Musings & Inspiration

FemTech Founder Melanie Derwin Speaks About Female Sexual Wellness and the Power of Female Entrepreneurship

Sam White
Sam White March 31, 2021 • 0 min read

We need to add more pleasure to the world. Especially now.” –Melanie Derwin, founder of Serenity Productions

Women’s health and wellness doesn’t always get a lot of attention from the hardware community — be it from designers, investors, or the press. For too long, a host of women’s health and wellness issues have gone unaddressed — whether it’s sexual wellness, or treatment of extremely common disorders that haven’t been updated in decades. In industries dominated by men, innovation in female-focused products has lagged, keeping conversations around women’s health in the shadows. Women are told that the experiences on offer are the best they’re going to get.

FemTech is changing that.

Across the industry, founders and inventors are charging forward with new technologies to offer women better experiences. They’re bringing conversations around these issues into the light, and the industry is growing: in 2019, FemTech companies posted almost $600 million in venture capital investment. Considering that women spend an estimated $500 billion annually on medical expenses, yet only 4% of healthcare R&D is focused on women’s health, it’s a massively burgeoning area.

It’s also one that’s perfectly aligned with Cortex’s mission.

On the blog, we’re interviewing FemTech leaders and innovators about what drives them. The hope is to inspire more conversations around what FemTech has to offer — both from an entrepreneurial angle, and for the world.

For that reason, we were thrilled to interview Cortex client Melanie Derwin. Melanie is the founder of Serenity Productions, a startup developing innovative pleasure products for women. Serenity Productions is currently developing their first product: Roam™, a device that uses a different motion than vibration to provide the same orgasm outcome. She’s also an activator at SheEO, a global initiative to transform funding and support for women-led ventures.

We spoke with Melanie about her product design journey in founding Serenity Productions, as well as her thoughts about the FemTech industry as a whole — where it’s been, and where it’s headed. She’s an engaging speaker who’s also committed to advancing conversations around women’s sexual wellness, as well as her fellow FemTech founders. We hope you find her insights as interesting as we did!

On founding Serenity Productions:

“A few years back, I was at a phase of my life where I decided I needed to add some more self care and pleasure to my world,” Derwin says. “As I was exploring this, I discovered a different motion that allowed me to orgasm. I considered myself a typical woman of my generation, in my 40s, and I didn’t know much about the FemTech space. I wondered if there was a device that could provide this motion, and I discovered there weren’t really many choices.”

“There are more female founders now, but at the time most of the companies in the space were run by men, and didn’t really have products created by women. I cold called a few of them, and one that I spoke to said, ‘we don’t have any women on our design team. We use a plastic mold.’ I almost fell out of my chair.”

“I decided that the best option was to develop this product on my own,” Derwin says. “I use the term ‘pleasure accessory’ rather than ‘sex toy.’ It’s for adults. So I wanted to create a pleasure accessory that I loved, wrapped in branding that I loved, in a comfortable space to shop. Beyond having a successful product, part of the mission is to normalize conversations around female sexual health and wellness.”

Almost two years later, Serenity Productions is closer than ever to going to market with their first product in a product category that’s still too often in the shadows — and a business still dominated by men.

As Derwin puts it, “female sexual wellness and pleasure is not researched. The full anatomy of the clitoris was only outlined and mapped in 1998. It’s still a bit of a taboo subject. In my generation, you didn’t talk about it. Even in the next generation, there’s a lack of talk about female sexual health and pleasure in school. We’re still in a North American puritanical type of society, but that’s changing. Millennials and Gen Z are more open to discussing these subjects, which is excellent.”

“I think the FemTech space has evolved because society has evolved,” Derwin says. “With the proliferation of social media, society has become more liberal, and more accepting. Online purchases as a discrete way to buy have helped push it forward, and eCommerce tools are helpful for founders. More broadly, the push on the engineering side for consumer goods in general has driven this market forward, and dropped some of the pricing.”

These changes are converging to make female pleasure a burgeoning category within the wider FemTech industry. A 2019 market research report forecasted that the market for pleasure products will grow to $52 billion by 2026, with female pleasure products as the fastest-growing segment.

That report came out before COVID-19, which has only accelerated the growth of the category.

“COVID-19 has changed things drastically in this market,” Derwin says. “[Canada Chief Public Health Officer] Dr. Theresa Tam announced in September that sexual health is an important part of overall health, and the lowest risk involves self pleasure and self care. This category of products went through the roof in terms of sales. When a prominent public health figure states this publically, it becomes part of the norm in terms of what we need to do to stay safe.”

In FemTech, the hope is that a rising tide will lift all boats.

Beyond introducing new products to the market, Derwin hopes to develop future partnerships with healthcare providers to put profits towards further research into female sexual health and wellness. Her other focus is also to continue to advocate and support female founded companies — not only in her category but in the broader world of FemTech. “Women are the buyers of consumer goods in general,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what category it is. It’s time that women become the inventors and founders of consumer goods companies.”

According to TechCrunch, venture capital investment in all-female teams represented only 2.8% of investment in 2019, and as of that year fewer than 10% of decision makers at U.S. VC firms were women.

“I want to be a part of having other female founders successfully commercialize products in this category,’ Derwin says. “Products that have more purpose than just being focused on profits. I want to help build a community of empowered, satisfied women.”

“When I look at my fellow FemTech founders, I don’t see competitors. I see future collaborators.”

Bringing Serenity Productions to Market:

After developing her first functional prototype, Melanie needed a partner to help further develop the product and manufacture it at scale.

“Dylan explained Cortex’s approach to human-centric design, and we hit it off from there,” she says. “When he told me that he had a female industrial designer, that made my decision. Not only did they figure out the next iteration of the minimum viable product, but managed the prototype testing professionally and have the capability to move forward with contract manufacturing.”

“Thankfully Cortex has connections everywhere. They have the equipment, the expertise, and they have the size to scale it to an efficient cost. Once I get to the point where we’re comfortable with this iteration, I know I can say, ‘okay let’s go,’ let’s get this manufactured and they will be able to do that. Cortex has the engineers to figure out the certifications and standards. We’re going to take this idea, derisk it, prototype it, manufacture it, and commercialize it. I’m grateful because they’re very supportive, and want to champion female founders in this category.”

For more on FemTech, check out our recent profile of Cosm Medical, which is working to improve outcomes for a disease that affects one in four women — and one you might not have heard of.

© 2022 Cortex Design Inc.