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Behind the ‘Fem’ in Femtech

Technology has improved almost every aspect of our lives, from transportation and education to science and communication, but one realm has seemingly been ignored. Women’s health, from the birth experience to tracking periods, has often been left alone—until now.

Companies using technology to create products for femme, by femme, have coined the term “femtech.” Anything that “surrounds the experience around anything that has to do with fertility, pregnancy adoption, expanding your family, menstruation, postpartum, etc.,” according to Mina founder Kristen Womack, can be defined as such.

“[It’s] sort of like femme health but also femme inclusive of femme identities that are not necessarily biologically female sex,” she says. Companies like hers, along with Take 12 and Fruitful Fertility all have similar missions: to make experiences specific to those identifying as femme as awesome as possible.

Making the birth experience better in America

Mina was born out of Womack’s personal experiences with giving birth, and by diving deeper into the issues that women face during this time. What started as an app with encouraging text messages for new mothers — originally called Hello Mom — turned into a realization of a deeper problem. 

Ending up with over 3,200 users, Womack recalls testimonials raving about how helpful and beautifully timed the texts were. “Then we came to reality, and what [was] really happening was that there wasn’t a moment that someone didn’t need to hear these supportive, encouraging words,” she says.

According to Womack, the medicalization of birth isn’t working for American families. She says our culture tends to neglect the specifics, including maternity leave, how to breastfeed, and more. “If you don’t see these things, and it’s not normalized in our culture, it’s really hard to know how to do that,” she adds, mentioning that even though she breastfed her first child, she forgot how with her second.

Unlike Hello Mom, Womack says Mina looks to encompass all femme identities.  “Hello Mom was way too gendered,” Womack says, mentioning that her new endeavor aims to be inclusive of gender queer parents, the trans experience, and those who identify as dads. The gender-neutral name derives from an ancient goddess “Romina,” said to be the protector of breastfeeding women.

In order to create a platform with a variety of professionals for different services surrounding the birth experience, Womack is now in the process of building the supply side of the marketplace. Having providers sign up to be the founding providers on the platform, Mina is close to launching its live directory for users on a site that launched this spring.

The idea is that providers — from lactation consultants to doulas, to nutritionists — can list their services or products, and Mina will promote them. Then, users can hand-pick what they need and when they need it, for a unique experience to them. “Humans are complex, and our experiences are complex,” says Womack. “Honoring those individual experiences is really important to us.”

After receiving feedback from various competitions, Womack has decided to target specific investors. “We don’t see all money as the same money, so we’re not interested or willing to go after investors just for money,” she says. “We want to work with people who have experience in digital health, and we want to work with people who are seasoned investors or at least a little bit more risk tolerant,” she says. 

A personalized support system

Like Womack’s Mina, Elyse Ash’s Fruitful Fertility grew out of personal experience. Elyse and her husband found that as they went through struggles with fertility, their regular support system found it difficult to support them in the ways that they truly needed.

“It’s tough for people who haven’t been through fertility [problems] to really understand how emotionally exhausting it is,” says Ash who mentions that fertility issues are the fourth most traumatic life event a woman can have.

She found the people best suited to support her were those who had been through it before, and are now on the other side of it. Thus came the idea for Fruitful Fertility: a one-on-one mentorship program for the fertility experience.

With its matching algorithm system, the platform is similar to dating apps in that it takes data from those that sign up and places mentees with mentors that have similar lifestyles, goals and demographics. Ash adds that they finalize each match by hand, which she thinks has contributed to the platform’s success thus far: available in 12 countries, Fruitful Fertility currently has 3,600 active members.

“It’s really private. It’s not just a Facebook group where people are just projecting their trauma on each other,” she says. “It’s a safe space.”

The platform is especially helpful to those in rural communities who may not have as many resources and people to go to for support. “If you’re living in rural Idaho with eight siblings and they all have kids, and everyone’s asking you ‘when are you having kids,’ that’s when it’s really helpful,” she adds. “When you don’t know anyone who’s been open with their fertility journey, and you’re feeling really misunderstood and alone.” 

Right now, users sign up on the website and can connect with their mentor or mentee offline to protect privacy. A messaging app is on its way this month, allowing users to chat on the app without sharing personal info, similar to Tinder. 

A part of Lunar Startups, Ash expresses gratitude for the collaboration she has found there as well as for the connection she has formed with Womack and Margi Scott of Take 12. “When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s easy to give yourself breaks and let yourself off the hook,” she says. But with the friends she has in the femtech space, she’s held accountable — and holds them accountable too. 

To Ash, what’s really exciting about femtech, especially in the Twin Cities scene, is the collaboration. “I love this trend of being able to share my work,” she says. More often than not, founders are working together to solve common problems instead of individuals trying to solve similar issues in their own vacuum. 

Having a growing number of women in the femtech space isn’t something that Ash sees as competition. “There’s never going to be a shortage of ideas,” she says, adding that oftentimes competition makes the product better for the consumer anyway. “It’s also a weird question because you would never ask a man, ‘Oh, are there too many male founders now?’”

Men also don’t usually get asked whether or not being a parent while starting a company is a distraction, or if it makes it harder — while women often do. Though an annoyingly gender-roled question, Ash sees parenthood as an advantage in business. “I don’t see being a mom as a handicap, I see it as being my superpower,” she says. Moms have to multitask, prioritize, and give clear instructions every day — and it transfers over into the workplace. “Mom founders are especially badass,” she says.

Giving the gift of time

Buckling down for the biggest financial hit of her lifetime during her third pregnancy was what kickstarted Margi Scott’s femtech company Take 12. Being a working mom with four kids and having experienced unpaid leave three times in her career, Scott realized every family goes through financial stress to some degree. So she set out to change it.

A registry for time instead of physical baby gifts, Take 12 allows parents to take the time off they need without being slammed with a financial burden. Parents can figure out how much time off they’ll need, how much it will cost, and register for that amount; then, friends and family members can donate so new parents can spend stress-free time at home with their new baby. 

“How is it that it’s socially acceptable for us to ask for stuff that we don’t need, but when it comes to actually articulating the need to be able to spend time at home to bond and recover, we have no ability to do that?” says Scott of where the idea for her company came from. 

The first version of the site was launched in January of 2017. Now, they’re gearing up for a relaunch that will include a better registry experience from the financial side and a more robust resource center, where users can find informative, downloadable PDFs to help them understand the ins and outs of maternity leave.

“We’re really working to become the first place that working parents go when they find out they’re expecting,” says Scott. She also mentions that there will be a blog and additional brand partners offering discounts on products on the new site. 

“The funniest criticism I get with Take12 is like, ‘well it’s a really niche product,’” says Scott, which she often counters with statistics showing that over 50 percent of the workforce is women. “I don’t understand how that’s niche.”

Womack agrees, stating that women aren’t the only ones missing out when they’re not allowed to be leaders or founders — the whole world does. “We’re missing out on more than half of the ideas in the world,” she says.

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