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FemTech Revolution: Empowering Women Through Innovation and Technology

Steph Jones, on behalf of One Health Tech, attended the 'Decoding the Future of Women' event hosted by Fem TechLab at the Wellcome Trust. In this blog post, she shares her review of the innovative ideas and breakthroughs in FemTech that have the power to empower women and revolutionize the industry.

Thanks to One Health Tech I attended ‘Decoding the future of women’ by Fem TechLab. FemTech Lab is an impact driven innovation platform on a mission to improve the lives of 1 Billion Women globally. The day was fascinating, bursting with innovation and ideas for a future where women will know more about their bodies and make more informed health and wellness decisions based on data.

First on stage was Dr. Amy Beckley, owner and CEO of Proov, an at-home fertility and hormone marker test. Second on stage was Dr Helen O’Neill Founder and CEO of Hertility. Both of these innovative companies are shaking up the fertility landscape by exploring hormones, the menstrual cycle and fertility - collecting data and empowering women to be able to make more informed decisions. Up until now the main option for women unable to conceive naturally is IVF, and on the NHS this is often after a long wait time, both these companies are set to change that by diving deeper into the biology behind fertility.

There was then a fantastic panel discussing the latest breakthroughs in medical technology and diagnostics. On the panel were Elizabeth Krenkler discussing artificial wombs, Thang Vo-Ta discussing tampon drug delivery, Francine De Stoppella from the Cleveland Clinic and Professor Joyce Harper describing herself as a disrupter - challenging the science and data behind the technologies. A key take home message from this panel was the need for robust evidence to prove safety and efficacy and the need to ensure that new technology was empowering women vs exploiting women.

The next session was on wearables. On the panel was Kristina Masalin, product manager for Oura. Oura is a smart ring which tracks temperature, sleep, oxygen, heart rate and more. I later read Oura has partnered with natural cycles, hormone free birth control. I found this fascinating, if anyone saw Davina McCall’s recent documentary ‘Pill Revolution’ this someday could provide different options for women experiencing side effects from the contraceptive pill, or wanting to approach contraception in a drug free way.

Also on this panel was Dr Susan Thomas from Google Health. Susan discussed the importance of interoperability. This is a fundamental point - in the tech industry these apps and devices need to be able to function across multiple platforms, the last thing we need is multiple, unconnected apps. Ideally all wearables will generate interoperable data which can in the future feed into one universal health dashboard.

There was a session on sex tech, encouraging women to learn more about their bodies. Anna Lee, Co-founder and VP of Engineering from Lioness, whose mission is to expand understanding and research in sexual health and destigmatize female sexuality. FemTech pioneer and trend forecaster Anna Butterworth from Ultraviolet Agency was discussing the growth of FemTech and what she sees for the future. I saw her later on in the day carrying her young baby. As a mother of two young children, it was great to have a baby at the conference and see that maternity leave doesn’t have to mean a pause in your career.

I was also super excited to meet a data scientist from Elvie, the smart, wearable breast pump. The Elvie pump is hands down the best piece of mum tech I have ever owned. It was the reason I was able to go back to work when my son was only 8 months old. The Elvie pump enabled me to pump discreetly on the train on my morning commute, during my lunch hour and on my way home, a liberating piece of technology.

At the end of the day we heard from 13 cutting edge and potentially disruptive startups from the Spring’23 cohort of FemTech Labs. For me the most exciting from these pitches was Thyia - the at home cervical screening test kit. This could be a total game changer and I have signed up to the waitlist for this. I recently received my cervical screening letter from the NHS and when I rang my GP I was told I was to be put on a 3 month wait list and I should wait to be called. If this home screening kit works -it would reduce the wait time for appointments but also increase accessibility to the test.

Being an NHS pharmacist turned software developer I was keen to find some fellow female engineers, writing the code behind all this new tech. During the breaks I networked and met Naomi McGregor, Founder and CEO/CTO of Movetru. Movetru is a wearable technology that enables users to track movement. Analysis of this information can help in the prevention of injuries. This reminded me of a talk at the ‘Women in Data’ conference earlier this year from Euro 2022 champion Jill Scott, describing the importance of how the female body reacts to training at certain times of the month. Jill highlighted the large amount of research underway regarding menstrual cycle and training optimisation.

In the future it would be great to bolster the female engineering talent in the FemTech arena. It would be great to create a collaboration with Code First Girls so that female engineers are coding the FemTech of the future.

Overall a fascinating day which felt like just the beginning of a revolution in using tech to empower women of the next generation.

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