This blog is written to support the ‘Women Entrepreneurs in Health Tech’ category, part of Year 4 of the AXA Health Tech & You Awards.
The story of Ridhi Tariyal who invented the ‘tampon of the future’ (as the New York Times headlined it when they published it in 2016) tells us many things about the need for more women entrepreneurs, investors and scientists. It took a woman to design a tampon that could capture monthly blood for medical testing without the need for needles- a brilliant idea which is now being explored to help women test for endometriosis and fertility.
This story reminds us of what Eric von Hippel, the MIT scholar of innovation, has studied intensely from an academic perspective: that people who suffer from a problem are uniquely equipped to solve it. They persist in their quest to see their innovation succeed because they understand the need first hand and they have ‘skin in the game’.
With my good friend Clare Delmar, I recently went to this incredibly funny but also hugely educational comedy show put on by Gusset Grippers (aka Elaine Miller, who is a physiotherapist specialising in urology) at the Sick of the Fringe festival which made me ponder over this idea of who best to solve some of the big health challenges of today. For an hour we were entertained and taught by Elaine about the importance of pelvic floor muscles—essential to keep in shape to avoid incontinence (that haunts many women after childbirth and the menopause) but also to have a much better sex life…
The talk made me think and ask some questions. Why aren’t we doing more to help the one third of women who suffer from incontinence at some point in their lives (that’s right, one third, 33%)? This is a huge issue yet is one of the “hidden epidemics” that causes so much misery for so many women (men are not immune either…). Pelvic floor exercises are very simple and there is one company, Elvie, crusading about pelvic floor and using the latest design technology to help women ‘tighten up’. It is no surprise that the entrepreneur behind Elvie, Tania Boler, is a woman.
But why aren’t there more women, including older women, leading the way like Tania with the innovations desperately needed by society to address these and other big problems requiring urgent attention, especially with the growing aging population – from the elderly suffering in hospitals who should be in their homes to those women suffering through the menopause – all the ills that add up to a lot of misery that we currently put up with?
There are some older pioneers like the amazing Mary Matthews who set up Memrica, a memory tool for dementia sufferers, and the inspiring Jackie Marshall-Cyrus who led Innovate UK’s Long Term Care Revolution, but we need more. I was heartened recently reading about the wonderful group of older women who set up the Older Women’s Co-housing Group which is focussed on building communities for the over fifties to make living as you grow older more fun and less lonely (click here).
While this shows the trend changing with more women taking charge, there is still plenty of room for a lot more, and especially those looking out for us older women. At a recent talk the always incredible (and young) Maxine Mackintosh from One HealthTech reminded us that women represent only 9% of the founders of health tech businesses at the moment. If you look at the Apple Think Different video you will see it is mostly men who feature as the rebels and disrupters. This has to change and women need to get noticed. Calling all women provocateurs, innovators and entrepreneurs, especially if you are over 50, let’s get cracking! I know Clare is busy with her idea….
About the author
Tina Woods is founder of Collider Health, a health innovation catalyst that works with organisations to think and do differently and transform health with meaningful impact. She is also the founder of ColliderSCIENCE, a social enterprise to inspire young people in science and engineering and equip them with the skills to create their future.
For more information about AXA Health Tech & You Awards and how to enter, please visit the website. Entries close on 1st February 2018