Female technology startups in S’pore: How this industry busts taboos about women’s health
In 2020, there was a boom in female technology (femtech) startups 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 and Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin in 2016. Ida is also the founder of Clue, a period and fertility tracking app.
Fermata SG creates an online marketplace for all femtech products, Zazazu is a sexual wellness hub and community that aims to empower women to own their sexual pleasure and Good Vibes SG is a homegrown sex toy company.
Last but not least, Ying Yi Wellness is an online wellness brand that uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices to alleviate period problems and symptoms.
The rise in femtech startups might be precipitated by a few factors.
First, the Covid-19 lockdowns and work-from-home measures have given rise to the spread of telemedicine platforms and access to online healthcare from the comfort of one’s own home.
Next, quarantine and social distancing have resulted in an increasing demand for sex toys for individuals looking to satisfy their sexual needs at home.
Last, the rise of the femtech startups corresponds with the viral spread of the #metoo movement globally. The movement brings awareness to women’s rightful claim over sex and sexuality, and heralds the next chapter in the feminist movement.
Despite the femtech industry being very nascent, it has a deep significance towards the economy and society.
The significance of femtech and sextech
Femtech has increasingly branched out to cover any kind of technology enabled app, platform, or business that supports gender equality in areas where females are underrepresented.
This can include financial management, engineering, coding education for girls, and the list goes on.
Femtech startups and products are usually created by female founders, with female customers in mind.
In the past, the industry of female wellness and sexuality has mostly been shaped and decided by men, with women having minimal say in it.
Women have also been historically excluded from clinical trials and research aimed at creating female health products. For example, in the United States, it was not until 1994 that that the law made it mandatory for women and minority groups to be included in clinical research.
However, until today, women are still underrepresented in clinical trials research for new medications.
When it comes to sexual wellness, 75 per cent of women globally have never reached orgasm through sexual intercourse. 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 genitalia, by both men and women.
“We have been taught growing up that female sexuality and female genitalia are associated with negative connotations,” said Janice Lee, a sexual wellness advocate and sex toys consultant based in Singapore.
Sexual wellness startups try 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 women’s desire to claim ownership and take back 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 very new concept, and especially so in Singapore.
However, the focus on using technology to address specifically women’s sexual health and wellness only officially started in 2018.
Spark Fest Asia was launched in 2018 by Erin Chen and Sinnead Ali and is touted as Asia’s first sexual wellness festival. It describes itself as an event that brings about new conversations about sex, intimacy, and love through inspirational and informative talks, edutainment experiences, arts and products and services.
The team also also organised the Sex Tech Hackathon, providing aspiring founders with a platform to showcase new ideas and solutions to female problems.
A slew of angel investors, investors and accelerator programs have shown 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 disc company is part of the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (TAFFS) fashion incubation cohort.
Karen told Vulcan Post in an interview that it is relatively easy for founders to start a femtech startup in Singapore, as there is no resistance from the government towards startups under this category.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) has been working on a regulatory sandbox since 2018 for telemedicine and mobilemedicine, to create a framework for online and mobile healthcare platforms. Especially due to Covid-19 pandemic, the MOH has been ramping up efforts in this area.
In February 2021, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that it launched a regulatory sandbox with a framework to monitor online and mobile healthcare platforms.
Moving forward, more femtech startups are expected to mushroom up in Singapore, with more female founders expected to ride the trend.
Barriers to the growth of femtech
According to Karen, the number one barrier to growth in the femtech space is the stigma and bias associated with funding. Female founders are still grossly underfunded everywhere around the world, including in Singapore.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported that women founders deliver better revenue than men founders — for every dollar raised, female-led startups generated 78 cents and male-led startups generated 31 cents in revenue.
Meanwhile, according to a report published by Allied Market Research, the global sexual wellness market generated US$74.77 billion in 2019 and it is estimated to reach US$108.32 billion by 2021.
In order to address the imbalance in funding, Karen has started a crowdfunding platform on The Della HQ for femtech founders to raise funds.
The stigma and taboo that still surrounds the femtech and sexual wellness space might also pose challenges to such startups when scaling.
Even though they might have no problem with starting up in Singapore, mass adoption might be challenging. It might take some time to convince women that they need to prioritise their reproductive health and sexual wellness.
It is harder to advertise products and services like this openly as women’s health and sexual wellness are still perceived as problematic, sensitive and secretive issues.
Jingjin Liu, CEO and co-founder of ZaZaZu, said that despite all odds, the sexual wellness industry in Singapore has been growing in recent years, and that the startups working in the sector are on a mission to normalise sexual wellness.
The femtech industry might be relatively new, and it might not grow as easily, rapidly and as expansively as other less-stigmatised sectors such as ride-hailing, social networking, or e-commerce.
However, this sector represents a massive untapped potential of half of the world’s population that is getting more social, economic, and political power.
Thus, it is crucial that daring entrepreneurs step up to claim this new space and secure the first-mover advantage in the industry.
Featured Image Credit: Ease Healthcare