The FemTech industry globally is estimated to be worth over $50 billion by 2025, according to the research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Interest in this subcategory of health, tech, and retail has been propelled by new perspectives and innovations across the the industry in recent years, and Orange Silicon Valley’s latest Women in Tech event on September 26 assembled a panel of experts to explain why.
The event, which focused heavily on women’s reproductive health, delved into the Bay Area ecosystem through the lens of online access to healthcare, support networks, and customer bases. Alice Zheng, a Women’s health consultant at McKinsey & Company moderated the conversation about the intersection of feminine health and technology with Rebecca Story, the CEO and founder of Bloomi — an online market place for clean hygiene, period, and sex products — and Sophia Yen, the CEO and co-founder of Pandia Health — a birth control delivery service that emphasizes affordability. The three of them dissected momentum within the sector, exploring how Story and Yen are responding to direct-to-consumer opportunities and anticipating how FemTech can move toward greater accessibility and inclusivity for women across the globe.
The past 60 years have witnessed little innovation when it comes to one of the most quintessential elements of female healthcare: contraception. In Dr. Yen’s opinion, the only innovations piloted by the pharmaceutical sector since the 1960s have been delivery methods and the duration of efficacy.
Current drivers behind innovation in the sector include discomfort and inconvenience, which Story cited among her motivations for founding Bloomi. Coupled with national movements like #MeToo, the conversation about female gynecological wellness and healthcare in general has started to include and embolden previously unheard and under-represented voices, translating into new founders and addressable markets for startups.
Story emphasized personal experience and insights as catalysts in her own work, and she urged founders to leverage their frustrations as inspiration.
“How are you fixing a problem? Is it personal to you?” she asked the room, while also recommending follow-up steps for creating a business.
“Everyone’s starting line is different, so be really educated on your numbers,” Story explained. “Whatever it’s going to take to grow your business, make sure you really know the numbers and how they are going to work for that product or that idea.”
Story and Yen both agreed that the path of a female founder can be arduous and long. Remaining value-driven as founders, however, has played a key role in their leadership, educating their audiences in order to maximize the impact of their businesses while also minimizing waste.
At Pandia Health, Yen asks her customers to return unused contraception packets. Those packets can then follow an alternate distribution channel that she has created within her personal network.
“We ask that they send it back, and then I send it to my friend who is a wonderful humanitarian that does trips to Haiti and Nigeria and Africa and other countries, and he brings the birth control,” said Yen. “So if you go on our Facebook [page] you’ll see him distributing, I think, 500 packs of emergency contraception that we donated.”
The panelists acknowledged that they have long roads ahead before the benefits of their products can reach all income levels and geographies. After all, there can be friction in venture-backed businesses that need to scale quickly while relying on certain income levels among customers to ensure profitability. Still, they are pushing forward with inclusive goals in mind.
They are also working to leverage the experience and talent within the Bay Area FemTech community to make their paths easier.
“Learn from those that have come before you and build the tribe, and join any tribe that wants to take you and [where] you feel that you belong,” Yen urged the audience. “There’s a ton of accelerators out there for women specifically — or even without women. I believe in asking for help … so pay it forward and send the elevator back for anyone behind you.”
The proceeds from the OSV FemTech event supported The Cup, a non-profit that empowers unprivileged girls worldwide by providing them with sustainable menstrual cups and comprehensive education on sexuality and reproductive rights.