We interviewed Rebekah Lloyd, speaker, women’s advocate, and founder of This Independent Life (TIL), an educational platform with a mission to help people embrace and achieve personal independence in life, regardless of their background. She also runs the endometriosis support group, Endo, so what?. In this interview, we discussed her professional and personal background, her perspective on the role of the femtech industry and her future plans. Enjoy the interview and check out Rebekah's links below!
1 - Hello Rebekah! Tell us a bit more about your work, your background and what you’re up to these days.
My name is Rebekah Lloyd, and I am a speaker, women’s advocate, and the founder of the educational platform, This Independent Life. Before starting my own business, I worked in healthcare and pharmaceutical communications agencies for many years, starting in big networks and most recently as the founding member and head of a global independence creative agency start up in London. I wore many hats and was responsible for growing and securing small to multimillion dollar business internationally, building and nurturing client and partner relationships, and training, managing and mentoring our internal team, amongst other operational and start up bits and bobs. Before that, I had a pretty varied career across everything from language training and translations and retail, to cleaning and hospitality, to the NHS and data analysis. I didn’t actually know what healthcare advertising was when I first heard of it however, I really liked the idea of combining creativity with science, so I found myself thriving in the industry. Before that, I had applied to be a doctor twice, and had been rejected twice, thinking that it was something I wanted to do (and something certain people had said I should do in order to be respectable).
Prior to this, I was studying Biomedical Science at Sheffield University and worked in different scientific research labs thereafter. I really liked science and was always encouraged to pursue it by my family too, however, I found myself a bit underwhelmed when I realised I didn’t really feel at home during my lab placements - I struggled not being able to see the wider impact of what I was doing daily at the bench, and I missed the social side of things, and ultimately it didn’t fulfill me. What I’m doing now as a new business owner, however, is the exact opposite. The variety and challenges it brings are fulfilling in a way I’ve never experienced. So far, it’s been very much an exploratory journey, meeting new people, building out my ideas, learning all the time. It can be really intimidating, but I’m practicing what I preach and right now I want to have the freedom to work on things that I’m passionate about. I want to be able to have personal independence and the ability to live my life on my terms.
2 - You had so many experiences in different fields. How did you first come across the femtech field and what was your first impression of it?
Initially I didn’t really know what femtech really meant, I sort of knew about women’s health from my career in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, but it was only when I first started rethinking my career and realising that I wasn’t satisfied with my situation that I started researching and looking into articles, joining women’s networks, and researching femtech companies. This opened a new door for me, and it lit a fire inside of me. I learned about the deep rooted issues within the women’s health and femtech sector, the huge lack of funding, and innovation, and ultimately the prioritisation of women in healthcare. There are some incredibly inspirational femtech companies now trying to change that, and there is pioneering change happening across different areas, but it is still such a small proportion of what really needs to be done in the industry, and for society overall. Around that time, I also got diagnosed with endometriosis, something which took me 10 years. As I was trying to understand the condition better for myself, I came across the lack of research and basic physiological understanding of endometriosis, let alone the lack of treatment options. Looking at it from a career perspective, it was almost mirroring what was happening in my own personal life. I fell into it following my own curiosity, being inspired and frustrated at the same time. There is so much potential in the field, and I feel grateful to be joining the people and community that paving the way.
3 - Did learning about femtech help you redirect your career?
Absolutely. At first I didn’t actually appreciate the influence it had. The term femtech was a bit alien to me, it was almost a bit of a surprise that I wasn’t more familiar having worked in the healthcare industry for years. The process of just learning and exposing myself to that world inspired something in my mind, and looking back at it now, it definitely influenced my career path. I think it’s really hard for people not to let their personal situation influence their career - and now I love feeling like I'm dedicating my life to helping other women who may have gone through what I've been through, to supporting and guiding people who are experiencing problems or issues that are being ignored or dismissed and ultimately impacting how they live their life.
