For every woman, pregnancy is the most exciting period in their lives. Those nine months can be equally anxiety-giving and mystifying, too. From the selection of clothes to the choice of dishes to sleep posture, everything can be confusing. And, making things even more complex, you will be bombarded with information and advice from various
For every woman, pregnancy is the most exciting period in their lives. Those nine months can be equally anxiety-giving and mystifying, too. From the selection of clothes to the choice of dishes to sleep posture, everything can be confusing. And, making things even more complex, you will be bombarded with information and advice from various quarters. Ultimately, one will mostly end up worrying about things that hardly serve any purpose.
By being your birth companion, ILove9Months, a maternity wellness startup, helps solve these problems. “We understand that pregnancy is a rollercoaster ride. It is a time of immense joy but it comes with a myriad of challenges. Our vision is to make evidence-based information, support and infrastructure, affordable and accessible to the millions of pregnant women in our country, so that they can make the right choices for themselves and their babies,” explains Anjali Raj, Co-founder of ILove9Months.
While the idea of a dedicated app for antenatal and postpartum wellness of women was mooted by Anjali Raj, it was developed with the support of her mother Ganga Raj and Ganga’s sister Suma Ajith in 2016. Recently, at the fifth edition of the ‘Seeding Kerala’ investment summit conducted by Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) in Kochi, the US-based Equifin Venture Capital decided to do the first seed round investment in Maternia Care Technologies Private Limited, promoters of ILove9Months. This is Equifin’s first investment in India.
“Our short and long-term goals mainly focus on improving our technology, hiring new resources and expanding our presence all over India, the Middle East and other countries,” said Suma Ajith, Co-founder, in an exclusive interview with technopolis.
Excerpts from the interview:
Was fundraising difficult for you? Please share your experiences in detail.
Fundraising was definitely a challenge, but we believe it was largely ecause of our lack of understanding of the ‘She economy’. It took us time to create a trust for our innovation and services and spread awareness about them. Earlier, we have received seed funding from KSUM and KSIDC.
Tell us how the three of you decided to take up entrepreneurship and launch such an innovative venture?
There was an urgent need in India’s maternity wellness industry for an omnichannel organisation that focussed on improving maternity and infant outcomes. As all three of us are domain experts, we came together to start ILove9Months.
As startup entrepreneurs, it was a learn-as-you-go journey for us. We had the subject knowledge and skills required but everything else we picked up along the way. It was thrilling but challenging journey.
We mainly faced two challenges: we entered a niche area wherein we were highly dependent on the support of the clinical ecosystem or the healthcare ecosystem. Secondly, since the founders (we) were all domain experts, we faced challenges in creating a technical product.
Tell us about ILove9Months. In what ways does the startup help expectant mothers? What can we expect in the future?
ILove9Months is a maternity wellness organisation. We use ‘tech and touch’ to provide physical and emotional support to pregnant women and new mothers. Our products and services include:
• Mobile App – Preggo (pregnancy) and Kuddls (for new mothers). They are free mobile Apps which function as a complete guide to pregnancy, and mother and baby care with interactive and personalised health trackers. These trackers enable self-care and can be shared with clinicians.
• Sahodari Service – Pregnancy and after-birth care at home with a trained and tech-enabled personal companion, who provides breastfeeding support, mother and baby care, traditional post-delivery mum and baby massage therapy, emotional support and more.
• The Domatio – We manufacture and install breastfeeding pods meant for public places where women can feed their babies in a safe and private space. We also manufacture ‘lactation pods’ for corporate clients, wherein working mums can pump and store breastmilk, which can then be taken home when they leave the workplace.
In the future, we are looking at integrating AI, VR and IoT into our various products and services to make the support system better.
In your view, how robust is India’s startup ecosystem? What are the emerging trends? How is Kerala doing?
We would say that India’s startup ecosystem is passing through its golden age, the proof being there are 7-8 unicorns coming out of India. Kerala is also doing great and has improved its performance considerably in the last few years. And I guess this is quite evident from the national and international recognitions and awards they have received. Kerala is credited with taking startup spirit to college levels.
