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In Israel, the rise of femtech piques investors’ interest in women’s health

The sub-sector of health tech is growing globally—and in Israel.

MobileODT’s EVA system. COurtesy of MobileODT via NoCamels. MobileODT’s EVA system. COurtesy of MobileODT via NoCamels.

The global femtech movement is growing, and investors and entrepreneurs are helping this subsector of health tech expand to reach all health issues that affect women. In Israel, femtech is slowly blooming and to date includes 107 companies providing women-focused solutions, according to Start-Up Nation Central (SNC) data.

Femtech, short for female technology, is a term used to identify companies that sell and manufacture products and services focused on women’s health. To be accepted under the femtech label, the companies do not need to be run by women, although many are.

Femtech can be menstrual cycle tracking apps or pregnancy care apps and products; it can include women’s sexual wellness platforms and reproductive system healthcare; it can be about fertility solutions and at-home testing solutions, contraception-related solutions, menstrual wellness management and lactation digital health solutions, and menopause and geriatric care.

In 2019, USD 563 million was invested in global femtech solutions, according to Pitchbook data. The largest single investment in the sub-sector—to the tune of USD 42 million—went to London-based femtech company Elvie, the developer of a silent wearable breast pump and a pelvic floor exerciser.

Moreover, Frost & Sullivan predicts that the international femtech market, including pharmaceutical drugs and cancer solutions, will hit the USD 50 billion mark by 2025.

For International Women’s Day 2020, NoCamels is taking a closer look at the sector in Israel.

“There is market potential,” Renana Ashkenazi, who manages an investment team at Grove Ventures, tells NoCamels.

“Israel is called the Startup Nation. We should be the ones to lead in this technology revolution dedicated to over half the world’s population. There is everything here: women technologists, women investors, women entrepreneurs. We’ve done this in so many other tech fields. I think it is the time to take the lead in this femtech revolution,” says Ashkenazi.

Israeli femtech is still in its early stages and hasn’t yet taken off in terms of funding.

“There are signs and attempts being made by more and more funds in this femtech space,” Dr. Sharon Rashi-Elkeles, a biomedical professional and co-founder of Eve, the country’s first femtech hub, tells NoCamels. “I had a meeting last week, today, and will have another meeting this week with foundations interested in raising capital in the femtech space. There is a lot of interest, there is intent, but I haven’t seen the big funding yet.”

According to an SNC report, some USD 89 million was injected into the femtech market last year. But USD 78 million, or 88% of the sector’s total funding, went to Healthy.io, the developer of a smartphone-based urine albumin test (useful for pregnant women and others).

Ashkenazi says there is money to be made in the femtech sector but for it to truly grow, both the investment world and the tech developers need to be “more aware and focused” regarding the opportunities that the femtech sector brings.

“It has to be a drive from the technology side. The more [software, products, diagnostics, and services in the women’s health sphere] on the table, the more they’ll be picked up and the more investment opportunities there will be,” says Ashkenazi.

Local entrepreneurs are hard at work to prove that would-be investors can make money and make a positive impact on women’s health.

SafeUp, a community-based mobile app that allows women to protect each other in real-time and get around more safely, and wellness platform Hela Health are the newest startups to join the femtech scene. Both are also founded by women.

MobileODT, the AI-based cervical cancer screening test developer, has been promoting women’s health tech since its launch in 2012, even before the femtech subsector of health innovation became a label.

HeraMED is developing connected pregnancy monitoring solutions for home use.

Healthy.io, probably Israel’s best-known startup in the femtech space, has technology solutions for the general public in other areas of the health sector as well. Ibex Medical Analytics, a pioneer in artificial intelligence-based cancer diagnostics, is another company with both a femtech solution and solutions for the public at large.

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“Investor interest in startups in the femtech space at the moment is not coming from a belief of needing to empower women or advance women’s issues, but rather whether the tech solution is good and has proven potential,” says Rashi-Elkeles.

And she’s happy that Lean In, Me Too and other women’s empowerment movements are not the reason investors are eyeing femtech.

“I do not believe that femtech should rise from a weakened position of women’s status. We do not need to be victims to make a change. Femtech needs to rise from the position that there’s a need and we can solve it,” says Rashi-Elkeles.

That femtech hasn’t reached critical mass is not an issue. The sub-sector of health tech is growing globally—and in Israel.

“We’re seeing more investment opportunities. Investors do see the potential. I’m not sure Clue [an American period and ovulation tracking app] would have been fundable a decade ago,” says Ashkenazi.

Rashi-Elkeles would love to see the government act as an umbrella organization for the femtech sector.

“I want the government to acknowledge this important sector,” says Rashi-Elekeles.

As for trends in femtech in 2020, Forbes cites menopause, nutrition, pain management, and, above all, fertility as the main areas for investments.

For Israel, that’s good news. After all, this country has a solid reputation in the fertility arena.

There are 22 companies focusing on fertility, according to SNC.

OvuCon offers an in-home ovulation medical device, OBG Soft has developed a fertility management system, and AIVF uses AI to simplify the IVF embryo selection process.

Israel’s fertility rate stands at 3.09 children per woman, the highest in the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and higher than in some developing countries.

“Fertility tech is a booming industry. Huge data sets, very professional doctors, and technologies,” says Ashkenazi. “The tech being developed around fertility—from a tracking app to embryo selection—are being developed in Israel. We’re a superpower when it comes to fertility.”

This article first appeared in NoCamels, which covers innovations from Israel for a global audience.