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Why the FemTech sector might be the sustainability saviour we have been waiting for

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Why the FemTech sector might be the sustainability saviour we have been waiting for 1

By Kristy Chong, CEO & Founder Modibodi ®

Taking single use plastics out of circulation is no easy feat, but the answer might lie closer than we think

FemTech: The Beginnings 

The term FemTech was initially coined to describe the powerful offering from tech start-ups as they ventured into developing revolutionary products centred around women’s health needs. Whilst the beginnings were humble, we have seen a whole host of innovations enter the market which have changed the game for women and business leaders around the globe.

Fast forward to 2020, FemTech is an industry predicted to be worth $50 billion by 2025 [1]and a powerhouse that is not just tackling women’s health issues but also helping to solve major environmental and sustainability crisis that we face today.

The fearless female entrepreneurs have founded and grown businesses that are continuing to help women across the globe deal with issues such as fertility, periods, sexual wellness, pregnancy and many others. And the best is yet to come.

It is a Man’s World

Traditionally, both technology and medical sectors have been very slow in tackling women’s issues and notoriously lagged in developing products and tools that address issues predominantly affecting women. Whilst figures show that women spend 29%[2] more on healthcare than men, only 4% of overall R&D funding goes towards developing products for the women’s sector[3] therefore the market is ripe for disruption.

As a woman, a mother and entrepreneur I knew that like many others I had to take matters into my own hands.

Following an incident with incontinence whilst training for a marathon in 2011 after the birth of my second child, I recognised the need to innovate apparel that offered a dignified, supportive and sustainable solution for women to manage leaks from periods, incontinence and everything in between. After two years of product development and over  1000 scientific tests, I founded Modibodi in 2013 with a long term view of breaking taboos, opening minds and offering a reusable, sustainable option for sanitary products that’s not just for women – but for the benefit of all bodies on this planet and the environment too. Now, we’ve expanded on that notion to support all people, including men who suffer incontinence, sweating and chafing, providing them with a reusable, sustainable option with our Modibodi Men range.

As you can imagine, this was far from simple not just due to tech and business sectors being notoriously dominated by men, with figures showing that 98% of VC funding goes towards male founded products[4] but also because we were not just selling a new brand of lipstick or gym-wear, we had created a whole new product category based on talking about things that made people and retailers uncomfortable.

As a social advocate for women’s health issues and rights I knew that I needed to persevere because the amalgamation between technology and feminism is a major force of social change and one that can have wide scale impact on our world.

The Sustainability Story

The sustainability agenda has really taken off in the last couple of years, especially in our war against single use plastic.  But it occurred to me very early on that we are not doing enough and there are still areas that need urgent review.

Very early on in the development stage of Modibodi I knew that sustainable sanitary products could be a game changer in eliminating single use plastics from circulation and whilst the world and respective governments were focusing on plastic straws, I felt the change needed to come from numerous angles and streams of consumerism.

The proof of concept was starring us right in the face, the average woman uses an average of 11,000 disposable feminine hygiene products in her lifetime and these convenient products come with an inconvenient environmental cost. They take 500 to 800 years to biodegrade, which means the first ever tampon and pad is still in landfill. Even more alarmingly, 8% of all waste that enters water treatment works comes from period waste, including non-flushable items such as pantyliners[5].

This is why I believe that the revolutionary innovations that are born out of the FemTech sector have capabilities to be one of the key drivers of the sustainability agenda. There is something remarkably special about a group of purpose driven businesses that can connect with consumers through a collective set of values to drive change and be a force for good.

What’s Next?

As most purpose driven business leaders will tell you, the fight never stops as the world evolves and continues to change. The sheer growth in the FemTech sector and the capabilities developed to date have changed millions of lives around the globe.

As an industry and a movement, we’ve also managed to play our part in driving the sustainability agenda and I will argue that actually the wide scale change and unity needed to continue making strides in eradicating single use plastic from our circulation will come from within the powerhouse that is FemTech.

