The Future of Women’s Health…
(…in 5 mins)
Last week saw the launch of Google for Startups ‘Decade of UK tech report’. It’s crazy to look back at how far the tech ecosystem has come over the last 10 years, my own journey into tech over that time and the role Seedcamp has played throughout, backing some of the world’s most impactful startups including the likes of UiPath, Wise, Revolut and Viz.ai, to name but a few.
As part of the celebrations, which felt like a lovely family reunion, I was asked to look ahead to the next decade and give a 5-minute talk on the future of women’s health. It’s a topic I care deeply about — our collective health is, in my mind, our most precious asset — and we should be innovating and investing our utmost to protect it. This is by no means exhaustive but it is my quick take on where we are and my 3 predictions on where I hope we will get to in the years to come.
Women’s Health is one of those topics that, until about the last 5 years, we just never talked about in public. Periods — you know that thing half the population has to put up with every month for 30+ years of their lives — were things to hide, smuggling tampons specifically designed to look like sweeties and scuttling off to the toilets, hoping nobody had noticed.
Or enduring crippling morning sickness in the first 3 months of pregnancy but still getting yourself on the tube and into the office, trying your best not to draw attention to how shit you feel, for fear that things might not go to plan. Or going through perimenopause and then menopause for YEARS; experiencing hot flushes and hormonal changes that totally alter how you feel in and about yourself, but terrified to tell anyone as maybe they’ll think you’re over the hill and your job will no longer be supported.
Now, with fertility rates in Europe falling to an all-time low, an ageing population, shortages in the availability of midwives and HRT, and a postcode lottery for access to IVF, the need for solutions to support women’s health and drastically improve our future outcomes has never been higher.
While research to date has traditionally underserved and underrepresented half of our population, the world is finally waking up to the need to invest and innovate, with funders and founders taking action to support a better future for women and our collective health, and I believe technology will play a critical role.
So, what might this look like:
- A more proactive approach to our health, backed by data
Taking more proactive control over our health is a trend that’s emerged in recent years and that I can only see developing further over the next decade. Starting with cycle tracking and expanding into diagnostics and testing, we are in a new era of women gaining a better understanding of hormones and how these affect our daily lives — and believe me, it does — from our energy levels to strength for exercise to mood or ability to conceive.
We’ve seen the emergence of companies tackling different parts of what our cycles mean; from the likes of Wild AI and how our hormones affect our strength and ability to exercise, to Clue (one of the first to market) tracking periods, ovulation, and mood. I think we will see a consolidation of some of these propositions that takes a more holistic view of what it means to be a woman — throughout the many different stages of our life cycle — and provides support, guidance, and proactive ways to get ahead of what might be coming down the tracks so that we approach these life moments with better information and personalised data, better prepared and with the potential for better outcomes.
Right now, due to a lack of proactivity when it comes to women’s health, we leave things too late, taking action only when things feel ‘critical’. While at-home diagnostic testing has become more popular over the last decade, it’s only in the last few years that testing to specifically support women and our fertility needs has started to come to the fore. I was encouraged to see the absolutely incredible team at Hertility recently announce their acquisition of Netherlands-based Grip to expand their reach and provide much-needed information to women considering or trying to conceive, so we can feel empowered with data and make informed choices, rather than leaving things to chance.
The need for proactivity is just as applicable to fertility as it is to cancer detection. With continued advances in AI, blood testing capabilities, and scanning detection — be it at home or in a clinic — I hope in the next decade we’ll start screening much earlier for cancers that affect women, reducing the burden on the NHS significantly more than us leaving the EU.
2. A right, not a benefit
With a war on talent and a much-needed drive to create and support more diverse workforces, companies need to take a hard look in the mirror when it comes to what they do to genuinely support their female workforce.
In the same way we’ve seen companies provide private health care to staff, in more recent years we’ve also seen larger organisations offer benefits to more specifically support their female employees, such as egg freezing, fertility support, or access to mental health care.
Telehealth comes into play here and is an area I believe will grow significantly over the next decade to help drive mass adoption. In the UK we’ve seen the emergence of companies such as Peppy (a Seedcamp portfolio company) working with employers to provide their employees with access to a digital health app that connects people to the health experts they need when they need them. With 88% of women saying they’d consider changing jobs for better fertility support and 25% of women experiencing menopause symptoms considering leaving their jobs, companies can no longer pretend this isn’t an issue.
With statutory benefits in the UK below what’s offered in many other European countries, I believe if we want to compete, prevent a brain drain of talent, and drive economic growth, we must provide greater support for our women as a right, not a benefit .
3. Democratising access and finance
We talk a lot about the idea of democratising access in the startup world but when it comes to women’s health, the need to provide accessible care outside of the 1% who can afford it and — more importantly — education to those who might not otherwise have access, is needed more than ever.
We’ve seen the emergence of fertility financing and insurance offerings, such as Gaia (another proud portfolio company) to level the playing field and provide, at the very least, financial stability and security during a process that notoriously can guarantee none. Knowing that the NHS only covers 35% of IVF treatments and that availability differs drastically based on geography, both within the UK and across Europe, this is a critical first step in truly enabling all those who want to start a family the ability to do so and the confidence that, if they try, they won’t be left bankrupt as well as potentially heartbroken.
With the average success rate of women under the age of 35 trying to conceive using IVF at 55%, I also believe AI will play a critical role in equipping families with information about their potential outcomes before embarking on IVF, therefore reducing the financial burden on families that comes with multiple rounds of treatment.
It’s important to say, that it’s not all doom and gloom and I feel optimistic about what the next decade will bring in advances for women’s health and am encouraged we’re even having these conversations. While I don’t believe our biology will ever allow us to truly achieve parity, I do believe that some of the brightest minds are dedicating their energy to building and backing companies to ensure that, in the next ten years, we can openly talk about periods, mood swings, miscarriages, leaking, hot flushes, checking our boobs and all the other realities that make us women with the education, funding, innovation, and awareness to support us.