While there are distinctly specialised startups in the domains like health tech, fintech, space tech and deep tech, there is also a new breed of startups dealing directly with consumers in fields like food, nutrition, other services etc.
What are some of the biggest challenges/roadblocks you face in Kerala?
As mentioned earlier, some of the challenges that we have faced in Kerala have been: Resistance or lack of support from the clinical or healthcare system.
Ignorance about the importance of digital healthcare. | Deep-rooted traditional believes and resistance to accepting innovative and evidence-based models | Lack of decision-making ability or power among women regarding matters concerning their own well being.
How is your association with Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) going?
KSUM has been a great support and helped us very much in shaping our business and we would like to continue our association with them in the future.
What is your leadership style?
In a hyper-competitive environment, where millions of brands are trying to catch the imagination of clients and make them go for those products/services, it’s always easy to copy someone. And, it’s often difficult to choose between the ‘jugaad’ approach and the ‘right way’. Luckily, all our founders have a similar mindset on the issue and we always follow the ‘right way’ approach in decision-making. Though we have contrastingleadership styles, it eventually helps us in the respective roles that we play.
How many people do you employ? Is there a strategy for hiring?
Currently, we have 12 employees. We tend to recruit domain experts at the management level. At junior levels, we have been recruiting employees having a nursing background or aspiring and compassionate women who have a passion to work in the maternity industry. The employees we picked up share the company’s vision, stay committed to the cause and have the ability to manage personal and professional problems.
Please tell us about the recognitions that your startup has received so far.
January 2018: Winner, India-Israel Innovation Challenge in Digital Health. The award was jointly presented by Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.
February 2018: Destination Kerala Best Women Startup of the Year, Kochi | INBUSH ERA World Summit; Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Amity, University, Noida
April 2018: Future Kerala Best Startup CEO Award, Kochi
July 2018: Top 25 at SingularityU Global Impact Challenge, India
December 2018: Kairali TV Jwala Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Kerala.
“I used to work with hospitals, taking classes on antenatal care. Among, say, a group of 100 people who visit hospitals, only two or three can turn up during weekends to attend these classes. So we thought why not digitise our service so that people can access it from their homes”
Role: Co-founder and Subject Matter Expert & Social Media
• PhD in Health Sciences (2016-20) from Warwick Medical School, UK
• MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship from WMG, University of Warwick
• BBA from ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad
• Lamaze-certified Childbirth Educator
• CAPPA-certified Lactation Educator
• Infant and Young Child Feeding Counsellor
• Diploma in Hypnobirthing
• Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Instructor
• DONA-trained Doula
Loves to do when not working:
Cooking and baking are my hobbies outside of work and I absolutely love to make healthy homemade meals based on recipes sourced from across the world
A leader you admire:
A business you admire:
The design label – Sabyasachi. I admire people and organisations that work on revival. His design philosophy – ‘personalized imperfection of the human hand’ – had me mesmerized the first time I heard it. The label works on revival of forgotten traditions, fabrics and fashion. Using models having different body size and shape against body shaming and portrayal of ‘perfect bodies’ were a game-changer in the fashion industry.
Role: Co-founder and Sahodari Operations
Professional Qualifications: Trained Doula and has 15-plus years of experience in fitness consulting with specialty in pre and post-natal wellness. Over the years, she has completed Reebok Group Fitness, Institute for Yoga and Consciousness, AFAA Resistance Training, ACE Group Fitness, AFPA Prenatal Postnatal Exercise Specialist, Sivananda International Yoga Shiromani, SOHYAA Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga and IBBFA Barre certifications
Family: Husband, daughter and Bond, my golden retriever.
Loves to do when not working: Yoga and trekking
A leader you admire: Ratan Tata
A business you admire: Tata Group
Role: Co-founder and Product Development
Educational Qualifications: MSc (Speech & Hearing)
Family: I have a small family of four; my husband, daughter and Furry Angel, my dog
Loves to do when not working: Walking, badminton, music and travelling
A leader you admire: Dalai Lama
A business you admire: Amul