In 2019 women in the U.S. and all over the world are still dangerously underserved by the medical community and the healthcare gap is compounded even further for women of color. For a long time, women’s bodies and health concerns have been ignored. It was only in the last few years that women have had things like uterine healthcare, sexual wellness, and postnatal care apps at their fingertips — and we want more!
Femtech is a term coined in 2015 by Clue founder Ida Tin, to describe a sector of tech that focuses on women’s health. Although the term didn’t exist until fairly recently, the sector has existed since the early 2010s and even before that if you count health innovations like medical devices and drugs. Since 2014, femtech has raised a collective 1 billion dollars and is expected to bring in $50 billion by 2025.
You would think because of the name there would be more female founders involved, but similar to all other sectors of tech — it’s mostly white and male. Something that Estrella Jaramillo, the co-founder of femtech startup Bwom, says impacts the quality of products and services available to women.
“Female founded femtech startups are designed with a woman’s best interest in mind. We look at self-care, the changes of our bodies, preventative measures, and non-invasive health management. They are more user-centric and women-centric,” Jaramillo told HipLatina.
On the other hand, she says, male founded startups tend to concentrate on more straightforward solutions created with male investors in mind. For example, if a woman is peeing when she sneezes after having a child, a male-led femtech company might come up with a comfortable pad made from biodegradable material. Women led startups will ask: how can we prevent her from peeing in the first place?
In 2018 companies with all women founders received only 2.2% of VC funding, and women make up only 9% of venture capitalists working with startups. Which makes the 4% of funding that goes to women’s healthcare research and development not that surprising. Of course, women of color are largely underrepresented as founders in the femtech space because such is life in these United States. But their numbers are rising and their solutions are increasingly inventive and important to women’s health. Here are 9 women of color who are making room for themselves in femtech.
Beatrice Feliu-Espada, Founder of The Honey Pot
went in on skincare from small companies helmed by women of color tonight! got this bougie botanical pussy wash from beatrice feliu-espada's intimate care company the honeypot, and bamboo shark sauce from chel cortes' us-based k-beauty company holy snails shop pic.twitter.com/0ZSFhjbwkn
— buns like ann sather ✨ they/them (@lorenacupcake) September 2, 2018
After having a vaginal infection for 8 months and after trying everything to clear up the infection Beatrice Feliu-Espada had a dream about her grandmother that changed her life. “I had a dream that I was sitting at a table with my grandmother. She gave me a list of ingredients and told me, ‘This will help get rid of your problem.’ When I woke up, I immediately wrote down what I dreamed she told me: coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, rose water, lavender, water, and garlic,” she told Health Magazine. After she was able to cure herself with the mixture she began selling it. She has since expanded to other products, The Honey Pot now sells biodegradable and 100 percent cruelty-free natural tampons and herbal-infused menstrual pads that are available in Whole Foods and Target.
Rebecca Alvarez, Founder of Bloomi
Most — if not all — of the commercially made products for vaginal health are actually highly toxic. And women of color are the target demographic for dirty feminine health products like over the counter douches. When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer Rebecca Alvarez took it upon herself to look deeper into how women’s health is often affected by the products we use. She created Bloomi, the first marketplace where women could find a variety of clean intimate care products like tampons, pads, wipes, menstrual cups, and sex toys. Bloomi also encourages women to destigmatize conversations around sex, sexual wellness, and pleasure.
Dr. Maryam Ziaei and Dr. Shadi Saberi, Founders of iSono Health
— Hyper Wellbeing Innovation Labs, Inc. (@HyperWellbeing) September 26, 2016
Breast cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of death for women. In the states, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime and many insurance companies won’t cover screening for women under the age of 50. When Maryam Ziaei and Shadi Saberi had close family and friends who were diagnosed with the disease, they began thinking about affordable early prevention. Together they founded iSono Health and developed ATUSA, the world’s first portable, automated 3D breast ultrasound scanner that allows women to self-monitor their breast health at home. Groundbreaking!
