With women-specific health needs long ignored by tech giants, FLEX, the tampon replacement, raised $4 million and Nurx, the birth control delivery web platform, raised $5.3 million in 2016 (and went on to raise $93.4 million). Both companies became one of the top 10 companies out of more than 100 to raise the most money during their Demo Days at Y Combinator that year. By March 2017, it was reported that femtech companies had raised $1.1 billion since 2014, and the growth has only continued.
We spoke to CEOs and founders Gina Bartasi of Kindbody, Jill Angelo of Gennev, Kate Torgersen of Milk Stork, Molly Hayward of Cora and Liz Klinger of Lioness about how their companies have evolved from first entering the space and feeling like an island to now — a community of women changing the world for women.
“Investors would say, ‘Well, what lets the air out of the balloon? What can derail the business?,’” CEO and founder of the New York-based tech-enabled fertility company Kindbody, Gina Bartasi said. “And I would say, ‘Well, I guess if women went back to the old way of having children and they didn’t go to graduate school and they didn’t go to med school or business school and they started having babies again in their early 20s — then, that’s what would cause the fertility world to come crashing into the ground.’”
She flatly says that’s highly unlikely. Kindbody is Bartasi’s third fertility startup. She launched them all after going through her own fertility journey.
Torgersen started her first-of-its-kind breast milk shipping service after a four-day work trip during which she had to pump and fly home in her carry-on bag two gallons of breast milk for her eight-month-old fraternal twins.
These options didn’t exist before, and even where there was demand, it wasn’t recognized enough.
“It’s been really amazing over the last four or five years that we’ve been around to see the different areas of women’s lives sort of being addressed through commerce, through business, through business solutions — everything from fertility to breastfeeding and sexual wellness, pleasure, all of these things,” Hayward, who founded Cora, the period and bladder care brand, said.
Femtech isn’t just for women
There is, however, some gray area in femtech. Fertility, for example, has always been a mainstay in the space. Kindbody is actually Bartasi’s third fertility startup, but she notes fertility is not solely a women’s health concern.
“Remember that 50% of all fertility issues are male-related,” she says. “It does directly affect them and they don’t talk about it. Women do. She adds that they’re seeing a rise in same-sex couples leveraging Kindbody rather than adopting.
Women’s sexual health and wellness brands sometimes are excluded (primarily from those outside of it) or are criticized for being included. For example, CB Insights, the market intelligence company used by many investors, routinely shares data on its own idea of femtech.
“For the most part, Lioness and pretty much anything sexual-pleasure-related is not on those maps,” Liz Klinger, the CEO and co-founder of Lioness, the world’s first smart vibrator brand, shared with TechCrunch.
We reached out to the insights company for an updated femtech map. There isn’t one pleasure-centered (or even pleasure-adjacent) women’s health startup on the most up to date map for women’s health startups. For a site that touts itself as “loved by the smartest companies” for sharing “insights on probability, not punditry,” it is interesting that the $30 billion sex tech industry didn’t make it on this map. The only place we did find women’s pleasure brands was on a market map for “Valentine’s Day” tech in 2020.
In talking to some former and current employees, Klinger discovered rumors about potential reasons for the exclusion.
“I heard that there is a bit of pushback, both a combination of personal and also that some of their larger clients are Fortune 500.” They don’t think it’s relevant to those clients.
As these challenges are seemingly par for the course for companies focused on women’s sexual pleasure, Klinger noted the most pleasant surprise in fundraising was how black and white it was when it came to who was going to invest and who wasn’t.
Bartasi pointed to undeniable macroeconomic trends that have emerged since she entered the space in 2008 with her first company Fertility Authority, making fundraising easier now than in the past (in addition to her second company, Progyny, being valued at nearly $2 billion before coronavirus).
“Heterosexual couples are waiting to have children and waiting to get married, and more and more same-sex couples are having children, which is relatively new,” says Bartasi. “Same-sex couples five and 10 years ago potentially adopted, but today they’re going through fertility at a rapid clip.”