Women's digital health rakes in $1.3B in 2021 buoyed by investor interest in more integrated care

Digital health startups focused on women's health care pulled in $1.3 billion in funding across 26 deals so far in 2021—nearly doubling all of 2020's funding with four months still left to go.

The new wave of women's digital health funding is pushing beyond historical norms of pregnancy and fertility support to more comprehensive offerings, from primary care to chronic disease management and menopause, accord to a report from investment firm Rock Health.

Funding for the women's health sector represents 7% of total digital health funding in 2021 through August, the second-highest proportion since Rock Health began tracking in 2011, the firm reported.

"We’re glad to see that 'women’s health' is no longer synonymous with just fertility and pregnancy support—investors are increasingly putting capital toward the holistic needs of the women+ population, from menopause to mental health to chronic disease care," Megan Zweig, Rock Health chief operating officer, told Fierce Healthcare.

She added, "That said, most venture-backed women+ digital health companies are focused on pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood support—and there’s been a lot of exciting growth here including Maven’s $110 million megadeal."

Rock Health researchers use the term “women+ health” to describe the space to encompass the full spectrum of health needs experienced by cisgender women as well as others whose health needs relate to those of cisgender women but may identify as transgender or nonbinary. 

As digital health broadly is moving toward more comprehensive platforms for care navigation and delivery, so too are women+ solutions. More companies are bringing together general health, sexual wellness and family planning, offering more comprehensive experiences for women+. Examples include LetsGetChecked’s diagnostic offerings spanning women+ sexual wellness, fertility and vitamin deficiency, as well as Rory’s (a Ro brand) portfolio of skincare, sexual wellness and daily health support, Zweig said.

As investments in the market grow, trends also suggest digital women's health startups are maturing. In 2017, the average age of women+ companies was four years old, and no women+ health companies had reached series C or later. Now in 2021, the average age of women+ companies is six years old, and from January through August 2021, 31% of women+ digital health deals were series C or above, Rock Health reports.

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Well-publicized 2021 late-stage investments in the women+ health space include Carrot Fertility ($75 million funding round), Tia ($100 million in new funding) and Maven’s $110 million megadeal that earned it the title of the "first digital health unicorn exclusively focused on women's health," according to Rock Health.

Since 2011, 74 U.S.-based women's digital health companies have raised $3.8 billion across 141 deals. On average, these companies are six years old and have raised $51 million. The median amount of funds raised is $9 million, with high outlier rounds pulling the average significantly up.

With a growing list of digital health solutions in the markets, patients are beginning to consolidate their care with one company, Nurx CEO Varsha Rao told Fierce Healthcare. She noted that 10% of Nurx patients use the company's platform for more than one type of care.

"I think that’s a trend we’ll continue to see and why our platform approach makes sense and why we're investing in it," she said.

The direct-to-consumer women’s health company provides online birth control prescriptions and has expanded into STI testing, dermatology and migraine treatment.

Often, women's health care is limited to reproductive health, she said. Nurx focuses on healthcare for women across all life stages, and the company is working to deepen its expertise in areas such as contraception, sexual health and migraine, she noted.

RELATED: Ro will acquire women's health startup Modern Fertility in $225M deal

Future opportunities and unmet needs

Forecasts indicate miles of innovation runway ahead for women+ digital health. Emergen Research projects that the global market for women’s health will reach $60 billion in 2027, compared to its $18.8 billion valuation in 2019. 

Zweig points to digital health companies in the space raising larger, late-stage rounds. At the same time, about half of women+ digital health deals are seed-stage, indicating a lot of innovation is still early in the pipeline.

"They will ride the current wave of heightened visibility, learning, and capital—so we should expect growth, and more capital need, from this new, eager class of early-stage companies," Zweig said. "The exit market also is starting to heat up. In efforts to offer more specialized care for women+ within broader care platforms, Ro acquired Modern Fertility in May and LabCorp acquired maternity and family benefits company Ovia Health in August. This appetite for personalized, specialized care solutions from enterprise and other digital health players is another force increasing the opportunity for emerging women+ companies."

There are still big areas of untapped opportunities within the market. including primary and chronic care digital health companies tailoring their solutions to women, Zweig said.

RELATED: Tia clinches $100M to build out clinics, virtual care as investors bank on women's health startups

"We’re excited to see more digital therapeutics and chronic care management solutions take on a women+ orientation," she said, noting that gender-based protocols for serious conditions like stroke and diabetes could help customize digital care responses.

"While it’s great to see the marketplace starting to address once-stigmatized conditions—menopause, sexually-transmitted infections, pelvic floor disorders, there are still meaningful gaps in care related to miscarriage, abortion, and women+ surgeries such as hysterectomies and mastectomies," she said.

There continues to be a major gap in female representation in healthcare research as well as among founders and funders, and the industry needs to address that challenge to ensure digital health effectively addresses women's health needs.

"Solutions that can address the diversity of healthcare needs will come from a diverse talent base. Greater representation among founders and funders—who bring their lived experiences and identity lenses to their work—will lead to better outcomes for all populations," Zweig said.