Is student engagement in the femtech community crucial in raising awareness of the field among researchers, innovators and future entrepreneurs? Lesley Farrah Dorwling-Carter and Emily Otterbeck, two students currently enrolled in Cambridge University’s MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise Program, certainly think so! And this belief has recently led them to launching the Cambridge Femtech Society, the first official society dedicated to women’s health innovation at a European university.
The Society’s first event “Femtech 101” with investment professional and femtech champion Hana Besbes from Heal Capital recently took place and will be followed by another discussion with Dr Nayra Martin-Key and Benedetta Spadaro, both researchers at the Cambridge Centre for Neuropsychiatric Research, who will introduce their findings on digital perinatal mental health on June 14. Those interested in the group’s activities can follow along on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.
We had a chance to check in with Emily and Lesley right after their first event last week to learn more about the new group, the society’s plans and goals for the future.
Can you tell us more about the Cambridge Femtech Society? Why did you start it and what are your goals? Who can join?
After a year of discussing femtech and debating the huge unmet needs we’ve all heard of (and experienced) when it comes to women’s health issues, we realized there should be a dedicated space for students to engage in these questions. Many fellow students (of all genders) we’ve spoken to throughout this year are not aware of the existence of femtech as an emerging field but get very excited when they hear about the innovations and opportunities that exist.
The biggest problem we see at the moment is the systemic-level lack of awareness of the issues surrounding women’s gynaecological, sexual and mental health, and we think increasing engagement at university-level can really help boost research and innovation in this space.
That is the society’s goals – to promote knowledge sharing around issues in science, research and healthcare systems relating to women’s health and to create a student network in the emerging femtech industry. This is the first femtech society at a university in the UK and Europe, and we hope to see many others emerging at other universities! All students are free to join as members of the society, and the events hosted by the society will be free and open to all!
What are some topics you are hoping to explore? What are some common questions that come up in regard to femtech and women’s health innovation?
We have found a lot of people are unfamiliar with the term ‘femtech’. Once explained, most are really interested in hearing what products are out there. In our age group, there are a lot of questions specifically around contraception, sex, and gynecological diseases. We therefore want to give members a general introduction to femtech and cover some of the key areas in which innovation is currently occurring. We’re planning to host talks, panels and other events around a range of topics – some of the titles planned for next term are “The Future of Contraception”, “Sexual Health and Wellness: still a Taboo?”, “Scientific research and the Gender Data Gap” and “Chronic Diseases in Women”.
We are aiming to encourage student entrepreneurship in femtech by hosting venture creation weekends, connect students with femtech experts, and aid with student placements at femtech startups that are interested. We’re also hoping to engage the academic ecosystem of Cambridge and use this to explore more of the research side of women’s health issues in the various events.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges founders, investors or researchers face in the women’s health space?
Our impression is that the two main challenges come from i) a male-dominated investment community, and ii) a lack of basic scientific knowledge and research into women’s medical issues.
On the investment side, it seems that the women’s health space is not always understood by investors as there is (unfortunately) still a stigma regarding these issues – menstruation, fertility, pregnancy, nursing and menopause amongst others. With the majority of investors being men, it must be hard for founders, especially female founders, to pitch to groups of people who do not completely appreciate the value proposition and how deep the unmet need is. This is of course not to say male investors do not want to or try to understand – we know there are a lot of great male femtech champions – but as our favorite Caroline Criado Perez said in Invisible Women “It’s not always easy to convince someone a need exists, if they don’t have that need themselves.”
On the research side, women’s medical issues are clearly underserved as shown in the underrepresentation of women in clinical trials, the lack of ackowledgement of sex-differences in health outcomes or even the shocking 10+ years required to diagnose certain female-specific chronic conditions (e.g. endometriosis and PCOS). We assume there is a need for more grant money and research groups to study and focus on women’s health issues. This is where we really hope that student societies like ours can have an impact. We know how powerful student advocacy can be, and hope that getting a larger student body involved in these issues will help increase research in the underserved areas.
What impact do you think student initiatives like yours can have on the femtech ecosystem?
We think increasing student engagement and education is a crucial aspect of raising awareness from the ground up and aid the much needed academic research and innovation in the space. We would love for this to be the starting point of a larger student body movement with similar societies starting at other universities as well. We want the engagement to be inclusive of all people and, as research shows, we believe highlighting issues in women’s health and increasing studies on female biology will help both sexes and lead to discoveries which improve health outcomes for all.
You can follow the Society on Facebook: Cambridge Femtech Society, Instagram: @cambridgefemtech and LinkedIn: Cambridge Femtech Society for educational femtech content as well as updates on talks and other events hosted by the society. If anyone is interested in being a speaker at prospective events, discussing these issues, and understanding how to best help students interested in entering this space, please reach out to the society: firstname.lastname@example.org.