Women often tend to put their health on the backburner putting the needs of their family first. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought this painful reality back in focus as women had to find newer ways to juggle work and family in the new normal.
Now, more than ever before, relevant information from experts is much needed to make informed choices about your health. Leading on this front is Aara Health, a women-centric healthtech company focused on building, creating, and providing scientifically-backed healthcare products and services to women in India.
Started by Ahilya Mehta, Mallika Sahney, Pragya Saboo, and Navya Nanda in April last year, Aara Health “wants to simplify health for women – without any jargon, stigma, or gatekeeping”.
The four women have different backgrounds but share a singular focus — women’s health. They met during the lockdown last year and bonded over their own experiences with gynecologists and health issues.
Women’s health first
Aara means “light-bringer”, and the founders’ approach is for it to be a light, friendly, approachable brand you can trust like a friend.
After graduating from Wellesley College in the US, Ahilya worked as an IT consultant in San Francisco and completed an entrepreneurship fellowship programme for female and non-binary first-time founders. Then, she returned to India and began working as an Associate Product Manager for StyleCracker before joining Aara Health full-time.
“My interest in women’s health and women in general started when I spent four months working with an NGO Seva Mandir in a tribal village called Kotra in Rajasthan to help victims of domestic abuse. This experience exposed me to the inequality that existed among women in India,” she recalls.
After completing her undergraduate and master’s degrees in the US in business, Mallika Sahney found a “love and passion for entrepreneurship”. Along with her job as Head of Strategy and IT for NRB Industrial Bearings, she is the CFO of Aara Health.
Pragya Saboo says a bunch of failed startups made her realise the different things “one shouldn’t do and increased her passion for entrepreneurship”. She completed her engineering degree at Georgia Tech and worked at Oscar Health as product manager.
“My experience with Oscar Health gave me insights into how much disruption can happen in the healthcare space, more so in India and for women. Also, being a woman, I have faced some of the biases and difficulties of navigation around the Indian healthcare system,” she says.
Navya Nanda is the youngest in the team, having graduated only last year from Fordham University in digital technology and UX design.
A preventative approach
Realising their skill sets complement each other, the four decided to work around the fundamental inefficiencies and vulnerabilities in the healthcare system towards women — from a preventative angle rather than a diagnostic or curative one.
“We all come from privileged backgrounds but at some point, we have experienced the stigma and taboo associated with feminine health. We’ve felt uncomfortable talking about sexual health and basic things like contraception and birth control. Also, our education system is not conducive to women speaking about issues in a classroom setting,” Navya says.
Aara Health serves as a digital-first platform that works closely with doctors and healthcare experts to create medically verified content for a target audience between the ages of 15 and 65. The startup works with over 140 experts and institutions that include the Cleveland Clinic, Imperial College, London, and doctors from Ohio and Abu Dhabi.
“The second is creating communities through the power of content, where we have been able to mobilise a number of women to talk about their experiences of feminine health or mental health,” says Pragya.
Community meetups are organised over WhatsApp, Telegram, or Zoom where “women can discuss their personal experiences and experts chip in to help them navigate through different health situations”.
Entering the nutraceutical space
Pragya Saboo and Mallika Sahney
The third aspect of Aara health, which will be launched soon, is ecommerce.
“We realised that there is a big gap in the Indian market for general supplements to support women’s health in a positive and effective manner. We are entering the nutraceutical supplements space with formulations by top experts,” she adds.
While offline programmes will take some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mallika believes their services will trickle down to the underserved very soon.
“At Aara Health, we do run “positive programmes” that are our way of giving back to the community like sanitary pad drives during the lockdown. We have also done work around a virtual healthcare information series with young girls between the ages of 11 and 15 from low-income backgrounds. We also partner with NGOs as part of our CSR and social impact initiatives,” Navya says.
All the content in the platform can be accessed free of cost.
In the last year, Aara Health has grown its community across all digital channels to impact over 35,000 women. Its bi-weekly community meetups host around 50-100 members each time.
“Our impact is not just in terms of numbers, but a lot of our numbers have had real life impact with our content, benefitting from the information and education,” says Ahilya.
Currently bootstrapped, the founders say running a startup during the pandemic has been challenging on some fronts.
“On ground, there have been large layers with the supply chain, and we have learnt to be very flexible with our environment. But if it weren’t for the pandemic, we wouldn’t have come together,” says Mallika.
As for the future, Pragya says there’s a lot to explore within ecommerce and uncover under content and community.
She says, “We are laser-focused on making sure we are successful in our three-fold approach for now and as things evolve, be more innovative.”