CW Unplugged: FemTech

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless)

CW Unplugged is a programme of Tech-for-Good initiatives designed especially for CW’s younger members. We kicked off the series on 23 February 2018 with an event on FemTech, sponsored by Arm and u-Blox.

FemTech (female technology) is a $200 billion industry which addresses women's health using technology, products and/or software. The FemTech market is currently booming, with around $1.1 billion in funding since 2014, but it is still nowhere near as large as it could be considering that women represent half of the population.

CW Unplugged events bring together innovative start-ups, impact investors, designers and engineers who won’t be scared to ask the tough questions and who discuss solutions, in this instance on how we can raise awareness of the FemTech sector. The goal of each CW Unplugged session is to develop a set of actionable suggestions and connections which bring a tangible benefit to the chosen sector.

On a sunny, late afternoon, attendees arrived, ready for an evening of collaborative workshops.  Following the obligatory drinks, nibbles and networking upon arrival, Abhi Naha welcomed attendees to the event and explained the format of the evening: the featured start-ups would present their problem space and ask the audience to ideate around a couple of the challenges which were currently facing them.  At the end of the evening, each participant will become a CWiHERO: someone who has worked to create solutions for CW Unplugged “Tech for Good” challenges, each of which are in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

UN Sustainable Goals 2018

Universal education of women's health

The first start-up to present was Binti International, headed up by Manjit Gill, Founder & CEO.

Binti Rose Pose CW team

The Binti Rose Pose: Holding the rose upside down in a photo indicates that you are helping to smash shame and bring love back to periods. (From L-R: Sylvia Lu, Patricia Chan, Manjit Gill, Vikki Barcroft & Lucy Woods)

Manjit explained to the audience Binti’s vision and mission: to create a world where all women have menstrual dignity. This mission sounds simple enough, but it is not easy:

  • India accounts for 27% of the world's cervical cancer rate, mostly due to poor menstrual hygiene
  • 23% of girls in India drop out of school when they start menstruating

Something important to Binti International is normalising the conversation, by raising more awareness on the topic at hand, which can be done by providing menstrual education at schools and creating platforms for people to engage with.

Binti International Pad Splash Video: The Binti International team took to the streets of London, armed with period pads, to raise awareness on menstruation.

To close her presentation, Manjit presented the idea of a Binti app for mobile devices, stating that mobile technology is more accessible than menstrual products. Under the codename “Tamponator”, Manjit asked the audience to help with two questions:

  1. 'How can we utilise app technology to eliminate leaking?'
  2. 'How do we work out how our consumer is feeling utilising face technology?'

If we can make sure that one girl understands her period, then a whole generation is settled. Once you learn menstruation, you can't un-learn it.

- Manjit Gill, CEO and Co-founder of Binti International

Home testing for gynaecological conditions

Anya Roy and Chantelle Bell, Co-Founders of Syrona Women, were next to take the stage discussing the consumerisation of women’s health.  When you think of ordering pizza, you probably think of a relaxed night, around the TV, binging on the latest TV series – but for Anya and Chantelle, this is when they came up with the idea of Syrona Women!

Syrona Women highlighted the three big, unaddressed issues in women’s sexual health:

  • 357 million infections in the world are sexually transmitted diseases
  • 176 million women suffer from endometriosis
  • 3 million new cases of gynaecological cancers are detected each year with many more remaining undetected

To address this, Syrona Women are developing a product which resembles a pregnancy test but can alert the user of potential STDs, endometriosis and gynaecological cancers in the privacy of their own home.

Their end goal is to get this product on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies, but to get there, they know that they have to jump over a few hurdles:

  • Optimisation

The aim is to create sensitive prototype which is capable of simultaneously monitoring all 3 types of conditions.  Q: What are the alternative options?

  • Prototype

What is the most effective route to creating a prototype once optimisation has been completed?  Q: What factors should be considered at this early stage?

  • Fundraising

What is the best way to position Syrona to investors with it being a women’s product pitched by women?  Q: How can we make Syrona resonate with all?

Building and financing an impact start-up

Allia is a not-for-profit organisation interested in investing in Impact Start-ups. In Paul Hughes’, Director of Enterprise Support at Allia, own words, an Impact Start-up is:

A business, who at its focus, is attempting to improve people’s lives, improve the places they live/work in and/or improve the environment/planet around us.

For Allia, FemTech is a very attractive sector for an Impact Start-up because:

  • 49.6% of the global population is female (3.7 billion)
  • 2.4 billion of women are aged between 16-64

Fundraising options for Impact Start-ups such as Binti and Syrona Women include:

  • Research/impact grants (thematic/geography)
  • Angel investors
  • Venture capitalists
  • Impact investors
  • Specialist funds (e.g. female-led ventures)

But Paul reminded the audience that companies do need to understand how legal structure affects fundraising options, and that great businesses don’t succeed due to the gender or ethnicity of the founders, instead it is about the change in “quality of life” that an Impact Start-up results in.

CW Unplugged: Ideation in progress

The attendees were split into three groups for ideation and, led by experts from Dovetailed and Cambridge Consultants, worked together to address three questions from earlier. For an hour the teams brainstormed ideas on flipcharts and post-it notes, then the teams one by one presented their ideas to one another:

  • How can we make better use of face recognition technology for women’s health education?

One aspect raised was creating an app with filters, like the popular Snapchat, for a younger audience to use to educate themselves and engage others around aspects of female health. Another aspect considered the use of facial recognition for medical use, for example as a diagnostic aid. What more can we do with the technology that we carry around with us every day?

  • How can Syrona women optimise their product, develop a prototype and attract fundraisers?

Syrona Women Ideation CW Unplugged

This ideation group focused mainly on the Design and Commercial elements with the key point being ‘Make it as easy as possible!’

  • What assets can we use to educate ourselves and our peers on menstrual health?

The major theme from this team was about the changes in a female’s body throughout her cycle, how we can use technology readily available today to track this (sensors in clothing, smart thermometers etc) and whether our smartphones could ‘buzz’ to inform the users about what stage of their cycle they are at in order to help them prepare.

The next steps

After all three teams presented their ideas to each other, the next steps from the evening’s event were discussed:

  • How will we continue the conversation outside of the auditorium?
  • What will Syrona Women and Binti take from the event?
  • Will the ideas projected during the event be applied outside of the auditorium?

The challenge from these events is not what happens in the room, but what happens outside and how we, as attendees and hosts, engage with the problems raised during the event in the ‘real world’.

The next CW Unplugged event, Tech for Autism, will be hosted on the 26th of April at the Bradfield Centre. Register your interest here.

Alba, Sophia & Vikki at CW Unplugged

The CW staff fighting to #smashshame! (From L-R: Alba Higgins, Sophia Donovan-Spalding and Vikki Barcroft)

Every girl deserves dignity. Period.

- Binti International.


Article written by Sophia Donovan-Spalding, CW Marketing & Events Assistant.

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