RALEIGH – A new sector coined “FemTech” has emerged in recent years focused on introducing cutting-edge health technologies for women, and it’s gaining traction in the Triangle.

This week, FemTech Focus, a Raleigh-based nonprofit raising awareness for sex-specific healthcare innovation, will be hosting a two-day hybrid event that includes an in-person watch party of Femtechnology.org’s virtual summit at the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic on Wednesday, June 1 starting at 9am. This will be followed by on-site panels, networking and workshops and an evening fireside chat at Raleigh Founded Warehouse starting at 5.30pm.

On Thursday, June 2, a second session will be held during the day at NC State accompanied by another evening of networking and panels at Biomilq headquarters in Durham.

The rise of FemTech: Innovation in women’s health is coming into focus

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam had the chance to pose a few questions to its founder, Brittany Barreto, PhD. Here’s what she had to say:

  • Tell me why you decided to host a watch party for the FemTech Summit? And where is the Summit taking place?

Barreto: The FemTechnology Summit is a global virtual summit with an anticipated audience of over 2,000 viewers. FemTech Focus is host an in-person watch party with additional networking, workshops, and and panels. We wanted to host this event in order to bring people together since most FemTech events have been strictly virtual for over two years. This was our opportunity to bring the community together. Moreover, we planned this in-person event in RTP in order to highlights the strengths and opportunities we have here for being a leader in women’s health innovation.

  • What do you hope people will take away from the event?

Barreto: I hope people will learn about the sex-based inequalities in healthcare and healthtech. Most folks have no clue how male-bias medicine is today. Scientific discovery and healthcare innovation has a long historical of excluding females from research. This has led to a healthcare system optimized for male health and women suffer the consequences. For example, 76% of cell lines used in laboratory research are male, 95% of animal model are male, and females only make up 1/3 of heart disease clinical trial participants even though it’s the number-one killer of women. I hope people realize that we are protecting women from research rather than with research, and we need to reprioritize experimental and biotech designs to include sex as a factor.

  • Tell us a little about yourself?

Barreto: My journey in women’s health began as a distributor and educator for Athena’s Home Novelties (SexTech). Later, while finishing my doctorate in genetics at Baylor College, I founded a venture-backed startup, Pheramor, the world’s first DNA-based dating app. The algorithm incorporated factors that increase sexual compatibility and fertility between matches. I shifted into investments as a senior venture associate and launched Capital Factory’s Gulf Coast branch. I noticed how underserved the FemTech industry was and set out to bring awareness, resources, and capital to it via my new organization, FemTech Focus. Today, I host the number one FemTech podcast, produce data-driven industry reports, co-founded the sixth FemTech fund, Coyote Ventures, which is recognized globally as a women’s health leader.

Founder of FemTech Focus Brittany Barreto, PhD.

  • Talk to us more about FemTech Focus. How did it get started? What is your mission?

Barreto: FemTech is defined as product, services, and technologies that improve women, female, and girls health and wellness. This includes solutions to conditions that solely, disproportionately, or differently affect females. Our products range from consumer product goods, digital health apps, medical devices, diagnostics, and more. The term “FemTech” was coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, founder of Clue. Since then, the industry really need a champion to raise awareness of the movement and provide resources and support to the founders innovating in the space. That is FemTech Focus’s mission, and we’ve been leading the charge since March 2020. Our four main offerings are the podcast, virtual community, events, and market research. I founded FemTech Focus after I became inspired in work in women’s health innovation but discovered that were no FemTech specific venture funds, accelerators, or conferences. We lacked the basic infrastructure every industry needs. There was not even a market size for FemTech! So FemTech Focus was created in order to bring the industry together, provide resources it needed to thrive, and accelerate its growth.

  • Tell me about your fundraising efforts to invest in FemTech startups. Are you finding investors that are open to this emerging market?

Barreto: The number of FemTech-specific investments over the past two years has definitely increased. We’ve seen six new funds form, and a lot of interest from established healthcare and consumer good venture funds. We also see female angel investors becoming more inclined to invest in FemTech since they may have personal experience with the problem the FemTech founder is solving. Unfortunately, the industry is still widely underfunded. Some major obstacles include: male investors feeling uncomfortable with a taboo topic (such as heavy menstrual bleeding); male investors having never heard of the conditions FemTech is solving for (such as urinary incontinence); untold market size and exits; and 80% of FemTech founders are female, which creates barriers of its own when fundraising. My biggest concern is investors getting excited to invest in this emerging industry, but not consulting an expert like myself. I see many deals getting funded that if the family office or fund has asked a FemTech experts advice, we may provide more perspective to make stronger investments. FemTech is not like just any other healthcare startup. Women’s health is a unique industry with specific strengths and challenges. Investing in FemTech with a general healthtech investment strategy may end in poor investments and thereby setting the industry back in the longterm.

  • You mentioned that you’ve also co-founded your own fund, Coyote Ventures. Tell us about that, and your investments.

Barreto: Yes! I am co-founder of Coyote Ventures and we have made several very exciting investments, including Hera Biotech, Maude, Wile. Hera Biotech is the first functional diagnostic test for endometriosis which affects one in 10 females. It currently takes an average of seven years to be diagnosed with this debilitating disorder, which costs the $60 billion a year in economic burden due to lost productivity. The current standard for diagnosis is exploratory abdominal surgery, which results as inconclusive in 50% of cases. An in-office uterine cell wall sampling test would revolutionize gynecology and improving the lives of millions of women. Wile is an all-natural line of supplements empowering women 40-plus through peri and post menopause. The branding validates women as they enter this “reverse puberty” time of their life where most brands leave these women out. You will soon see Wile on Whole Foods shelves near you, currently available on Grove Collaborative. Maude is a modern sexual wellness company built on quality, simplicity and inclusivity, we’re on a mission to make intimacy better — for all people. Their products are available in major retailers such as Sephora, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Urban Outfitters, Bloomingdales, and more.

  • You talk about the rise of FemTech on the national scene. What do you see happening here on the ground in the Triangle? What are some of the region’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to FemTech?

Barreto: There are several strong FemTech companies in RTP including: Biomilq, Free to Feed, Anelleo, EXO technologies, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, and bio-aesthetics. I personally think RTP has a lot of strengths that could position us as an ideal FemTech hub with its life science innovation, strong healthcare systems, renowned universities with medical schools. I also think we have some challenges including the state level government policies for women equality and body autonomy. We are ending the summit with a panel called “FemTech in RTP.” I’m excited for us to discuss the opportunities and challenges in RTP for women’s health innovation.

  • Where to from here?

Barreto: I have a vision for a Center of Excellence for Women’s Health Innovation” This major feat would be the cornerstone of the FemTech movement. Under a single roof, we would have all the key stakeholders needed to improve women, female, and girls health and wellness including innovators, investors, medical schools, researchers, hospitals, government agencies and end users (women!). This center of gravity for improving female health through translational research would launch FemTech into the next level of productivity. The needle of improving women’s health currently moves so slowly because we are fragmented and continue to all face the same barriers and reinvent the same solutions. If we concentrated our efforts, shared resources, exchanged ideas, and engaged in partnerships, we could truly improve women’s health.