The sheer capacity for change can be easily demonstrated if we look at the granular data and its potential for growth. If just 100,000 young girls use Modibodi alone from the start of their menstrual cycle, this would prevent 1.1 billion disposable hygiene products from ending up in landfill or 1.5 million garbage bags of waste. As of May 2020, our global base of 500,000 customers alone have prevented an estimated 2.5 million garbage bags of disposable hygiene waste from ending up in landfill or flushed into the ocean.

With the FemTech industry growing at a racing speed, I have no doubt that we are at the tipping point of pioneering wave of inventions that will take the agenda further and have the capacity and means to lead the movement. It is up to the trade organisations and world leaders to recognise the potential that such businesses and brands carry in order help to facilitate its growth trajectory.

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Leading from the front – why decision makers must embrace automation

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Leading from the front - why decision makers must embrace automation 2

By Jeppe Rindom, Co-founder & CEO, Pleo

Ask any decision maker at a business about admin and you’re likely to be met with a familiar response – it’s a necessary evil that swallows time, but also helps inform strategic choices. Informed decisions are always better than uninformed ones, but many businesses still rely on outdated legacy processes to gather the data they need to make critical choices… and we’ve all seen the perils of a poorly maintained Excel spreadsheet in the news recently.

At director level, these administrative tasks can consist of signing off expenses or monitoring company spending to inform upcoming budgets. Although crucial to running a business well, these can be time-consuming and frustrating when you don’t have the right tools to make sense of it all. The solution? A simple change of approach.

A logical solution

This is where automation comes in. Over the last decade, we’ve seen how technologies including chat-bots and artificial intelligence have impacted everyday business, from customer-services and marketing to data analytics and time-management. More than ever, this is allowing employees to free  up time to work more efficiently and focus on business-critical tasks. But this isn’t a quick fix. At a decision making is required. Ironically, a lot of these tasks relate to how a business can improve efficiency and productivity.

Add in the fact that many of these senior staff members have tight schedules, and can’t afford to spend several hours trawling through spreadsheets, and it’s little wonder high level admin is still an issue. In a recent customer survey, we found that 75% of senior managers spend over an hour a week on expense reports, with 14% losing nearly a whole working day (five hours or more) a week to managing them – time that could be better spent growing their business. The same study found that our platform saves people an average of 11.5 hours a month on managing company expenses. If you consider this could mean an extra day for a CFO or Finance Director to spend on more essential tasks, such as business forecasting or growth planning, the reward for investing in well designed automation at this level is clear.

Building trust

Jeppe Rindom

Jeppe Rindom

But, automation isn’t just a case of saving time; it also fosters trust. Our study found that over half (51%) of users agreed that automating the laborious parts of their expenses like receipt capture, categorisation and expense reports also helped them build trust within their organisation. Automation helped them to excel at the things they’re most interested in, and were actually hired to do. I’m a huge advocate of empowering people with the tools they need to succeed. And through the empowerment automation brings, it’s only natural that employees begin to feel their worth in the business and that they are trusted.

A business-wide approach

Yet for automation to work, a company-wide understanding of its potential is vital. Adoption by senior staff should not be seen as simply a fringe benefit, as automation relies on understanding and endorsement from all levels of a business to work efficiently. A report titled ‘Automation and the future of work,’ published by the British Government in September 2019 noted that the successful implementation of automation “relies on managers and business leaders themselves being able to understand the potential of automation and the impact of technological change.” In this respect, managers will be your biggest ally when embracing automation. Any manager worth their salt understands the benefits of leading through example, and by creating automation ‘advocates’, businesses can ensure teams are comfortable with the impending change. While many busy managers often resist new processes (especially those to do with unfamiliar technology), they usually find that investing a short amount of time getting to grips with an automation platform pays off in the long term.

One of the most frequent pieces of feedback we receive is that an effectively automated platform allows staff to focus on strategy, culture and creativity, with the knock-on effect of automating mundane tasks being felt throughout an entire organisation, not just one relieved individual.

