Nour Emam is a social media-savvy doula, educator and women's health advocate with a cause: teaching women about reproductive health in a safe space that arms them with reliable information that empowers, debunks myths and raises awareness about related mental health issues.
From that mission sprang Mother Being, a Cairo-based online platform that offers courses and content to educate Arabic-speaking women about their bodies on topics ranging from menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, post-partum care to sex education.
Delivered in a conversational, accessible, entertaining and sometimes humorous way, the social media videos and online courses featured on Mother Being's platform are aimed at busting misconceptions, breaking stigmas, helping women understand their medical rights, communicating effectively with their doctors, reducing the rates of unnecessary or forced C-sections and ending obstetric violence.
"The passion driving us is making reproductive and sexual health education very accessible and shame-free for Arab or Arabic-speaking women," Ms Emam says.
FemTech start-ups, which sit at the intersection between technology and female health, are garnering increased opportunities. The global market for female-targeted technology is projected to reach $60 billion in 2027, more than tripling from $18.75bn in 2019, according to Emergen Research. The market for women's health technology is attracting more investment from government and the private sector as well, particularly in areas including fertility, pregnancy, egg-freezing, feminine hygiene products and medical diagnosis tools.
"It is definitely an underserved industry, especially in the Mena region, but it looks very promising for existing FemTech companies like us and new ones that will emerge in the coming years," Ms Emam says.
Ms Emam set up Mother Being as an Instagram account in January 2020 initially to advertise her services as a doula. But she quickly expanded the platform when she received a flood of questions from younger women seeking better understanding of menstrual cycle and other topics.
The account's following exploded amid the MeToo movement in Egypt that renewed outrage about sexual violence against women and prompted scores of those who have been sexually harassed to break their silence and share their experiences online.
Having been schooled as a doula, Ms Emam also obtained training as an educator on sexual health as the scope of her business expanded.
"It’s a continuum, you can't fight for birthrights and ignore the fact that most women have been subjected to sexual violence or female genital mutilation (FGM) and we need to talk across that continuum," she says.
Mother Being also addresses the mental health issues that may arise from reproductive and sexual health complications and misconceptions.
"We don’t just deliver biological formation, the work we do shifts mindsets and we focus on the psychological aspect of physical issues," Ms Emam says. "We talk about a 360-degree approach."
One such critical area of support is for women who have gone through genital mutilation. While awareness campaigns against the practice are important, the focus must also shift towards survivors of FGM, Ms Emam says.
"No one is talking to women who have gone through it already to hold their hand, to say 'life is not over, there's help, there's reconstruction operations, there's therapy'," Ms Emam says. "This is the work we do. We're always focused on women who have experienced it and how to help them through that."
For those who require more mental health support, Mother Being also provides references for more specialised assistance.
The discussions that Mother Being generates are relevant because female reproductive health has long been a taboo subject, often shrouded in mystery or shame. So the videos and courses help to eliminate misinformation and harmful practices, she says.
With women's reproductive health concerns often marginalised, Mother Being highlights prevalent problems such as the Gender Pain Gap where healthcare providers sometimes minimise women's pain, which in turn takes them longer to get diagnosed, Ms Imam says.
"We’re solving this issue by giving women the information they need to advocate for themselves," she says. "We’re putting power back to where it should be, the patient has power to ask questions."
Mother Being offers three online live classes on birthing, priced at 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($76), on menstrual cycles (600 pounds) and a culture-sensitive course on female-centred sex education (800 pounds).
"It's the kind of information we don’t get in school or households," Ms Emam says. "These women, even if 30 years old, are floored by this information."
Its main target audience, Ms Emam said, was women aged 18 to 35 but it planned to add content on menopause, an underserved area of reproductive health, to address the full cycle from menstruation to menopause.
Going forward, she plans to move the live classes to a recorded format and expand to create Mena's "go-to" reproductive health school with new courses and medical specialists.
The start-up currently boasts 1.4 million users on Instagram and TikTok, with 2,000 people paying for courses, 30 per cent of whom are repeat customers.
Demand for the coursesis robust, thanks partly to Ms Emam's approach of injecting humour to normalise difficult topics. It recorded a 17 per cent month-on-month rise in its user base and a 44 per cent month-on-month average increase in revenue this year.
It also earns revenue through the paid courses and paid partnerships with pharmaceutical and wellness companies that advertise their products through Mother Being's social media awareness campaigns. Brand tie-ups comprise around 50 per cent of its monthly revenue.
The ambitious entrepreneur plans to further grow the business by building an app and website where users can access free content, purchase on-demand courses and "engage within a community of curious learners", Ms Emam says. To do this, she will hire more talent including in marketing and business development.
The start-up will also beef up its marketing in Saudi Arabia – its second biggest market after Egypt – the UAE and Jordan.
To better cater to women, Mother Being will also eventually launch its own products within the women's health and well-being segment.
Ms Emam hopes to hit these growth targets by 2022, or even sooner if she secures the right investment.
Mother Being will eventually require a total funding of up to $500,000 to transform the business but has not yet secured the money and is looking into grants or donors rather than big-ticket investments, Ms Emam says.
Mother Being is at the "forefront" of a shift to change the male-dominated narrative about women's reproductive health, she says.
"We know we’re in a very sweet spot where we tick all the right boxes: impact women’s health, the FemTech industry that’s of global interest, we’re creating tangible change and I see that when we meet people or see them on streets with the feedback we get and courses sold every month," she says.
1. Which other successful start-up do you wish you had started?
I totally look up to KindBody in the US and hope to be able to venture into something similar in the Mena region.
2. What is your next big dream to make happen?
I want to implement nationwide doula training and women-centred training in medical and nursing schools, making it mandatory for healthcare professionals to get this type of patient-centred care training. I also want to implement nationwide sex education courses for victims of FGM and to make sustainable menstrual products accessible to the Mena market.
3. What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?
Managing a team, running a company (in terms of finances, strategy, planning), being comfortable in a leadership position, learning to be disappointed and feel defeated and then using it to fuel me to keep going, realising that it is OK to ask for help and that I cannot do it all.
4. How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?
Covid-19 has been the reason we succeeded and why we are where we are (luckily). People were on their phones at home very often and it was the perfect time to shine on social media and market the business. It was challenging but it also worked in our favour.
5. What is the importance of reproductive/sexual health services during this pandemic?
People are more aware and "woke" about their rights and are seeking information hungrily online. In a time where people were isolated and locked inside their homes, social media and education online was a great place to connect and learn collectively.
6. What is next for Mother Being?
We're building the Mena region's Reproductive & Sexual Health School – a fully-fledged tech platform where Arabic speakers can learn from healthcare professionals and educators, interact with like-minded individuals, ask questions and purchase the best products in the market for their reproductive and sexual health needs.
I also like to believe that we will have implemented tangible changes in the medical sector by pushing for women-centred care and special courses within medial school or nursing school and partnering with the Ministry of Health to hopefully change some policies around obstetric and gynaecological violence. Doctors should be held accountable and women need to be heard and believed.
8. What changes in health care should female patients expect?
Women will be more aware and body literate, which will reflect in how doctors are able to work. Women will no longer settle for what they have dealt with over the years and will either call doctors out or switch to other doctors which in turn will force doctors to change their ways. I'm hoping we see a reduction in cesarean rates, reduction of STD rates through sex education but also having safe doctors to go to when you need to get checked.
Company name/date started: Mother Being / Founded in January 2020 and incorporated in February 2021
Founder: Nour Emam
Based: Cairo, Egypt
Sector: FemTech, women's health
Size: (employees/revenue) Six employees
Stage of investment: Pre-seed stage