How this industry busts taboos about women’s health

In 2020, there was a boom in female tech startups (femtech) in Singapore.

Femtech refers to the use of technology to develop software or hardware products, tools, and other applications that primarily focus on women’s health.

The term was coined by Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin in 2016. Ida is also the founder of Clue, a period and fertility tracking app.

At least eight femtech startups were launched in 2020 alone. For example, Ferne Health and Ease are sexual health platforms that offer discreet options for STI testing and home birth control.

Dear Doc is a one-stop healthcare solution for women, while Fig Health is a platform that tests and manages Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) by tracking lifestyle changes.

Fermata SG creates an online marketplace for all femtech products, Zazazu is a sexual wellness center and community that aims to empower women to take ownership of their sexual pleasure and Good Vibes SG is a sex toy company local.

Finally, Ying Yi Wellness is an online wellness brand that uses traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practices to alleviate period problems and symptoms.

Start-up nameProducts and services
Health FerneHome delivery STI testing and birth control
Fig healthA platform that tests and manages Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) by tracking lifestyle changes.
EaseHome delivery STI testing and birth control
Dear DocOne-stop healthcare solution for women
Fermata SGAn online marketplace for all femtech products
ZaZaZuA sexual well-being center and community that aims to empower women to take ownership of their sexual pleasure
Good Vibes SGA Singapore sex toy company.
Well-being Ying YiAn online wellness brand that uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices to alleviate period problems and symptoms.
Femtech startups launched in 2020

The rise of femtech startups could be precipitated by a few factors.

First, the Covid-19 lockdowns and work-from-home measures have resulted in the spread of telemedicine platforms and access to healthcare online from the comfort of one’s home.

Then quarantine and social distancing led to a growing demand for sex toys for people seeking to meet their sexual needs at home.

Finally, the rise of femtech startups corresponds to the viral spread of the #metoo movement on a global scale. The movement raises awareness of women’s legitimate claim to sex and sexuality, and heralds the next chapter of the feminist movement.

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Although the femtech industry is very nascent, it is of profound importance to the economy and to society.

The importance of femtech and sextech

Femtech has increasingly branched out to cover any type of technology-enabled application, platform or business that supports gender equality in areas where women are under-represented.

This can include financial management, engineering, coding education for girls, and the list goes on.

Founders in Singapore / Image credit: Tech in Asia

Startups and Femtech products are typically created by founders, with female clients in mind.

In the past, the women’s sexuality and wellness industry has been predominantly shaped and decided by men, with women having little say.

Women have also historically been excluded from clinical trials and research aimed at creating health products for women. For example, in the United States, it was not until 1994 that the law mandated the inclusion of women and minority groups in clinical research.

However, until today, women are still under-represented in clinical trial research for new drugs.

When it comes to sexual well-being, 75% of women worldwide have never reached orgasm during sex. This phenomenon is known as the orgasm gap – a general disparity between heterosexual men and women in terms of sexual satisfaction.

This is largely due to the fact that there is a lack of understanding of female anatomy and genitals, both in men and in women.

“We were taught growing up that female sexuality and female genitalia have negative connotations,” said Janice Lee, a Singapore-based sexual wellness advocate and sex toy consultant.

Janice Lee / Image Credit: Rice Media

Sexual wellness startups are trying to educate the public and help women own female pleasure and love their own bodies.

“The rise of the femtech industry is a testament to the desire of women to claim ownership and regain power,” said Karen Heng, founder of The Della HQ, a content platform that covers the world of femtech. in Asia.

Femtech in Singapore

Femtech is a whole new concept, and particularly in Singapore.

Singapore has long had retail sex shops like Maison Mika and some female sex toy brands like Smile Makers have been around since 2013.

However, the focus on using technology to specifically address women’s sexual health and well-being did not officially begin until 2018.

Spark Fest Asia was launched in 2018 by Erin Chen and Sinnead Ali and is billed as Asia’s premier sexual wellness festival. It describes itself as an event that sparks new conversations about sex, intimacy and love through inspiring and informative discussions, edutainment experiences, the arts and products and services.

The team also hosted the Sex Tech Hackathon, giving aspiring founders a platform to showcase new ideas and solutions to women’s issues.

Image Credit: SparkFest Asia

A large number of angel investors, investors and acceleration programs have shown their support for femtech startups in the city-state.

For example, Fig Health and Ferne health are funded by Antler Venture Capital and Iterative VC, respectively, while She Period, a menstrual record company, is part of the Fashion Incubation Cohort of the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (TAFFS) .

Karen told Vulcan Post in an interview that it is relatively easy for founders to start a femtech startup in Singapore because there is no resistance from the government towards startups in this category.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has been working on a regulatory sandbox since 2018 for telemedicine and mobile medicine, to create a framework for online and mobile health platforms. Mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the MOH has stepped up its efforts in this area.

In February 2021, the Department of Health (MOH) announced that it had launched a regulatory sandbox with a framework to monitor online and mobile healthcare platforms.

In the future, more femtech startups are expected to proliferate in Singapore, and more female founders are expected to follow the trend.

Obstacles to the growth of femtech

According to Karen, the main obstacle to growth in the femtech space is the stigma and prejudices associated with funding. Founders are still grossly underfunded all over the world, including Singapore.

In 2019, 86% of fund managers globally were men, with just 3% of all funding going to companies founded by women.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported that female founders generated more income than male founders – for every dollar raised, female-led startups generated 78 cents and male-directed startups generated 31 cents in revenue. .

Karen Heng from Della Headquarters / Image Credit: Karen Heng

Meanwhile, according to a report released by Allied Market Research, the global sexual wellness market generated US $ 74.77 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach US $ 108.32 billion by 2021.

In order to address the funding imbalance, Karen launched a crowdfunding platform at Della headquarters for femtech founders to raise funds.

The stigma and taboo that still surrounds the femtech space and sexual well-being could also pose challenges for these startups when scaling up.

Even if they have no problem getting started in Singapore, mass adoption can be difficult. It may take some time to convince women to prioritize their reproductive health and sexual well-being.

It is more difficult to openly advertise products and services like this, as the health and sexual well-being of women are always seen as problematic, sensitive and secret issues.

Jingjin Liu, CEO and co-founder of ZaZaZu, said that despite all odds, the sexual wellness industry in Singapore has grown in recent years and startups working in the sector have a mission to standardize the sexual well-being.

ZaZaZu Playdate Set / Image Credit: ZaZaZu

The femtech industry might be relatively new and not grow as easily, quickly, and as widely as other less stigmatized industries such as ridesharing, social media, or e-commerce.

However, this sector represents a huge untapped potential for half of the world’s population who is gaining more social, economic and political power.

It is therefore crucial that daring entrepreneurs mobilize to claim this new space and secure the first-mover advantage in the industry.

Featured Image Credit: Ease Healthcare

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