4 - You briefly touched on the term femtech. What’s your opinion on the term and what does it represent to you?
I think it’s helpful to have a specific term to define the field and help us connect with others, both as humans and in the business perspective. Even in the case of our relationship and conversations, we met and have bonded around the term femtech. I think it’s really helpful to have a term that allows you to find people with similar passions and missions. However I think it’s still an interesting discussion to have - industry influences the words we use and it can be hard to distinguish what certain words may actually mean. For example, different companies in the femtech sector address very different issues. Are we just talking about health or are we talking about technology that impacts or influences all females. Are there other evolving angles that we haven’t even considered. Overall I think it’s important to have something that helps support discussion and connection, but whether femtech is the right name is definitely up for debate.
5 - We were wondering about your experience working in the health communication field, and how this may help raise awareness in the women’s health field.
Working in healthcare communications is a very restricted field in many ways. It’s heavily regulated, and for good reason as you’re often providing information about serious medical and health conditions and needs. However from an educational awareness stand point, I think this field has a lot of potential. That said, we need to keep in mind that commercial industry operations are also profit focussed. It’s really important to be unbiased, which is hard when you’re a company supporting an educational effort that will ultimately be generating revenue for the business. That’s not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s important that the product you are creating actually serves a purpose, it fills a genuine gap and need, many of which exist within women’s health. Awareness and education are at the core, and I believe listening to women’s experiences, understanding their journey’s, their struggles, their reality must be central in order to create treatments and solutions that make real change. It’s all well and good having new products, but if they don’t serve to solve the real problem, it’s hard to see how that is effectively moving the needle on the issues. Raising awareness of issues, such as endometriosis, is something I’m deeply passionate about, and removing the stigma, removing the taboo of talking about women’s health, will allow more people to engage in the conversation, and lead us closer towards innovation and positive change.
The other aspect to mention is the lack of health education in schools. In my opinion, there is a need for mass health education not only on the “normal” way things work in your body, but what happens when you experience things that aren’t “normal”, such as endometriosis. This lack of understanding and stigma stems from a young age, and leads to the horrifically slow diagnosis rates we so commonly hear about in women’s health. The advertising and health communication industries could aim to become more raw, honest and supportive in their activities, and to listen more to the reality of the people that they’re trying to help. If you really want to make a difference, it has to start with listening to the people who are suffering. I have recently started an endometriosis support group because I couldn’t relate to the information and communities I found online, and wanted to create a safe space for real talk about the condition. I learned that people don’t want things to be sugar coated, they want to know what is actually happening to them, and what help is out there to make things better. And to do this, you need to get to the root of what people are really struggling with, from the physical to the psychological elements.
6 - What do you think are some currently unmet needs in femtech? Where do you think it’s going?
There are unfortunately many unmet needs, but I think 2 important ones are listening to women, and funding.
It sounds obvious but women need to be listened to when they go to see a healthcare professional, and not dismissed or told that they’re overreacting. If you’re not even listening to and understanding the problem of the people you’re trying to help, how are you ever going to get to a solution? An example of this is the long time needed to be diagnosed with diseases like endometriosis. Women’s symptoms are simply not taken seriously, they’re told it’s in their heads, and they are dismissed for years. It’s simply not acceptable.
We also need more financial investment and funding. At all levels it is still worryingly low, and there is a critical need for prioritisation at every stage, from the bench, to the patient, to society at large. Whilst there is hope on the horizon, for example by 2027 the global femtech market is expected to be valued at $60b+ (up from $22b in 2020), only ~2% of venture capital funding goes to women founded businesses. This is an important fact when you consider that most women’s health research and startups are often led by women, further exasperated with the underrepresentation of women in the STEM field. Government grants and funding are limited, and without investment into research, the foundational knowledge and data simply isn’t available for industry to build from, and the knock-on effect of this alone means a lack of understanding into how to diagnose these conditions, let alone how to commercially create treatments or cures. As an example, endometriosis is a condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 women and takes 7 to 10 years to diagnose, yet it has the same prevalence as diabetes. Whilst there is currently no diagnostic method or treatment for endometriosis apart from surgery, there are currently 9 different categories of diabetes treatment and over 50 different medications.
