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The Rise of FemTech Startups in India

Created on 31 May 2022

Wraps up in 5 Min

Read by 2.2k people

Updated on 25 Aug 2022

In 2009, Ida Tin found herself with a cellphone in one hand and a small thermometer in the other, manually noting down her temperature on a spreadsheet to track her fertility days, hoping that she could somehow combine the two. Baffled that humans could walk on the moon but do little to help women find out their most fertile days, she founded 'Clue' - a period and ovulation tracking app. In 2016, she coined the term 'femtech' or female technology.

Femtech, in simple words, means deploying technology to help women lead healthier lives. Femtech includes period-tracking apps, fertility solutions, pregnancy care, tech-enabled solutions for hormonal disorders, and covers just overall aspects of a woman's health. The FemTech Industry is changing the women's healthcare landscape. There has been an increase in R&D in previously unexplored areas, such as menopause solutions, tracking apps, sexual healthcare, and mental health.

According to Global Market Insights, a US-based market research and management consulting company, the femtech industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.2% from 2021 to 2027.

In 2020, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed a bill making Scotland the first country to provide free period products to its people (completely free!).

In India, the GST rate on sanitary napkins (output GST) is 0%. However, the GST rates on inputs used for manufacturing those raw materials range from 12%-18%. The situation where Input GST > Output GST is referred to as Inverted Tax Structure. The manufacturers face additional administrative costs while claiming the input tax credit. As opposed to this, the importers have to pay customs duty only and no GST thereon. This has left the local manufacturers on a backfoot as compared to importers.

Indian start-ups leading the way

India is home to 5% of the world's total FemTech companies. Below is the list of 5 start-ups doing commendable work in this space in no particular order. (Not to say that the start-ups not mentioned here are any less than these).  

1. Say Cheese (Frenztastic) - After 15 years of an illustrious corporate career, Rajpreet Kaur, an MBA and certified FRM started Say Cheese in Dec 2020. This novel venture aims to measure their clients' happiness levels and provide a detailed 'Happiness Evaluation Report' (HER)! Valued at around INR 10 crores, this Mumbai-based femtech offers services across mentoring, peer-to-peer learning, personal branding, mental health therapy, upskilling, etc. It helps a woman navigate the trio of health, careers and relationships. Say Cheese is equally about a woman's happiness as it is about her empowerment.

2. NIRAMAI or 'Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Intelligence' - NIRAMAI, which means 'being free from illness' in Sanskrit, is a Bangalore-based deep-tech start-up that has developed a solution for detecting early-stage breast cancer using machine learning and artificial intelligence. The entire process is non-invasive, non-traumatizing, non-touch, and radiation-free. Their medical device can detect breast cancer much before self-examination or traditional methods. Started by Geetha Manjunath and with the likes of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on their advisory board, NIRAMAI holds the promise to help crores of women in their fight against breast cancer.

3. AIndra - In 2012, Adarsh Natarajan of IIM-B and Abhishek Mishra of NITJalandhar started AIndra Systems. They helped the Government of Karnataka tackle subsidy leakages in mid-day meal schemes through AI-powered solutions - face recognition, fingerprinting solutions, etc. Today, their flagship product CervAstra addresses the country's low screening rates for cervical cancer. Their cervical cancer detection system uses AI, deep learning, optics, and cloud technologies, to detect cancer within a few hours of collecting pap smear (cervix cells) samples instead of a few weeks taken by conventional cancer detection processes. 

4. OoWomaniya (Impetus Wellness Pvt Ltd) - Founded by Sneh Bhavsar, Krutika Katrat OoWomaniya provides a networking platform for women to discuss their health and emotional well-being with doctors and counsellors. Based out of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, OoWomaniya provides consultation on issues like menstrual health, nutrition, parenting, work-life balance, POSH (prevention of sexual harassment), etc.

5. Gynoveda - Vishal Gupta, who has worked with Reliance Jio, and Acko in the past, suffered from lifestyle disorders. While Allopathy could temporarily solve his problems, Ayurveda offered him a permanent cure for his distress. Subsequently, Vishal and his wife, Rachana, started Gynoveda in 2018. Its Period Bot allows women self-diagnose menstrual problems and offer WhatsApp consultation. With Fireside Ventures as its early-stage investor and Taapsee Pannu as its brand ambassador, Gyanoveda is set to combine technology and Ayurveda to help women take charge of their holistic well-being.

Challenges that FemTechs face

In a recent interview with Slush, Deepali Nangia, Venture Partner, SeedInvest, revealed that a very prominent UK angel investor told her that he did not invest in women's health because he does not understand the topic. Deepali replied, "...but did you grow up understanding crypto, blockchain and metaverse?" 

Deepali's words point toward the biggest problem that FinTechs face - lack of funding. The male-dominated investor community refuses to understand women's health issues. Most FemTechs are starved of the money they need to function well. The FemTech Industry accounts for a paltry 1.4% of capital invested in healthcare. Only 4% of healthcare R&D funding is targeted at women's health. 

Then there are cybersecurity concerns. Apps are susceptible to cyberattacks that may disclose their users' private details. 

Another issue that prevents femtech start-ups from scaling up is the lack of public support and awareness. Just like sanitary pads are wrapped in a newspaper and then in a newspaper again and then again in a newspaper and finally in a black polybag, why not wrap everything about women's health in the same layers of newspapers and polybags?

A challenge that FemTech apps pose: It is suspected that period apps that are free for their customers may be trading their private data to generate revenue, just like Facebook does. 

Conclusion

“Women’s health needs to be front and centre - it often isn’t, but it needs to be.”

-Cynthia Nixon.

A McKinsey article published in Feb 2022 read, "Despite reporting more severe levels, frequency, and duration of pain, reports show that women are less likely to be treated for pain; their symptoms are at times expressed as "emotional" or "psychosomatic." (Well, we didn’t need a McKinsey article to tell us that.) Being a woman in a men's world can indeed be very eventful, and not in a good way most times.

FemTech presents opportunities to improve the lives of half the world's population directly and indirectly, of the remaining half. As the McKinsey article reported, "women's health is not a niche market. It includes much more than just maternal or reproductive care. Indeed, women's healthcare presents enormous opportunities for value creation". It's high time for investors to start turning their sights toward women's health start-ups and for people to stop pretending that women don't exist or their health issues are trivial.

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Ruchika lives by what Victor Hugo said, "What makes night within us, may leave stars." And believes that you should too. She sometimes writes book reviews on her Instagram page - comeletusread

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