Despite the enhanced focus on health that has resulted from the disease-ridden world we have lived in the past 2 and half years, it appears as though female-focused medicine has continued to be underserved. The unfortunate reasoning behind the founding of many femtech companies, including those discussed below, is an increasing gender health gap that has emerged because of the taboo nature of female health. However, the women who identified this discrepancy in healthcare have revolutionized not only female health but the world of preventative medicine altogether. The world of femtech is vastly expanding, and this list barely scrapes the surface of startups focusing solely on female health.
Dr. Lea Von Bidder—Ava
Founded in 2014, Ava is a wearable bracelet that utilizes nocturnal biometrics such as pulse rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability, and temperature to identify peak fertility windows for users. Backed by millions of tracked cycles, the device utilizes machine learning algorithms to provide real-time feedback for individuals looking to non-invasively track fertility. Aside from the focus on the fertility window, researchers at Ava are consistently expanding on topics associated with women’s health including pregnancy, menstrual cycles, and the effect of birth control, among others.
Following a personal experience with the inequality in female health and fertility, the founder of Ava, Dr. Lea von Bidder collaborated with fellow entrepreneurs to found Ava. Four years later, von Bidder was the only Swiss to be named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30.
Though close to half of the world’s population is born a woman, and nearly all of these individuals experience a period at some point in their lifetime, the importance of tracking menstrual cycles is rarely discussed. However, Ida Tin addressed this healthcare dilemma in 2012 with the founding of Clue—the period tracker app used by more than 12 million individuals. The easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing interface allows users to track periods, ovulation, PMS, as well as cycle patterns associated with discharge, mood, etc. to understand how their cycle affects them monthly. Additional resources found within the app help individuals understand their fluctuating hormones, potential gynecological issues, reproductive health, etc. The period-tracking developer, Ida Tin, did more for female empowerment than the following health. In 2016, Tin coined the now popularized term “femtech” to legitimize the realm of technology-focused solely on female health.
Dr. Geetha Manjunath –Niramai
Female health encompasses more than regular menstruation and fertility. Breast cancer, in particular, is the second-highest cause of cancer for women in the US, representing close to a quarter-million cases as of 2018 (CDC). Most often, screening occurs through bi-annual mammograms that occur after the age of 45. However, emerging technology by Niramai, may provide a radiation-free, easy-to-use solution for any practitioner to use. Niramai utilizes Thermalytix technology: an AI-driven diagnostic tool that employs thermal sensing to uncover potential tumors. The thermal images taken by the device can be used to uncover blood vessel density (identifying potential angiogenesis), identify contours of malignant tissue, and detect tumorous tissue, among other screening functions. The founder of this technology, Geetha Manjunath, spent over 25 years in IT before founding the company in 2016. She has since found herself awarded for her innovation, including a place on Forbes’ List of Top 20 Self-Made Women.
Dr. Sabrina Badir — Pregnolia
Close to 1 in 10 births come pre-term, often meaning that the baby is underweight, can experience respiratory or digestive discomfort, and has an increased risk of infant morbidity and mortality. Pregnolia was developed as a needed screening tool that can help prepare, or prevent preterm labor. An ETH spinoff, Pregnolia measures cervical stiffness throughout the latter parts of pregnancy, in order to predict preme-babies. Throughout gestation, the cervix softens, then shortens, before fully opening at birth. By measuring the changing stiffness of the cervix throughout the latter stages of pregnancy, and comparing those values to normative data, practitioners can monitor changes that may indicate a preme-baby. The safe, less-invasive approach to gestational care emerged from the PhD work of Dr. Sabrina Badir in 2016. The device fell as part of her collaborative research at ETH Zurich and the University Hospital Zurich.
Dr. Helen O’Neill —Hertility
Hormone fluctuations throughout the month, year, and lifetime, are not uncommon and to be expected. However, when hormone secretion/production falls outside the normal range, practitioners sound the alarm for interventions. The difficulty with endocrinological disorders is that their diagnosis can only be seen using expensive blood tests that follow a visit with a doctor. Hertility curbs this difficult process by providing at-home testing kits, paired with virtual care. Following an initial consultation, users receive an individualized test kit that allows sampling of up to 10 hormones. A certified gynecologist then reviews the results of the test and schedules a follow-up visit to discuss further care. This healthcare tool allows for increased screening for common hormonal diseases such as PCOS, endometriosis, and thyroid issues, among others. As a tenured professor at the University College in London, Dr. Helen O’Neill spends her time researching CRISPER as a potential tool in infertility. An accredited researcher, Dr. O’Neill was featured in the Top Twenty Women in Data in 2019, furthering her career in female health.