7 - You’re also passionate about women’s independence. How do you think femtech can enable it?
Independence for women is the foundation of my new business. To me, independence is about freedom of choice. It’s about having autonomy over your life, whatever that looks like to you. When I think about independence for women, specifically for health, it’s about understanding your body and mind, having that knowledge and understanding to know when things are great, and importantly, when something’s wrong. There are ways that femtech can support with this, or example period tracking apps are a good step in the right direction, to enable the user to collect data and use it to help understand their own body and advocate for themselves in discussions with healthcare professionals to reduce dismissal, such as severity of period pain or flare ups if you have chronic conditions like endometriosis. However this still puts the burden on the women and information and data sharing can sometimes be dangerous. Femtech is opening a door allowing innovation to start serving these unexplored parts of our lives, and it’s enabling us to make educated choices and decisions. That said, I believe there’s still a vast amount of room for improvement and innovation, including simply filling the knowledge gap in women’s health conditions that are still not understood.
8 - Tell us a bit more about your project!
This Independent Life was really started as a passion project inspired by my personal experiences. On the outside, I was successful in my career, doing well financially, thriving in every way. But on the inside, I was broken. I had a mental breakdown, was diagnosed with endometriosis, and felt like I’d completely lost my sense of self, my independence, and my fulfilment in life. I couldn’t find what I needed to regain it, and after discovering I wasn’t alone, wanted to create something to help other people going through similar struggles. I want to provide support around the 3 key areas I think need to be in sync in order to feel autonomous over your life, so I decided to build the concept of the independence triad. The triad includes self & health, work & career, and money & finances. Regarding your self & health, it’s really about listening and understanding your mind and body, what isn’t feeling quite right, what isn’t making you feel good, and if you need to deal with any issues. Your work & career is about your purpose with how you spend your time. You have a finite amount of time in life, and you have to decide how you want to spend it, how you want to live the days and years you’re given. Finally, your money & finances is about learning how to manage your money, and making your money work for you, so you don’t need to work until you die. Especially in our current economic climate, financial independence is more important than ever.
I want to help people understand that it’s okay to make a change in your life. It can be scary, but you deserve better. You shouldn’t be settling, and it’s OK to want more, to feel truly fulfilled in your life. To do this, I use a mix of awareness, knowledge, and engagement. I partner with businesses and organisations to deliver impactful educational sessions that do away with the old training methods and put facts, personal stories, and experience at the heart. I also host talks, workshops, panels, events, podcasts, and write both personal and guest blogs with other inspiring businesses. And that’s just the start!
9 - Any advice for students interested in careers in femtech, or any career advice in general?
If I could give one piece of advice, I would definitely recommend working on your network, but doing it in an authentic way. Networking is such an underrated skill in reality, when people say ‘your network is your net worth’, they’re not wrong. Business happens between people, and you shouldn’t underestimate the power of building relationships. Reach out directly to people on LinkedIn and ask to have a 15 minute chat, or attend events to learn and meet new people. Don’t self reject, and just remember, the worst thing people can do is not reply to you, or say no, but if you don’t try you’ll never know. People are always surprised to learn I’m more of an introvert, and I used to find networking events incredibly intimidating and overwhelming, but really it’s all about having a strategy that works for you. For example, now whenever I attend events, I arrive early. That way there’s less people, and I’m usually able to chat directly with the panellists or people hosting the event, plus people tend to approach you as you’re one of the first ones in the room. Win win! Overall, your career is yours to define, don’t let any limiting beliefs or doubts get in the way of that. You can do whatever it is you want to do in life, just be yourself and the possibilities are truly endless.