mothers and without his deep technical know-how, it might take me a while longer,” she added.
Another reason more women are not venturing into femtech is that it focuses only on one gender. Most people would rather build a product or innovate for both genders than to focus on only one. However, contrary to what most people think when they hear ‘femtech‘, it is not limited to just period tracking apps, ovulation monitors or sex education apps. More innovations are coming up in the areas of fertility, female hygiene, breast and cervical cancers and a lot more.
Women have long been uncomfortable talking about female health challenges for fear of being stigmatized, among other things. This has made apps like Whispa that offer anonymous sex and health advice as well as medical consultations for women to be popular. All of this together points to the fact that more women and girls are embracing femtech solutions that address the challenges that we face but do not publicly talk about.
A different approach is needed for getting investors to fund femtech startups
Unlike fintech, edtech and other sectors, the femtech space caters mostly to women alone. Its gender-specific nature means that products can only be marketed, purchased and consumed by women and this streamlines the market. However, because of the huge population of women and the personal nature of the solutions, femtech is very much a viable space.
Getting investments for femtech startups then is about finding the right type of investor. As a techpreneur in the space, Abisola said it is about finding the right fit as there are investors that are very much interested in and focus on solutions built for women.
“If you are talking to the right kind of investor, you will find that they will even be the ones telling you how to get more women on board for your product,” she said.
In getting the right kind of investors, it is necessary to look for people who understand the space and would not consider femtech a big jump for them. Other women in the ecosystem are likely to be more willing to invest in femtech startups as well. Sharing from her experience with MumSpring, Abisola said, “a lot of women either in the investment space or in the ecosystem are really excited about us innovating for women and have opened doors for us.”
She noted that the gender-specific nature of MumSpring hasn’t been a red flag for investors but has instead, caused more attention to be placed on finding more ways to use technology to solve female-specific problems.
For women innovators in the space to attract more investor interest, it is important to not just see the problem but to also see how technology can be used to solve it and how that solution can be scaled increasingly over time.
As the femtech space evolves, the future of startups in the space will depend on their ability to grow with the woman, solve the problems she has as a youth with regular periods, as a pregnant woman, as a mom and as a growing adult. Being able to do this and do it well will help women in tech tap into the $50 billion-worth femtech sector.
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