Having a smart, automated platform can also massively reduce the chance of human error at an early stage. This can be disastrous when data is relied upon to make important decisions at a later date. In this respect, having access to accurate information can be a game-changing benefit for decision-makers, particularly those working under increased pressure.

At a time when businesses are facing rapid and unpredictable changes, ensuring your business is equipped with the right tools for success is crucial. And while automation may seem an intimidating change, the huge benefits it can bring to both processes and culture will outweigh any initial concerns. By giving senior staff and their team members alike the ability to embrace smart automation, efficiency will speak for itself, and your business’ success will flourish.

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry 3

By Marga Hoek, author of The Trillion Dollar Shift

Robotics technology has the potential to disrupt industries across all sectors – but its impact on the manufacturing industry will be transformative. Not only can robots increase productivity, efficiency and profit margins but adopting this tech for good will be a key way for the manufacturing industry to transition to a more sustainable future.

Driving productivity & efficiency

Manufacturing processes are faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective when humans and robots work together. Studies show that idle time is reduced by 85% when people work collaboratively with a human-aware robot, rather than in an all-human team.[1] Modern robotic automation is key to reshaping production processes to become more efficient and reliable. They deliver significant benefits for companies and investment is often recouped within just 18 months.[2]

Robots in manufacturing can allow businesses to monitor the production lines from anywhere and pinpoint issues quickly, allowing for production to continue smoothly and efficiently, ensuring companies surpass consumers’ expectations of supply chain speed and reliability. Intelligent industrial service robots are an upcoming industrial tool that will amplify manufacturing capabilities and allow businesses to safely operate faster, in places humans could never go, and with cognitive and physical capabilities not yet imagined.

Transitioning to a sustainable future

Robots are a vital way to reduce pollution and emissions from manufacturing operations. For starters, they reduce our reliance on larger vehicles and machines that are harmful to the planet. Robots’ ability to be extremely accurate and minimize errors is also hugely important in sustainability efforts to reduce waste. Robots also aid businesses in their energy-saving process because they do not require as much energy to operate as humans do. Where humans need facilities with sufficient lighting and heat, robots can work under cold and dark conditions. This drastically reduces the amount of energy used in the manufacturing production process. It is estimated that for every 1C reduced in factory heat levels, there is a potential saving of up to 8%.[3] In addition, up to 20% of energy savings can be reached if the plant turns off any unnecessary lighting.

Case Study: GE

Tech giant GE is a brilliant example of how robotics technology can both boost the bottom line and sustainability.

GE is at the forefront of robotics manufacturing technology. Their value proposition is tightly tied to productivity in field service and manufacturing and offers potential cost savings within operations. While delivering industrial-grade service robotic systems that enable automation, productivity and safety for GE and its customers, the company works closely with GE business units, GE customers and strategic partners across the globe to envision, shape and build intelligent robotic technologies from idea to commercialization.

Marga Hoek

Marga Hoek

GE’s recent $125 million investment project at its Decatur refrigerator plant boosted production capacity, added new “smart” technology and increased the site’s workforce.  This includes auto guided vehicles, or AGVs, that move materials through the assembly process and more than 50 robots that perform heavy lifting operations and repetitive tasks.

The expansion project, announced in June 2018, allowed GE Appliances to increase production to meet growing demand for its freezer-refrigerators, which are top-rated in the industry for both quality and reliability. The expansion created 255 jobs, bringing total employment at the plant to 1,300. The project boosts production capacity by 25 % and ensures early compliance with 2022 refrigerant changes, making the Alabama plant a super site for GE. GE Appliances said Industry 4.0 technology additions at the Decatur facility include data visualization, 3-D scanning, rapid prototyping and other smart automation that provides the operations team with real-time data to make better and faster decisions.

Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Utilizing robotics technology within the manufacturing industry can help to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for a healthier planet, to be met by 2030:

SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing: Collaborating with people, service robots work with shoulder-to-shoulder and over long distances, to fulfil dull, dirty and dangerous work.

