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How a femtech app is using A.I. to fill in the gaps for women’s health care

August 2, 2022, 7:00 PM UTC

There are health and fitness apps and then there are A.I.-powered health and fitness apps. That distinction, according to Hélène Guillaume, CEO and founder of Wild.ai, is crucial to solving an ongoing failure to provide women with care and products tailored to their needs.

Launched a year ago, Wild.ai uses A.I.-sourced data sets from active women to analyze their vitals and performance in order to make training, recovery, and nutritional recommendations specifically adapted to their physiology. The app is fueled by both wearables and manual input. A user checks in daily, noting sleep metrics, stress levels, menstrual symptoms, digestion issues, as well as external data drawn from a wearable device. Once aggregated, the data provides Wild.ai with a readiness score which produces a checklist of targeted recommendations and predictions of negative symptoms. The app, which currently has 38,500 users worldwide, then learns, adapting suggestions through a feedback loop much like a human coach. 

Not only is the project one of the latest innovations in femtech, a sector poised to reach a market potential of $50 billion by 2025, according to Frost & Sullivan estimates, it is among the only ones to take into account a staggering number of variables, including a woman’s various life stages, age, and ethnicity.

“News flash: Women are not men!” says Guillaume, also a data scientist and triathlete who previously worked as a hedge fund quant and consultant for Fortune 500 companies. “A thirtysomething-year-old woman taking birth control is unlikely to have the same vitals, such as resting heart rate, body temperature, or bone density, as a woman in perimenopause, a woman beginning menopause, or even a woman in the midst of menstruating. Hormones greatly impact their athletic performance, and yet their variety of needs hasn’t been served.”

The idea for Wild.ai emerged first out of a personal need. Guillaume, a biohacker interested in data, was frustrated by what she saw as the unreliability of her own body. “I hated that some days I performed well, and the week after, I was flat-out unable to climb the hills that the male cyclists were climbing. I couldn’t accept it for myself, and I couldn’t accept it for other women. I needed to figure out why.”

A closer look at the data around women’s health magnified the need for a new tool: Only 40% of medical research and clinical studies are conducted on female bodies, a number that drops to 3% when it comes to sports science studies. The research that does exist, Guillaume observed, tends to use a pool of 25- to 30-year-old U.S.-based white women, which adds to the gender bias.

In other words, most recommendations or training regimens for women are based on research conducted on men. And there are many well-documented cases of women being misdiagnosed and misprescribed treatment by medical professionals, their pain and symptoms frequently dismissed. A one-size-fits-all approach to women’s health care is not only ineffective—it is dangerous. 

Guillaume—along with a team that includes founding partner Dr. Stacy Sims, a preeminent researcher, nutrition scientist, and exercise physiologist, and head researcher Sahana Gopal, Ph.D.—believes that A.I. can herald the kind of change the industry has been needing.

“When an individual tracks her own cycle, she can start to see patterns across the month and objective data that can give insight into her own body, which in turn can then be leveraged to training hard on days the body can take on that stress, and backing off when the body needs to,” says Sims. Given how unique each woman’s cycle is, including her bleeding pattern, a tool like Wild.ai takes the guesswork out of the hormonal impact on performance. “This is a major player for biohacking and better understanding our own bodies, plus designed in a female environment.”

The by-women-for-women foundation of the business isn’t an added benefit or the reason for venture capital interest; it’s the key to ensuring its longevity beyond the fitness space.

“This is just the beginning. With wearables, A.I., new research, and consultations with doctors, women can take control of their overall health. Why should we be using any product that isn’t made for us? This is more broadly about precision medicine that’s personalized and adaptive,” says Guillaume, adding that A.I. can fuel self-advocacy. “We need to change the way society perceives women and the way in which women perceive themselves. There are so many myths that need shattering.”

It’s in the company’s messaging—particularly on Instagram, where elite athlete brand ambassadors get the spotlight alongside inspirational sporty figures of all ages, in addition to tips for performance optimization—that Guillaume and her team work to upend the most pervasive fallacies, from women being too fragile or weak to take on high-intensity activities during menses to there being little to nothing women can do about pain and discomfort throughout each of their life cycles.

Of course, this kind of data-rich technology also requires understanding the seemingly everyday changes to privacy and data security. With the Roe v. Wade reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court, there are growing concerns that femtech products—which collect a user’s menstrual data—could be weaponized by law enforcement as a means of targeting women seeking abortions.

On this, Guillaume stands firm: “We are a U.K. entity following GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] rules. But separate from that, on an ethical level, we commit to never selling data,” she insists. 

Data generated by the app is anonymized and used solely for research, which is conducted in tandem with the Auckland University of Technology and other undisclosed universities. And for now, pregnancy remains the one life stage that Wild.ai does not serve or research. The company’s long-term objective is focused elsewhere, according to Guillaume. She wants to be part of wide-reaching and lasting change that leads to a day when the need to research women and men separately is no longer a question and when products are built and tailored to a woman’s multitude of needs.

“I see us working with regulators in the U.S. to push for more female participants in tests and studies,” she says. “We need the media, governments, and leaders to address this topic seriously. Why should half of the population be overlooked?”

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