Page last updated October 2021

Femtech isn’t just for the West: meet two African entrepreneurs changing the game

Meet two African femtech entrepreneurs changing the game

Nigerian entrepreneur Abisola Oladapo’s second child spent a week on life support after being born unable to breathe. “It was the most horrific week of my life,” Oladapo says.

Though her child survived the ordeal, she later realised this was not an uncommon experience: a family friend’s child was also unable to breathe when born, but sadly did not survive. Oladapo also discovered that, around the globe, 2.4 million babies die within a month of birth each year.1

Over one million of these deaths occur in Africa, where an estimated 300,000 babies do not survive more than 24 hours after birth.2 Yet, the World Health Organization estimates that over two thirds of neonatal deaths could be prevented using existing maternal and child health programmes.3

In 2016, Oladapo founded Mumspring, a company that provides pregnant people with personalised information about pregnancy and childbirth, in an attempt to tackle infant mortality in Nigeria. Mumspring is emblematic of a new wave of development in the femtech industry, which broadly seeks to address health issues that affect women and people with vaginas, such as menstruation and perinatal health, using technology.

Femtech companies have tapped markets in Europe and North America, but their technology has the power to change lives in hundreds more — including across Africa and Asia

The term “femtech”, coined in 2016 by Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin, is often associated with a group of popular apps, including the period tracker Clue that Tin founded. These apps usually collect health information over time, such as when your period comes, and give algorithm-driven insights into fertility, hormones, and more.

Mostly, femtech companies have tapped markets in Europe and North America, but their technology has the power to change lives in hundreds more — including across Africa and Asia. Entrepreneurs like Oladapo have stepped up to meet this need.

Mumspring’s flagship product is an app, called Agnes, that provides education on pregnancy and encourages parents to deliver their babies in clinics, where better hygiene increases a newborn’s chances of survival. Agnes operates through a partnership with Nigeria’s public health system; Nigerian state governments subscribe to Agnes on behalf of the patients they serve. By the end of 2021, Oladapo hopes Agnes will reach 20,000 users in twelve languages.

Mumspring has already begun to see results. In Nigeria, only 36% of women give birth in clinics.4 But among Agnes’ users, Oladapo says, “Seventy-nine per cent have their babies in clinics, so we’re seeing health-seeking behaviour already changing just by providing antenatal education”.

“Our app was created by local women for local women, and it’s something that our women can relate to. It’s not something that comes from America or the UK”

The objective is not to force new parents to think or act one way or another; rather, it is to provide them with the information they need to make decisions for their own and their children’s health. Agnes pushes content to users at specific stages of pregnancy and engages users from a Nigerian perspective — one that responds to the distinct socioeconomic realities and health needs of Nigerian people — rather than a Western one.

Oladapo is not alone in this line of work. On the other side of the continent, South African Jacqueline Rogers has spent the last few years developing My Pregnancy Journey, an app that, as its name suggests, guides users through pregnancy and helps them prepare for childbirth. Like Agnes, My Pregnancy Journey offers tailored content based on the user’s stage in their pregnancy. The app contains nearly 300 articles, which — crucially for users in areas where internet access is often sporadic — can be downloaded and read offline later.

Like Oladapo, Rogers wanted to create content to address the unique challenges faced by African women. “Our app was created by local women for local women, and it’s something that our women [in South Africa] can relate to. It’s not something that comes from America or the UK,” she says.

Though African entrepreneurs have taken the lead in introducing femtech to lower-resource areas, the burden need not fall entirely on their shoulders

Among these challenges are high adolescent pregnancy rates, HIV, tuberculosis, and inadequate nutrition — all of which Rogers has developed content to address. Before the company did any marketing for the app, My Pregnancy Journey had already received 13,000 downloads.

Within Africa, which has high birth rates as well as high infant mortality, apps like Agnes and My Pregnancy Journey could go a long way in changing perinatal health outcomes for the better. By 2025, sub-Saharan Africa will have nearly 750 million unique mobile phone subscribers,5 and with the gradual advancement of women’s rights and de-stigmatisation of women’s health issues, the opportunities for femtech companies to nurture positive change will only increase.

Mumspring and My Pregnancy Journey, along with a handful of other companies, represent only the beginning of what could become a lasting positive feedback loop. Though African entrepreneurs have taken the lead in introducing femtech to lower-resource areas, the burden need not fall entirely on their shoulders.

Femtech should not just be a sandbox for the privileged. While such companies in Europe and North America admittedly face their own challenges — from investors who get squeamish talking about periods to media platforms that don’t allow them to advertise — there must be a consciousness of health needs that is global in scope.

