Demystifying FemTech innovation: your questions answered
In an exciting first half of 2022, our FemTech team attended and presented at conferences, including the Reproductive Health Innovation Summit in Boston and the Women’s Health Innovation Summit in Basel. We’ve enjoyed fascinating conversations at events like these, covering everything from whether ‘FemTech’ is a useful term to how FemTech can manage the gender data gap. In this article, we share our responses to some of those questions which stood out to us.
Is ‘FemTech’ the right term to use to discuss this space?
Yes – and no. The term ‘FemTech’ has been a valuable tool since Ida Tin coined it in 2016, but it can narrow the field of focus. FemTech gives investors a framework and ‘safe’ vocabulary to discuss women’s health issues – some people find “I’m investing in FemTech” easier to say than “I’m investing in a period tracker.” A Google search on the term shows that it has evolved into a rallying point for like-minded people in the industry to find each other and drive innovation. At CDP, we view FemTech as a design philosophy underpinned by inclusivity, experience-led design, and the smart integration of tech (or intentional absence of tech), which we overlay on wide-ranging areas of innovation.
How important is it that FemTech designs for the planet?
We can look at how FemTech has grown due to an increasing consumer focus on sustainability. Menstrual cups, for example, have been around for a long time but only recently become a mainstream product. In 2018, the global menstrual cups market amounted to an estimated US$1.2 billion – it’s expected to reach US$1.89 billion by 2026. This increase reflects a massive shift in consumer attitude towards prioritizing sustainability over the last few years. But it also shows the success of products that meet user needs. Menstrual cups generally need to be changed less frequently than conventional tampons, so they meet user needs and offer a sustainable alternative.  At CDP, our user-centered design approach means we design for people, first understanding what they are trying to achieve, before translating contextual insight into solutions.
How is FemTech managing the gender data gap?
Historically, medical studies have often assumed the male body as the default, ignoring that women have different physiologies and responses to disease. This has resulted in a lack of data focusing on women’s needs, which puts FemTech innovators at a disadvantage. On the other hand, it also presents an opportunity for the industry to create valuable proprietary data which can be shared to further the understanding of women’s health. Take the vastly under-researched area of female sexual pleasure – the first comprehensive anatomical study of the clitoris was only published in 1998.  For Goodness Sake is the parent company of OMGYes, an education app focused on female sexual pleasure. In partnership with Indiana University and Kinsey Institute researchers, it researches people’s most intimate and vulnerable experiences. The results are published in peer-reviewed journals and (to quote their literature) “turned into honest and friendly online products” – the best of both worlds.
What are some best practices when it comes to developing FemTech products?
The most important thing is not to treat each stage in the innovation journey as a discrete process but to communicate between disciplines and, critically, with consumers and patients – put them at the heart of the innovation process, and validating the new product or service experience. This will ensure that, for example, manufacturing decisions won’t negatively impact user requirements. Our advice is to apply our FemTech philosophy of inclusivity, user-centered design, and the smart integration of tech to a robust end-to-end innovation process, such as CDP’s Potential Realized. This comprises six steps: opportunity definition, concept creation, concept realization, product realization, manufacturing realization, and life-cycle management.
How should emerging FemTech companies approach regulation?
Many FemTech products sit with one foot in healthcare and the other in consumer. Knowing which category your product falls into is key to avoiding unexpected regulation (our white paper on FemTech regulation has more information on this). Consider regulation early, as compliance is complex and expensive to retro-engineer. Negative PR following a regulatory oversight could be catastrophic for a new company or brand, which might otherwise have been successful. And even if you find your product is exempt from regulation, it’s good practice to take a risk-based approach to design to ensure your product remains safe and enjoyable for its end users.
What have we missed?
As passionate advocates of inclusive design, we’re always happy to talk about FemTech. Please drop us an email if you have any further questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Menstrual cups: global market value 2018-2026 | Statista [Internet]. Statista. 2022 [cited 13 June 2022]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/920669/global-market-value-of-menstrual-cups/
- O’Connell H, Hutson J, Anderson C, Plenter R. Anatomical relationship between urethra and clitoris [Internet]. https://www.researchgate.net/. 1998 [cited 13 June 2022]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13684666_Anatomical_relationship_between_urethra_and_clitoris
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