Priyanka Jain – Evvy
When thinking microbiome, Kombucha, probiotics, and gut health are the first things that come to mind. However, a less commonly considered site of the microbiome is the vagina. Vaginal microbiome is a crucial player in warding off gynecological diseases such as UTIs and yeast infections and serving as a critical player in outcomes related to health complications such as STIs and infertility. In an attempt to emphasize the importance of vaginal microbiome, Priyanka Jain founded Evvy. Users use a swab to sample their microbiome that is then sent to Evvy for nextgen sequencing. The result of the test is then displayed on an easy-to-use interface on the Evvy website that provides a breakdown of the type of bacteria and a recommended treatment plan. The test allows users to take control of their gynecological health in an attempt to close the health gap that seems to be ever-expanding. After graduating from Stanford in 2016, Jain worked at pymetrics, an AI-driven company aimed at eliminating gender and racial bias from hiring firms. She has continued her drive to minimize the gender gap through her development of Evvy.
Angelica Kohlmann, PhD, MD – Bloom Diagnostics
As pathogenic diagnoses have expanded in the last couple of decades, so too has the ease at which they can be tested. At-home diagnostic kits have become more commonplace for basic illnesses, though more complex bodily abnormalities have remained largely left to lab-based settings. Bloom Diagnostics introduced an at-home lab option for users to test a variety of common defects found in female health. After supplying a small sample of blood, users insert the test strip into the Bloom Lab Device and receive test results in just 10-minutes. The tool is capable of analyzing ferritin, iron, ovarian reserve, and thyroid function. Additionally, Bloom provides preventative healthcare, often known to be the most effective way to limit morbidity and mortality rates, as well as the financial burdens of disease.
Utilizing founder Dr. Angelica Kohlmann’s experience in biotech and medicine, Bloom Diagnostics introduces an easy-to-use solution to some of today’s most difficult healthcare issues.
Aagya Mathur – Aavia.io
Close to 13% of the US population uses oral contraception, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For the most effective protection, birth control needs to be taken every day, and at the same time of day. However, ensuring that the medication is nearby at the correct time every day, let alone remembering to take it, is no easy feat. In fact, the CDC reports that among women who are on the pill, close to 30% have missed at least one pill in a single month, the consequence of which could potentially result in an unwanted pregnancy. In response to the constant struggle of remembering to take birth control, Aagya Mathur founded Aavia. The device is a smart sleeve that counts birth control pills and records the time of day the pill is taken. The sleeve connects to an app on the user’s phone and provides reminders daily to take birth control at the same time. Until the sleeve senses that a pill has been removed from the case, users get constant reminders, ensuring that they are taking it. The app also allows users to track mood, symptoms, etc. related to their period.
The company was founded in 2017, during which time founder and CEO Aagya Mathur was finishing her MBA at MIT.
Ridhi Tariyal – NextGenJane
Despite negative tropes surrounding a period, menstruation can provide a lot of insight into someone’s overall health. NextGenJane aims to utilize information from the most intimate part of the period—the tampon. The company hopes to create a database of traits related to the endometrial lining shed during menstruation by looking at the biomarkers in period blood. The overarching goal is to build a tool that can allow for early intervention in gynecological disorders that are signaled in the lining, yet often go overlooked in typical medical settings. Though not a physical product (unless you sign up to receive their tampon kit), the goal is to create a large dataset that can help shrink the gap of knowledge surrounding menstrual and overall female health.
Co-Founder and CEO of NextGenJane, Ridhi Tariyal, is an engineer and entrepreneur focused on closing the gender health gap. As with many women-led innovations, Tariyal discovered an opportunity when realizing the lack of information regarding female health. Instead of viewing a used tampon as trash, Tariyal chose to view it as a source of knowledge.
Helene Guillaume Pabis – Wild.AI
As wearable technology has popularized over the last decade, so too has the sport-specific metrics that dictate training readiness. As comprehensive as readiness scores appear to be, they often are designed to serve male physiology alone. While many tech companies have introduced a period tracking program as part of their overall platform, the considerations regarding female-specific physiology is often overlooked. Identifying the void in female specific training, Helene Guillaume Pabis introduced Wild.Ai. Instead of shying away from developing a software targeted specifically at those that are female-born, Guillaume celebrated the female body.
Wild.AI’s app integrates with wearable technology such as Garmin and Oura, as well as other activity tracking apps such as Strava and Apple Health to collect objective biometric data. Combined with additional subjective metrics pertaining to mood, bloating, period state, etc., Wild.AI provides users with a training score. Based on individual phases in the cycle, Wild.AI provides users with additional recommendations on nutrition, training, supplementation, and recovery to ensure that they are maximizing their athletic potential at a given point in their cycle. Additionally, the company celebrates any opportunity to provide coaches, users, and researchers with more information. Users can read numerous articles pertaining to the female body presented on the app, as well as participate in world-wide research furthering the knowledge of female science.
After receiving her Master’s Degree in Finance and Financial Risk Management from Audencia, Guillaume founded WildAI. The ultra-athlete strives to ensure that women are not treated as fragile beings and that their physiology is not viewed as synonymous to men. Instead, Guillaume, and the entire team at Wild.AI, aim to push athletes to work with their differing physiology, instead of against it.
Originally published: 13.06.2022