Women entrepreneurs determined to make Israel a femtech powerhouse

Five years ago, Israeli entrepreneur Daniella Gilboa pitched to a group of male investors the viral picture of a newborn baby surrounded by the 1,616 IVF syringes used by his parents in their relentless fight against infertility. Investors stared blankly. None of them understood the meaning of the image, she then realized.

Today things are different. Technologies specifically focused on women’s health and well-being – or femtech – have grown considerably. Gilboa, an embryologist and statistician, succeeded with AIVF, a B2B (business-to-business) company she co-founded in 2018, has developed the first go-to-market platform for IVF clinics that applies data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to make the IVF process more precise and efficient. The result is more profitable and faster for parents who want to have children.

“The ecosystem in Israel is changing. Femtech is becoming an interesting topic of conversation, and venture capitalist executives are now looking for femtech opportunities,” Gilboa said.

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Israel, widely known as the nation of startups, is emerging as a source of femtech innovation. Funding remains difficult to obtain, but since women make up half of the world’s population and take 80% of healthcare purchasing decisionsinvestors are beginning to see interesting opportunities.

“Femtech is growing and expanding. It is no longer necessary to explain to people what it is,” said Sharon Handelman-Gotlib, co-director of FemTech IL, a community of 2,600 Israeli femtech entrepreneurs and supporters.

According to Start-Up Nation Central, an Israeli organization that tracks the local tech ecosystem, Israel’s femtech landscape includes around 130 startups and companies. In 2021, around $160 million was invested in Israeli femtech companies, down from around $215 million in 2020, but similar to 2019 figures with $157 million in investments, according to SNC data.

Daniella Gilboa, CEO and co-founder of AIVF. (Credit: Courtesy)

Illumigyna remote gynecological imaging platform, stood out for the $33 million which it raised last year, enabling the company to expand into the United States, United Arab Emirates, India, Singapore and South Korea.

“Tremendous progress has been made in recent years in raising awareness about femtech and reducing the stigma around it, but funding remains an issue. Many women’s businesses in Israel are still in the seed and start-up stage,” said Lena Rogovin, head of digital health and life sciences at Start-Up Nation Central.

The struggles of Israeli female entrepreneurs mirror the global situation, where only 3% of all digital health funding goes to femtech, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Company. Funding reached $2.5 billion by the end of 2021, with estimates of the current femtech market size ranging from $500 million to $1 billion.

Of the current 130 Israeli femtech companies, 50 offer digital health solutions. About 40% of these 130 companies were founded by women or by men and women together, which is the case for only 16% of all Israeli companies.

Maura Rosenfeld, Commercial Director of MindUpan Israeli incubator program specializing in digital healthcare, said she was happy to see femtech advancing in Israel, even if it is not happening as quickly as she would like.

“It was high time. I’ve had enough of the inequality towards women. There is a real difference – between genders – in the way healthcare is developed,” she said.

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Sample EMA (AI-based digital embryo management platform) report from AIVF. (Credit: Courtesy)

Israel has the highest fertility rate in the OECD, and the state covers the cost of IVF treatments for women up to age 45. It’s no surprise, then, that fertility, IVF, and maternal and child care are hot topics for Israeli femtech startups. But other critical areas of women’s health are also covered.

One of MindUp’s portfolio companies is Gina Life, which is developing a platform applying data science and AI to a proprietary set of biomarkers, or proteins, in vaginal secretions for the early diagnosis of life-threatening diseases such as ovarian cancer. Gina Life’s product is expected to be available to consumers in 2023.

Gals Bio, a company founded in 2016 by biomedical engineer Hilla Shaviv, has developed a device to measure menstrual blood flow. A cross between a tampon and a menstrual cup, the tulipbiodegradable and patented, will also use biomarkers to monitor health and screen for disease.

“Millennials are using apps to track their periods, but they don’t realize their monthly bleeding is a natural biopsy that we can study,” Shaviv said.

“Biomarkers aside, just being able to measure blood flow is important. For example, women may not know they are bleeding heavily, which could indicate iron deficiency, polycystic ovary syndrome, peri-menopause, and more,” she added.

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Prototype Gals Bio Tulipon. (Credit: Courtesy of Hilla Shaviv)

Hilla Shaviv started her first company, GalMedics, in 2007 after developing a tampon to treat primary dysmenorrhea (period pain), which affects half of women. The tampon works by reducing the dynamic viscosity of menstrual flow.

With little awareness of femtech at the time, Shaviv failed to raise enough capital to bring the stamp to market, and GalMedics had to shut down in 2015.

A recent campaign by crowdfunding helped Shaviv raise some money to bring Tulipon to market, but it still has a long way to go. She hopes the recent recognition she and her company have received in various Israeli and international tech competitions will give them the much-needed boost.

“Tulipon is a B2C device [business-to-consumer]and there are few investors for B2C in Israel,” Shaviv noted.

Indeed, B2B is more important in Israel in other areas. According to Rogovin, investors are primarily looking for platform solutions, not standalone devices or applications. “They’re looking for bigger, more scalable things,” she added.

There is also a stigma surrounding female anatomy and physiology that has yet to be fully overcome.

Sometimes I want to say to the male heads of venture capital companies: “Go with it, man! said Handelman-Gotlib of FemTech IL.

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Neta Schreiber, CEO and co-founder of SafeUP (Credit: Yuval Weitzen)

There are more women venture capitalists in Israel and around the world than before, but the majority are still men. A male investor understood the need for SafeUP, an app creating a global community of women who use each other as guardians to feel safe. Users can call on other women nearby to accompany them via audio or video call or to assist them in person.

“We have behind us a leader of a leading venture capital firm in Israel. He’s a father of girls, so he understood what we were trying to do,” said Neta Schreiber, founder of SafeUP.

The company has had a snowball effect since its launch in late 2020. It now has 25 employees and 100,000 members worldwide – all carefully vetted for user safety. Features have been added to improve the user experience, and Neta Schreiber is preparing for the next funding round as the number of app users continues to grow.

She isn’t intimidated by the fact that SafeUP isn’t a typical startup in the Israeli ecosystem, even in women’s tech.

“Women shouldn’t have to hope for luck to be safe. We have created a situation where no woman will ever have to be alone again,” Schreiber said.

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Women entrepreneurs determined to make Israel a femtech powerhouse

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