Melissa Hanna, Founder of Mahmee
Melissa Hanna is co-founder of Mahmee, a Los Angeles tech company that works with health care systems & insurance companies to get women access to maternity care. Hanna is a graduate of Southwestern University School of Law.#TechDiversity #Mahmee #Billseye #LegalInnovation pic.twitter.com/H1vb1VsDgu
— Billseye (@_Billseye) July 24, 2020
Mahmee has been in the news recently for raising a 3 million dollar seed round from Serena Williams and Mark Cuban. Melissa Hanna was inspired to apply tech to the maternal health care system by her mother’s work as a labor and delivery nurse. Linda Hanna also happens to be one of the first women in the U.S. to become a board-certified lactation consultant. She also designed Kaiser Permanente’s breastfeeding center. Together they founded Mahmee, a revolutionary solution for the gaps in maternal health care. Mahmee connects hospitals, doctors, health systems, as well as maternity providers like doulas, lactation consultants, therapists, and midwives. Bringing all of these practitioners together allows care teams to monitor mom and baby’s health in a way that has never been done before by allowing practitioners to identify conditions and alert doctors before they become life-threatening. In the states, 700 mothers die from pregnancy or childbirth complications every year and another 50,000 are severely injured.
Aness An, Binna Won, & Yanghee Paik, Founders of Rael
First off, do we know what we're putting in our bodies? I chatted with Rael CEO Yanghee Paik on the importance of using organic feminine products. It's eye-opening! https://t.co/AvlBwoqUep pic.twitter.com/MFW7xLMZP6
— Sharelle B. (@_SharelleB) July 23, 2018
The number one selling organic cotton pads and pantyliners on Amazon come from Rael, a femtech company started by a journalist and bestselling author, an architect-turned-art-director, and a Harvard MBA who used to be a movie distributor at The Walt Disney Studios. Tired of period products that were full of chemicals, Aness An, Binna Won, & Yanghee Paik teamed up to create the products they wish they had. All of their organic, biodegradable solutions are made to support a woman through all the phases of her cycle. They’ve also expanded to “Period Beauty” or products like sheet masks and acne healing patches that alleviate hormonal skin issues. Today Rael is available in 19 countries worldwide and they continue to grow on their quest to make affordable quality period care available to all women.
Gina Gutierrez, Co-Founder of Dipsea
Dipsea erotica “is designed to make people feel turned on to their own ideas and to stimulate someone’s erotic imagination, along with being very psychologically safe. We’re doing something that’s very fragile.” — Dipsea cofounder Gina Gutierrez to me for a future story pic.twitter.com/oYBOuPtIuh
— Tom Kertscher (@KertscherNews) November 14, 2019
Is feeling sexy a part of women’s health? These women say yes! Dipsea is a femtech company that is bringing all women sexual wellness through audio. Built by Gina Gutierrez a psychology major turned brand and design strategist, and Faye an economics major turned software engineer — Dipsea is driven by psychology and the finding that 90 percent of women make up imaginary scenarios to turn themselves a.k.a “mental framing.” Dipsea is a subscription based app that prioritizes telling sexy stories by creating a blueprint for women’s fantasies so they can use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. Overall, it’s supposed to get you out of boss mode and into “the mood.”
Chia Chia Sun, Co-Founder of Damiva
It's here! Chia Chia Sun, CEO of Damiva, and Kathy Ireland, SuperMogul and CEO of @KiWW, are on the cover of @ChainDrugReview Magazine. Pick up a copy to learn more about their partnership and get some insight with this exclusive Q&A with Kathy Ireland. pic.twitter.com/AQLpVA1SRi
— Damiva (@ByDamiva) December 28, 2017
Around 85% of women experience vaginal dryness that comes with menopause. In most cases it will be a condition they are going to be living with for at least another 30 years. Not only that, it’s supposed to get worse over time. When Chia Chia Sun and her business partner Gardiner Smith, discovered this, they decided something needed to be done. Together they founded Damiva, a company that makes homeopathic vaginal suppositories and labial skin moisturizer.
Crystal Etienne, Founder of Ruby Love
— Hstl&Hrt (social enterprise) (@HstlandHrt) September 19, 2019
If you’re not into tampons then swimming on your period is usually a no go. But did you know that there is a line of period safe swimwear? Neither did we! Enter Ruby Love an entire line of period-proof swimwear, loungewear, underwear, and activewear. They also make a ‘First Period Kit’ for teens and tweens as a way to break the period stigma by giving teens a way to celebrate themselves. Ruby Love has also raised the 4th largest funding round ever by a Black woman totaling $15 million. Founder Crystal Etienne also bootstrapped her company to $10 million in sales! Incredible!