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VCs Find Fertile Ground In Women’s Health

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Editor’s Note: Christine Magee is an analyst for CrunchBase.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors may be predominately male, but they’re fully attuned to the women’s health market.

Mobile health apps have become increasingly popular as consumers seek to monitor every aspect of their lives through their mobile devices. In the past few quarters, apps targeting women’s health are topping the charts in terms of popularity and capital committed.

According to CrunchBase, women’s health apps raised more money in the past year than all other health-focused apps combined. In the second quarter of 2014 alone, Chinese companies Meet You and Dayima raised a combined $65 million to support a growing community of female users.

These women’s reproductive health apps, popularly known as “period trackers,” are also two of the most highly funded companies in the consumer-facing mobile health space. In the U.S., companies like Ovuline and Glow have raised a significant amount of venture funding as well to tackle the fertility and feminine health market.

The term “period tracker” has lost some of its initial peculiarity as these fertility (and pregnancy prevention) apps have entered into the tech scene and raised venture capital.

For investors, the excitement lies in the user engagement stats. “The great thing about the space is that the engagement is absolutely incredible – people go back on a daily basis and they always want to find out more,” says Ovuline investor Bill Pescatello of Lightbank.

Pescatello says he’s seen engagement numbers in Ovuline “almost like Candy Crush in a way- their DAU [Daily Active Users] to MAU [Monthly Active Users] is somewhere over 40%.” For women trying to conceive, Ovuline provides a period and fertility tracking service, and for pregnant women, the app will give daily updates on the baby’s development.

High user engagement is essential for apps that rely on user feedback to collect data.

Both Ovuline and Glow analyze data provided by users to draw larger conclusions around fertility and alert users when their symptoms might be indicative of a medical problem.

Ovuline has seen over 130 million data points entered into its database, with around 20 percent of users answering over 800 questions each. “On a mobile device you get people who answer question after question,” Pescatello explains, “so you have these users where you know so much about them and there’s a customized experience you can provide.”

Collecting user data is the driving force behind Glow’s feedback model, as well. Glow provides women who are trying to conceive with information about when they are most fertile based on the symptoms they enter into the app, aiming to help as many women as possible conceive naturally without resorting to IVF. For women not trying to conceive, Glow provides insights around overall health and will encourage users to consult a doctor if the information they enter into the app aligns with symptoms for diseases or other medical issues.

While there are hundreds of period trackers available for free download on the app store (Clue, Period Diary, and P Tracker, to name a few), Glow founder and CEO Mike Huang says that Glow’s emphasis on data is what sets it apart from these “‘rainbows and unicorn’ type of tracking devices.”

Fertility is a huge market, as IVF treatments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for many couples. “The value of a woman trying to conceive and a woman who’s pregnant is pretty massive,” says Pescatello, and “there’s a huge opportunity there, guiding women through all the decisions they need to make.”

Once pregnant, women want to know exactly what’s going on with their unborn child and how to do everything possible to prevent complications and ensure a healthy baby. Mountain View-based Bellabeat, for example, recently raised $4.5 million in May to transform the pregnancy experience.

And after birth, “whether it’s storing stem cells or who you’re buying diapers from, there are so many additional consumer purchases,” notes Pescatello.

Both Glow and Ovuline, the two major players in the U.S. fertility app market, are providing fertility tracking as a first step in the pursuit of much broader goals. Glow’s founders believe that by providing women with insights about their reproductive health, they can significantly lower the cost of healthcare for individuals and enterprises alike.

Pescatello sees Ovuline as the “future of user health” – having the ability to provide users with customized feedback after a short period of time, and using the data collected over time to fine-tune results. And once perfected, this model is applicable to all types of user health, not just fertility.

Photo via Flickr user Neil Girling