While addressing a conference in August 2015, Danish Internet entrepreneur Ida Tin — CEO and co-founder of the menstrual-tracking app Clue and originator of the term “femtech” — said she had only just learned that a woman’s cycle is considered a vital sign.
Quite so, in every sense of the word.
While she was referring to the fact that it was regarded as such by healthcare professionals (particularly during emergencies), it is vital in every other way. Vital to a woman’s health, obviously. To the way her life might unfold. To the opportunities that might become available to her, to the services she (or her child) might need going forward.
That being the case, the data a woman can collect from an app like Clue is no less vital, empowering her to make decisions about what might lie ahead.
“It’s something,” Tin told her audience, “that empowers you to navigate life, really.”
If it was initially difficult for Tin to sell investors, largely male, on the idea of an app that would enable such navigation on the part of women, that is no longer the case. An estimated 10 million women from around the globe use Clue, which is free and was launched in 2013, and an equal number have turned to Flo, an app designed for the same purposes.
It is estimated, in fact, that such trackers are used by 33 percent of the women in the United States, and they are regarded as being particularly helpful to those facing impediments to healthcare — i.e., the economically disadvantaged, those who are older, those plagued by chronic conditions, adolescents, the differently abled and those facing a language barrier.
These apps, and really all mobile health devices, will also become increasingly invaluable given the fact that the world’s healthcare system will face increasing stress in the years to come, as the population ages. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that an additional 2.3 million healthcare workers will be needed by 2025, to meet the needs of Baby Boomers.
The femtech space — the so-called “she-conomy” — has already seen the development of not only apps but also products like NextGen Jane, a “smart” tampon that can detect signs of various maladies in menstrual blood, and Thinx panties, moisture-wicking underwear.
It is estimated that femtech could be a $50 billion business by 2025, and that by the following year the market size for apps alone will balloon to $3.9 billion, nearly four times as much as in 2018. Those apps include not only Clue and Flo, the latter of which can also serve as a pregnancy tracker, but also Ovia, Kindara, Eve by Glow and MagicGirl.
The tech heavyweights have also entered the space, with Fitbit enabling female health tracking on its Versa smartwatch in 2018 and Apple introducing menstrual and fertility tracking capabilities to its iPhone health app the following year.
Tin foretold all of this in her 2015 presentation:
“I think it’s fair to say we are in the middle of a global social movement. I think we are slowly but surely moving out of Tabooland and instead understand that society carries all this information that we can integrate into all points of life. This is truly empowering.”
The data, she added, will allow science to move forward, and make never-before-seen insights possible. Consider for example, a woman at risk for breast cancer; an app will enable her to be forewarned.
There are nonetheless miles to go on the femtech front, as indicated by the fact that just four percent of healthcare research and development is geared in that direction. Then again, things have seemingly always proceeded at a snail’s pace in this space. Consider the development of “The Pill” — i.e., the oral contraceptive Enovid — which some regard as a seminal moment on the femtech front. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960, but it took another five years for the Supreme Court to rule that the private usage of such drugs was indeed constitutional.
And so it goes for female empowerment; there was a reason Tin included a slide of a medieval chastity belt in her presentation. But progress, deliberate as it has been, continues. A figure like Tin was bound to be a central figure, given her background. Her family once ran a motorcycle-touring business, which saw them ship bikes from Denmark to various countries — the U.S., Cuba and Mongolia among them — and travel about. She came to understand the differences in people from one culture to the next, women in particular, as well as the similarities.
“You should think that it’s a big part of life to figure out how to not have children or when to have children,” she once told Insider.com. “And yet … there’s nothing.”
As a result she became something of a technological trailblazer, with others following suit — an inevitability, perhaps, given the degree to which tech has disrupted all aspects of society. Studies show that over half of smartphone users (of all genders) seek out healthcare information via such devices and 93 percent of doctors believe patients can improve their health via mobile apps.
Then consider the power women already have. How they represent half the world’s population. How they are, according to Appinventiv, 75 percent more likely than men to use digital healthcare apps. How they do 80 percent of the household spending on healthcare and make decisions in that space 90 percent of the time.
The momentum is there, as is the means. And the need is never-ending. In the course of her presentation Tin included a testimonial from a woman who used her app. “That (thing),” the woman wrote, “will save your life.”
The same might be said of femtech as a whole. It is empowering — and it is vital.