SDG 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth: Presenting new growth opportunities for businesses and creating new jobs at manufacturing plants

SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure:  Manufacturing value proposition of robotics ties tightly to productivity and brings potential cost savings into those operations.

SDG 12 – Responsible Production & Consumption: Providing a new and rich data source for companies to produce products responsibly

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, in hardback and e-book. For more information go to www.margahoek.com

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/here-s-how-robots-can-help-us-confront-covid/

[2] https://www.industrialtechnology.co.uk/products–transforming-your-sustainability-with-robotic-automation.html

[3] https://greencleanguide.com/how-robotics-is-revolutionizing-sustainability/

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about.

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about. 4

By Rory Gray, Vice President of Sales at leading software automation firm, UiPath, explains what role Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play in improving the efficiency of finance and banking departments.

Pre-coronavirus, the finance and banking industries were already facing a myriad of challenges. Now, this myriad is quickly becoming ever more complicated. There is increasing pressure to react to declining business health, be flexible to changing customer behaviour and to adapt to evolving workforce dynamics.

Unfortunately, for these teams, improving agility is easier said than done. Many processes involve legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data. These processes are time-consuming and mundane, leaving finance and banking professionals hard-pressed to fit in client-centric and strategic work.

Take processing invoices. The way it’s done hasn’t changed for years in many organisations. It often involves a member or members of the finance team receiving the invoice by mail or email, approving it manually, printing, signing and submitting it to Accounts Payable. An AP Clerk then has to pick it up, read it, verify the approvals, extract the data and input it into to the accounting package. This all takes time and costs money. What’s more, it’s dull and prone to errors. People don’t want to spend their days doing it.

Imagine if processes such as invoicing, but also loan processing, credit card disputes and many more, could be automated. Finance and banking teams would spend much less time copying, pasting and printing and could refocus on business health and transformation.

RPA is the key to finding more time in the day  

Robotic Process Automation or RPA, is software that can work just like a human. It can use AI capabilities to read and interpret data from both physical and digital documents. It can extract the necessary information and it can transfer this to multiple IT applications. It’s a software robot – or digital assistant.

For finance and banking professionals, RPA could help them break free from the time constraints caused by inefficient and complex legacy operations by passing rule-based repetitive tasks to software robots. This saves time and money – and allows people to focus on the tasks that can make a difference to the business.

RPA can help carry the burden of compliance

Rory Gray

Rory Gray

With data extracted, processed and formatted by software robots, employees will also no longer have to carry the full and heavy burden of compliance.

However accurate we aim to be, the reality is that processing data is always open to mistakes. This is exacerbated by ever shifting market regulations. Software robots, however, are programmed by finance and banking professionals to strictly follow the same steps every time and thus do not fall victim to the same blunders as all humans inevitably do.

Of course, many regulatory compliance functions will often need to involve some human validation or decision making. While the robots work around the clock without fatigue to complete tasks, professionals can still intervene if there is an inaccuracy that requires the personal touch or a loop in the workflow where a decision is needed. Therefore, time-consuming compliance tasks can be passed to software robots, but humans ultimately remain in control.

This in turn provides better risk management and compliance, higher accuracy, better cycle times and improved throughput.

RPA in practice

This may all sound very futuristic, but in practice, many firms are already using RPA to free up employee time, improve compliance and save money.

For example, a leading smart infrastructure solutions firm we work with has created a software robot affectionately named Archie, which has taken over the responsibility for processing all invoices.

Pre-Covid, the 400,000 invoices received by the firm each year were dealt with manually. With Archie this is now fully automated freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time which employees can now use to focus on value-adding activities. It also means that no employee needs to come into the office to process the invoice, nor does any paper need to be passed around the team. Thus helping to keep the workforce safe.

With all this extra time, finance and banking departments can focus on adapting to and thriving in the current crisis. Moving away from data processing and towards advisory roles where they can best use their strategic skills.

Consequently, businesses will benefit during the pandemic and beyond and employees could see their roles shifting away from the mundane and towards tasks that keep them on their toes. A rare win-win in a difficult time.

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