Over the past decade, the health tech sector has experienced an exponential surge, witnessing unprecedented growth and drawing remarkable investments. As Central and Eastern Europe has emerged as a burgeoning hotspot for health tech innovation, millions have been funneled into startups promising to revolutionize everything from diagnostics to telemedicine, most recently with the advent of AI.
Yet, for all the fervor and funds, industry insiders note areas of healthcare that remain untapped and underserved. Venture capitalists in the region have their eyes set on four underrepresented health tech areas:
- Solutions for often underrepresented groups – children and elder care;
- The nascent spheres of femtech and male tech;
- Taboo tech’ covering mental health and sextech;
- The intricate crossroads where healthcare meets insurance.
Despite the activity and advancements in the broader sector, these niches persist in the shadows, beckoning for innovative solutions.
Jan Stanek, Founding Partner at Purple Ventures, hints at some of the key reasons behind the underrepresentation of certain health tech areas: “Some interesting niches or segments within the health tech industry that I believe are currently underrepresented: aging and elder care , rural healthcare (low population density, high costs, lack of qualified staff), women’s health (stigma associated with women’s health issues, the lack of research funding), mental health or rare diseases (high cost of developing treatments for rare diseases, small patient population, and lack of research funding).”
This article delves into the unique challenges and opportunities presented by underrepresented health tech areas , exploring why they remain overlooked and what potential they hold for the future, with insights from regional tech investors.
Children and elder care
While much of health tech innovation has concentrated on the adult population, two critical segments—children and the elderly—often remain in the peripherals. The reasons are multifaceted.
Elder care technology frequently grapples with the delicate balance of integrating modern solutions into the lives of individuals who might be less tech-savvy or resistant to change. Additionally, the fragmented nature of elder care, spanning from assisted living to chronic disease management, can make it harder to identify unified tech solutions.
Yet, the potential is palpable. With aging populations globally (and in Europe, especially), tailoring technologies to this group could unlock a wealth of benefits. Such innovations might improve quality of life, reduce healthcare costs, and offer peace of mind to caregivers.
“I feel that beyond the AI health rush and the platforms that will be created, elderly care focused European startups is a sector which we have not seen significant investments yet. With the macro trend of the aging population in our part of the world, I am sure that entrepreneurs will come up and tackle this space in the EU as well,” says George Saliaris-Fasseas, Operating Partner at Big Pi Ventures.
On the other end of the age spectrum, for pediatric solutions, the nuances of evolving physiologies, coupled with stringent safety and ethical standards, can pose daunting challenges for innovators.
“I am often looking for solutions for the underrepresented, such as children or the elderly. While I see an increasing number of solutions designed for our aging European population, I still miss solutions addressing pediatric needs, mainly because of understandable, but mis-placed asymmetric regulation,” Bori Farkas-Fozy, Investor at UNIQA Ventures, tells us.
Femtech and male tech
Two other underrepresented health tech areas are femtech and male tech. Historically, the healthcare sector has often exhibited gender biases, with many products and solutions developed based on male-centric studies and prototypes. This has led to an oversight of specific health concerns and nuances unique to each gender. Femtech, focusing on women’s health issues—from menstrual health, fertility, pregnancy, to menopause—has only recently gained traction, yet remains a field rife with potential for innovation.
“Focusing on women’s health needs has seen limited VC attention despite its potential to address significant gaps in areas like menstrual health, fertility, and reproductive care, likely due to historical gender biases in the industry and a lack of understanding of women’s unique health experiences,” says Kris Przybylak, HealthTech Investor at Inovo.vc.
Similarly, targeted male tech, addressing issues like prostate health, testosterone imbalances, and male fertility, is still in its infancy. The lack of representation in these areas can be attributed to societal taboos, limited gender-specific clinical studies, and a historical reluctance to address gender-specific health issues head-on.
“Similarly, maletech, centered on men’s health issues, has not received proportional investment despite opportunities in areas like reproductive health, mental health, and fitness optimization. This is possibly due to the perception that the male health landscape is well-addressed already,” Kris Przybylak adds.
For investors, these sectors present an opportunity not just for significant returns, but also to drive meaningful change in addressing long-standing healthcare disparities.
Taboo-tech: Mental and sexual health
Similar to femtech and male tech, mental health and sextech have been historically shrouded in cultural taboos and misunderstandings. These areas, collectively referred by investors as “taboo-tech,” are beginning to command the attention they deserve.
“Areas such as sexual health tech and mental health tech face underrepresentation due to societal stigma and discomfort discussing these subjects, leading to limited investment despite the potential to improve access to sexual education and mental health support,” Kris Przybylak, HealthTech Investor at Inovo.vc, tells The Recursive.
Mental health, once whispered about in hushed tones, is now recognized as an integral part of overall well-being, but still suffers from a scarcity of tech solutions tailored to its diverse needs. The challenge lies not only in creating digital tools but also in ensuring they’re empathetic, user-friendly, and founded on sound psychological principles.
Meanwhile, sextech, addressing issues from sexual health and wellness to intimacy aids, has faced its own set of challenges, rooted in societal discomfort and regulatory hesitations. This has led in turn to a lack of comprehensive research.
However, as society gradually becomes more open-minded, the door is ajar for innovations that can transform how we approach and manage both mental and sexual health. For discerning investors, taboo-tech presents a frontier of both profound societal impact and significant market potential.
Insurance meets health tech
By now, we’ve seen there are a myriad domains of health tech, yet the intersection of insurance and technological innovation stands out as a particularly overlooked niche, one with a transformative potential.
“We are actively looking for value-based healthcare startups, and for companies established at the intersection of insurance and healthcare. Unfortunately, given the complexity and difficulty of working with the players in these segments, not too many entrepreneurs have the courage and/or the knowledge to address an otherwise huge market, ready for disruption,” Bori Farkas-Fozy, Investor at UNIQA Ventures, explains.
The insurance industry has been characterized by its conservatism, with deeply entrenched processes and a general wariness towards rapid change. Conversely, health tech thrives on agility, disruptive innovation, and rapid advancements. Then there is an intricate regulatory landscape that affects both insurance and healthcare, making navigation a daunting task for startups.
However, the prospective rewards are significant. By bridging the gap between health tech and insurance, startups can offer more personalized care plans, real-time health monitoring with dynamic premium adjustments, and seamless claim processes, among other innovations. As consumers become increasingly tech-savvy and demand more integrated, holistic healthcare experiences, this intersection holds the promise of reshaping the very fabric of health insurance. For visionary investors, this underrepresented health tech area represents a fertile ground for both disruption and growth, marrying reliability with revolution.