By Mitzi Krockover, MD, Managing Director of Golden Seeds and Co-Lead of Golden Seeds’ Health Care Sector GroupJanuary 6, 2022
Women’s health and wellness has never received the attention and investment it deserves, but Brittany Barreto, Ph.D., is determined to change that. A recognized leader in what has been termed the FemTech movement, she is actively addressing the enormous need in this area. Brittany’s background as a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and scientist with a Ph.D. in molecular and human genetics makes her uniquely suited to this mission. She is the co-founding partner of Coyote Ventures, a U.S.-based venture fund investing in early-stage women’s health startups, and co-founder and host of the FemTech Focus podcast, which has 150-plus episodes featuring experts on women’s health and wellness.
Brittany recently co-authored a groundbreaking report, the 2021 FemTech Landscape, which delves into the disparities in the healthcare market, innovative technologies and developing opportunities. She recently presented the report at a Golden Seeds Trend Talk. Below are highlights of her presentation.
Two years ago, when Brittany decided to start a venture fund dedicated to women’s health, there was no information available on the number of deals and exits in that sector, which was dismissed as a small niche industry. It was clear that women needed a champion, so she founded FemTech Focus, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering, equipping and uniting healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs and investors to revolutionize women’s health and wellness. The FemTech movement is focused on creating solutions for conditions that affect women solely (including menstrual and pregnancy issues), disproportionately (such as migraines, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s Disease and bone health), or differently (such as heart health, oncology and incontinence).
This is anything but a niche market. There are more than 816 companies in the FemTech category, which covers technology, services and products that improve health and wellness for women and girls. By 2027, women’s health will represent a $1.103 trillion market!
Despite the enormous potential, the women’s health market is underserved. The medical community, which has historically been male, has systematically overlooked women. The statistics are shocking: The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, and 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Women weren’t consistently included in clinical trials of new drugs till 1993, and most drugs are still not tested on pregnant or lactating women.
It’s clear that the male-dominated medical, scientific and investment communities don’t prioritize women’s issues. Consider the fact that it is reported that 15% of women have never had an orgasm, yet the problem receives little attention. If men had that problem, you can bet there’d be a lot more solutions available.
That’s not the case with FemTech companies. Four out of five FemTech founders are female, and they know firsthand what the issues are. They are solving their own problems. Just over half of their businesses concentrate on menstruation, maternal health, fertility and sexual wellness. One concern is that these areas are saturated and largely geared to affluent white women. Brittany advocates for broadening the focus to cover contraception, menopause, urinary health and chronic conditions that affect females of all races and classes so reduce the disparities in healthcare can be reduced.
Skeptics might wonder if FemTech is a sound investment, but here are stats worth considering. There have been more than 112 exits since 1990, more than half of them in the last five years, with a total of $27.6 billion. The average exit value is $301 million—which beats the average tech exit of $204 million—and four of the FemTech exits were unicorns. The typical time for a FemTech exit in the past decade was only four years, half the typical time for a tech startup.
Another positive indicator: We’re starting to see pharmaceutical companies buying FemTech businesses. These companies devote only 4% of their budgets to women’s health, so they’re acquiring businesses that serve this market. The most successful FemTech companies have the trifecta of three components: amazing products, community involvement with blogs and events, and lots of educational content including videos, blogs and talks.
Even so, there are still issues to be overcome. The male standard continues to predominate and more research incorporating gender is still needed.
In addition, there are high barriers to FDA approval, because FemTech products are often the first to address a specific problem. There’s also a lack of insurance billing codes, one reason most FemTech products are direct to consumer.
Then there’s the matter of funding. Women entrepreneurs historically get less funding than men, and that carries over to male issues vs. female. For example, male-pattern baldness will beat out period pain for funding. Male VCs are unaware of women’s health issues and unaware of the number of exits and the size and potential of this market. That’s partly because of their reluctance to talk about women’s anatomy or problems. Men shy away because they’re not knowledgeable about women’s health—but that’s not a valid argument. Most VCs don’t understand blockchain technology either, yet they still consider it a good investment. We need to raise awareness among men and get more of them involved.
The FemTech market is still in the early stages, but it is clearly on an upward trajectory and poised for strong growth. The potential is unlimited. Brittany Barreto is on a mission to push female-centered design and get out the message that health care needs to pay attention to this critical market.
Golden Seeds is also supporting women’s health. We’re already invested in a number of companies in this space—such as Bone Health, Consortia Health, JoyLux, Lark, Madorra, Materna and NX Prenatal and NVision —and we anticipate adding to this list. There’s a trillion-dollar market crying for disruption. The opportunity is ours for the taking.
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