The evolution of FemTech through the lens of HackHERHealth

In recent years, the term “FemTech” has risen from relative obscurity to become a beacon of hope and innovation in the healthcare sector. As we look forward to the upcoming HackHERHealth femtech innovation hackathon, it’s an opportune moment to explore how FemTech has evolved over the years and the pivotal role it plays in addressing women’s health issues.

The dawn of FemTech: a necessity ignited by neglect

Historically, medical research and product development have been predominantly male-centric, leaving critical gaps in women’s healthcare. Along with female voting rights and women entering positions of power came societal and structural changes. Gothenburg’s first female doctor, Thora Wigardh (1860-1933), is one of the people who embodied this structural change, just by being a woman in her position. As many of the early female physicians, she was specialized in gynaecology and had a strong engagement in social issues, as well as the suffrage of women. Pioneers such as Thora, who highlighted the importance of women’s health as an integral part of progress and societal wealth, planted the seeds for what we now know as FemTech.

The rise of digital health solutions for women

The advent of the digital age played a crucial role in propelling FemTech forward. Mobile apps for period tracking and fertility became some of the earliest mainstream applications of FemTech, offering women new autonomy over their reproductive health. This era marked a significant shift as women's health issues began receiving the attention and technological investment they deserved.

HackHERHealth: catalyzing innovation in FemTech

Enter events like the HackHERHealth femtech innovation hackathon. These platforms serve as critical catalysts in the FemTech landscape. By bringing together tech enthusiasts, healthcare professionals and entrepreneurs, hackathons like HackHERHealth are about fostering a community dedicated to innovating for women's health. They bridge gaps, spur collaboration and encourage the development of groundbreaking solutions that might not emerge in more traditional healthcare settings.

The current state and future of FemTech

Today, FemTech encompasses a wide array of products and services, from wearable tech for pregnancy monitoring to AI-driven diagnostic tools for breast cancer detection. The sector, once a niche, is now a burgeoning industry, projected to reach multi-billion-dollar valuations in the coming years. However, the journey is far from over.
Structural changes through new legislation, technological advances and targeted initiatives, such as HackHerHealth, have proven to be effective. However, these advances must be continually safeguarded and nourished. It is always easier to keep on doing things as they always have been done or to fall back into old habits. An example of this is gender distribution in company boards and management teams, where progress toward more equal representation has stagnated in recent years. An intriguing parallel also emerges when comparing a two-decade-old report (2001) from
Läkartidningen and a recent study (2023) by Forte, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, commissioned by the Swedish government. Both reports highlight a persistent issue: women's underrepresentation and exclusion in medical research on diseases affecting both genders. This ongoing similarity underscores the need for continued efforts to address gender disparities in medical research.

Looking ahead: the role of hackathons and continuous innovation

The future of FemTech is inextricably linked to the continuous push for innovation and inclusive healthcare solutions. Events like HackHERHealth are not just competitions; they are incubators for the next generation of FemTech solutions. They provide a unique opportunity to highlight underserved areas in women's health and harness the power of technology to create meaningful change.

Gearing up for HackHERHealth

As we gear up for HackHERHealth, it's vital to remember that each code written, each prototype developed and each idea pitched contributes to a larger narrative. A narrative that's about making healthcare more inclusive, more innovative and more attuned to the needs of women worldwide. The history of FemTech is still being written, and through initiatives like HackHERHealth, we all have a chance to be part of this transformative journey.

Did you know?

The vacuum extractor, an important femtech innovation from Gothenburg, remains widely used today in a form remarkably similar to its original design from the 1950s. This device is especially vital in developing countries for managing complicated births, where access to advanced medical facilities is often limited. Developed in the 1950s by Tage Malmström (1911-1995), an obstetrician at the Sahlgrenska Hospital in Gothenburg, the vacuum extractor is a testament to interdisciplinary collaboration.

Malmström, who had extensive knowledge in mechanics, worked alongside Professor Bengt Jacobsson from Chalmers University, a specialist in mechanical engineering and a marine engineer, combining their expertise to refine the technology. Stories of Malmström testing the device on himself, resulting in suction marks on his forehead, highlight his dedication to the project. An early model of this significant medical tool is displayed at the Medical History Museum, serving as a reminder of its enduring impact and the innovative spirit behind its creation.

An article by:

Lisa Sputnes Mouwitz, Museum Director Medical History Museum: a part of Sahlgrenska University Hospital & Jamie Smith, Communications Consultant, Sahlgrenska Science Park.

Photo credits:

  • Vacuum Extractor according to Tage Malmström, photo: Paul Björkman, VGR (CC-BY)
  • Photo portrait of Thora Wigardh, from the Medical History Museum collections.

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