How women-led businesses are transforming women's health

How women-led businesses are targeting women’s health to address long-overlooked gaps in care

You know about the gender pay gap. 

But there are other massive gender gaps continuing right now that are impacting women’s retirement savings and security, and her health.

That is the inventor gap. The investment gap. And other gaps impacting how women’s health needs get the attention, the funding, and the catch-up it needs to see all areas of women’s health that have for too long been overlooked, finally addressed.

What we do know is that when women are innovating and building businesses in health, they tend to address women’s health needs.

We see it among the female entrepreneurs securing funding and developing products and services to support women’s health.

We see it in digital health, where female founders are offering new models for delivering health services to women.

And we see it in biomedical patents, where female-led inventions in this space so often address women’s health needs.

Indeed Harvard Business Review’s analysis of decades of biomedical patents published last year found that those created by women were 35% more likely to benefit women’s health than those created by men. 

(The problem? Just 4 per cent of biomedical patented inventions are created by all-female teams. The issue is continuing, just 12.8% of inventors receiving patents in the US in 2020 were female). 

As the Women’s Health Project podcast returns this week, we look at the massive push by women to change the business of women’s health, including how care is delivered, thanks to the support of Organon, the recently launched pharmaceutical company dedicated to a better and healthier every day for every woman.

For this episode, I spoke to a number of different women at the forefront of this shift.

I start with Alice Williams, the founder of Ovira, an Australian women’s health brand supporting women those experiencing period pain, which has raised millions in funding.

Alice had no background in business before starting Ovira. She never had a nine-to-five job. 

But what she did have was horrendous period pain. As well as frustration with the options previously available. While researching ways to relieve period pain, she came across electrotherapy, and then a business idea: to create an easy-to-use device that women could discreetly access whenever and wherever they needed it. 

Raising capital hasn’t been easy, Alice said.

“I had another man, when I was pitching, stop me halfway through a pitch and said, “Ah, sorry. Can I just stop you there, Alice? What right do you have to be doing this? Like, who are you? You’re 20-something year old woman trying to bring a medical device to market.” So yeah, I’ve seen and heard it all.”

But she’s sensing some momentum for change.

“I do think there has been a change and I think investors are more open to investing in women, which they should be because if you actually look at the data out, we make more money. 

“So we’re actually more successful and it’s probably because we have to work so much harder.

Part of the shift in investors understanding this area is being supported by the rise in femtech.

Femtech is a term believed to have been first coined by Ida Tin, the founder of a period tracking app called Clue. She used the term to describe and get more people interested in these emerging tech-based companies dedicated to women’s health and research together. She thought it’d not only be empowering, but also make it easier for investors and media to talk about and accept the businesses within the category. 

Megan Capriccio is the CEO and Founder of the FemTech collective

“Femtech is female health technologies,” she explains on the podcast. “It’s applied to products, services, hardware, therapeutic drugs and vitamins, digital platforms, telehealth, consumer products. All with the thought in mind to improve or support women’s health.”

Digital Health is another area that’s booming right now. 

It’s creating significant benefits for women, especially for those with caring responsibilities. Making access to healthcare needs much simpler and faster. 

And it also happens to be a space of entrepreneurship where women are represented in far greater numbers than other areas, and they’re accessing capital and opportunities. 

I spoke to Bronwyn Le Grice, the CEO and managing director of ANDHealth, a not-for-profit digital health agency helping to accelerate the commercialization of evidence-based digital health technologies in Australia. 

Of the 166 companies on ANDHealth’s database, 52 per cent have a female founder, and 42 per cent have a female CEO. These are figures that far outnumber other accelerators and other industry sectors. It could be that ANDHealth is attracting this diversity, especially being founded by a woman and being predominantly female run. 

Dr Talat Uppal
Dr Talat Uppal

But there are other factors, too

“One of the reasons we see a relatively high proportion of female founders, and this is different to MedTech and BioTech, by the way, is because we see a lot of clinician carer and patient-led innovations,” said Bronwyn.

“So our innovation doesn’t come necessarily through an academic research pathway that you might see in a BioTech. It’s not influenced by hierarchies that have existed for a very long time. Our founders come from tech, they [are] nurses, psychologists, pharmaceutical professionals, [they] come from everywhere”

Meanwhile, new businesses are also emerging aiming to turn how women’s healthcare is provided.

One such business is Women’s Health Road, founded by obstetrician Dr Talat Uppal, which puts a number of different women’s health services under the one roof — and where everything from the design of the waiting room to where people interact, is carefully planned to best support women’s emotional and physical health needs.

“I honestly believe that the future of health is very collaborative, and that old-fashioned, vision of a specialist in their room or by themselves seeing patient after patient for the waiting room, I think it’s a little bit outdated,” Dr Uppal explained.

The growing interest in femtech, in digital health, in innovation around patient care and the care sector, as well as in female health practitioners going on to become founders, is not only going to be hugely significant for women, but also for everyone.

The Women’s Health Project is produced by Agenda Media, publisher of Women’s Agenda. 

This project is editorially independent but made possible thanks to the support of Organon, the recently launched pharmaceutical company dedicated to a better and healthier every day for every woman. 

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