Austin Startup Week Panel Discusses the Growing FemTech Industry and the Impact of Texas’ Restrictive Abortion Law

FemTech, which includes everything from menstrual products to telehealth services, is an industry that growing rapidly globally.

Austin Startup Week hosted a panel discussion Wednesday with innovators from across the country to talk about telehealth services and the FemTech industry.

Women’s telehealth is bridging the gaps of access, said Shawna Butler, a registered nurse, who introduced the panel.

“There is a growing awareness of health disparities and of health inequities across all of our

health indicators but especially when we start looking at women’s health and women’s healthcare,” she said.

The panel discussion included Dr. Brittany Barreto, host of FemTech Focused podcast, who served as moderator. The panelists included Sigi Marmorstein, CEO and Founder of BabyLiveAdvice, telehealth consulting services in Los Angeles, Kiki Freedman, Co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Hey Jane, a virtual clinic that offers access to abortion pills and care, and Dr. Fahimeh Sasan, Kindbody’s founding physician and an obstetrician-gynecologist in New York.

The FemTech market is estimated to be valued at $1.2 trillion globally by 2027, according to FemTech Landscape research report, spearheaded by Barreto. And as of July 2021, the report found 657 active women’s health companies globally. And about 20 new companies are added every month. And 80 percent of them are led by women.

And while FemTech deals are getting money, they are not getting enough, according to the data. In the first quarter of 2021, 22 deals in the FemTech category attracted $418 million in investment, but that represents only 3 percent of total digital health funding during the same period, according to S&P.

The Austin Startup Week panel also discussed Texas’ new law, SB 8, that bans abortions at six weeks with few exceptions. The law also includes rewards for people who turn in women who break the law.

A group of Austin-based startup tech leaders have spoken out against the law while big tech companies have remained silent, according to a Bloomberg news article recently. And a movement, Don’t Ban Equality, details the damage the law is doing in attracting and retaining female talent to Texas as well as its overall economic impact.

“Existing restrictions to abortion care as of 2020 in Texas already cost the state over $14 billion annually in economic losses,” according to Don’t Ban Equality. “Even before SB 8, a new report by Oxfam America ranked Texas as the 48th best state for working women in 2021, making it the fourth-worst in the country.”

Texas is among the states that were already considered to be hostile toward abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It reports that in 2021, 90 abortion restrictions have been enacted this year.

But while that is going on, Hey Jane, an online telehealth startup aimed at providing abortion pills and care to women, raised $2.2 million in August. Hey Jane, which launched this year, operates in California, New York and Washington.

Telehealth abortion access was not legal in Texas before SB 8, Freedman said. Regulation needs to change in Texas to make access available, she said.

Kindbody, fertility and family planning clinics with 12 locations nationwide, which does in-person and virtual care, recently raised $62 million in Series C funding, bringing its total capital raised to $122 million.

The market for fertility and family planning services is underserved because the costs have been so high, said Sasan. A lot of obstetrics care can be done through consultations online, Sasan said.

“We really marry virtual and in-person treatments,” she said.

Telehealth is where it is at right now, said Marmorstein, CEO and Founder of BabyLiveAdvice.

Most people have cell phones, and the cost of data has gone down dramatically, making online care more accessible to more people, Marmorstein said.

In 2009, it cost $15 to $16 for a telehealth appointment and now it’s just cents, she said.

“That allows us to do more for less money,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also led to the adoption of telehealth care services among pregnant women and doctors, even more, she said. That is greatly needed, because women often get information from unreliable sources like Facebook, Google, and chat rooms with other women, she said. Telehealth allows them to get better information from doctors, she said.

Telehealth access to abortion became a mainstream option during the COVID-19 pandemic, Freedman with Hey Jane said.

The pandemic unlocked more data on the safety and treatment of telehealth services like abortion treatment, she said. That added to the growing pile of evidence that telemedicine abortion is safe and effective, she said. That data is going to lead to regulatory changes, she said.

The pandemic also highlighted the need for more telehealth services to new moms. There’s a lot of care given to women before they give birth, but very few visits following the birth, Sasan said. The six weeks after giving birth has a lot of risks for women resulting from seizures, bleeding, and postpartum depression, she said. Telehealth gives the doctor access to the patient after birth more often and from their home and that can prevent some major health problems, Sasan said.

In addition, telehealth can address mental health issues for women even better than in-person care and has been going on even longer than medical health, said Marmorstein, with BabyLiveAdvice.

Online postpartum support groups have grown from 40 a month to more than 300 a month and they are all full, Marmorstein said. And it’s not just for women, many men also participate, she said.

Telehealth also evens the playing field to give women access to healthcare, Freedman said.

With telehealth abortion access through Hey Jane, women no longer have to drive hundreds of miles to get an abortion, she said. Through telemedicine, Hey Jane can give 24-hour support and women can reach out at any hour for help, she said.

There are states with only one maternity ward serving millions of moms creating maternity desserts, said Marmorstein. Because of COVID, the U.S. lost 33,000 OB GYNs who left the field, she said. And the situation is getting even worse, she said. Telemedicine can fills some of those needs, she said.