At the end of her interview, Oladapo adds that healthcare for new parents also needs to extend to the family unit. “Long term, how do we ensure that everyone, every family, has access to healthcare?” she asks. It’s a big question — one that the femtech industry alone is unlikely to find answers to — but, with a more global mindset, it will be well poised to begin looking.
 
 
Featured image credit: Nima Thomas. Featured image is of the Agnes team. From left to right: Michelle Ijomah, co-Founder & Director of Product; Noel Abotti, co-Founder & Director of Operations; Abisola Oladapo, co-Founder & Director of Growth
 
 
Page last updated October 2021

Nigerian entrepreneur Abisola Oladapo’s second child spent a week on life support after being born unable to breathe. “It was the most horrific week of my life,” Oladapo says.

Though her child survived the ordeal, she later realised this was not an uncommon experience: a family friend’s child was also unable to breathe when born, but sadly did not survive. Oladapo also discovered that, around the globe, 2.4 million babies die within a month of birth each year.1

Over one million of these deaths occur in Africa, where an estimated 300,000 babies do not survive more than 24 hours after birth.2 Yet, the World Health Organization estimates that over two thirds of neonatal deaths could be prevented using existing maternal and child health programmes.3

In 2016, Oladapo founded Mumspring, a company that provides pregnant people with personalised information about pregnancy and childbirth, in an attempt to tackle infant mortality in Nigeria. Mumspring is emblematic of a new wave of development in the femtech industry, which broadly seeks to address health issues that affect women and people with vaginas, such as menstruation and perinatal health, using technology.

Femtech companies have tapped markets in Europe and North America, but their technology has the power to change lives in hundreds more — including across Africa and Asia

The term “femtech”, coined in 2016 by Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin, is often associated with a group of popular apps, including the period tracker Clue that Tin founded. These apps usually collect health information over time, such as when your period comes, and give algorithm-driven insights into fertility, hormones, and more.

Mostly, femtech companies have tapped markets in Europe and North America, but their technology has the power to change lives in hundreds more — including across Africa and Asia. Entrepreneurs like Oladapo have stepped up to meet this need.

Mumspring’s flagship product is an app, called Agnes, that provides education on pregnancy and encourages parents to deliver their babies in clinics, where better hygiene increases a newborn’s chances of survival. Agnes operates through a partnership with Nigeria’s public health system; Nigerian state governments subscribe to Agnes on behalf of the patients they serve. By the end of 2021, Oladapo hopes Agnes will reach 20,000 users in twelve languages.

Mumspring has already begun to see results. In Nigeria, only 36% of women give birth in clinics.4 But among Agnes’ users, Oladapo says, “Seventy-nine per cent have their babies in clinics, so we’re seeing health-seeking behaviour already changing just by providing antenatal education”.

“Our app was created by local women for local women, and it’s something that our women can relate to. It’s not something that comes from America or the UK”

The objective is not to force new parents to think or act one way or another; rather, it is to provide them with the information they need to make decisions for their own and their children’s health. Agnes pushes content to users at specific stages of pregnancy and engages users from a Nigerian perspective — one that responds to the distinct socioeconomic realities and health needs of Nigerian people — rather than a Western one.

Oladapo is not alone in this line of work. On the other side of the continent, South African Jacqueline Rogers has spent the last few years developing My Pregnancy Journey, an app that, as its name suggests, guides users through pregnancy and helps them prepare for childbirth. Like Agnes, My Pregnancy Journey offers tailored content based on the user’s stage in their pregnancy. The app contains nearly 300 articles, which — crucially for users in areas where internet access is often sporadic — can be downloaded and read offline later.

Like Oladapo, Rogers wanted to create content to address the unique challenges faced by African women. “Our app was created by local women for local women, and it’s something that our women [in South Africa] can relate to. It’s not something that comes from America or the UK,” she says.

Though African entrepreneurs have taken the lead in introducing femtech to lower-resource areas, the burden need not fall entirely on their shoulders

Among these challenges are high adolescent pregnancy rates, HIV, tuberculosis, and inadequate nutrition — all of which Rogers has developed content to address. Before the company did any marketing for the app, My Pregnancy Journey had already received 13,000 downloads.

Within Africa, which has high birth rates as well as high infant mortality, apps like Agnes and My Pregnancy Journey could go a long way in changing perinatal health outcomes for the better. By 2025, sub-Saharan Africa will have nearly 750 million unique mobile phone subscribers,5 and with the gradual advancement of women’s rights and de-stigmatisation of women’s health issues, the opportunities for femtech companies to nurture positive change will only increase.

Mumspring and My Pregnancy Journey, along with a handful of other companies, represent only the beginning of what could become a lasting positive feedback loop. Though African entrepreneurs have taken the lead in introducing femtech to lower-resource areas, the burden need not fall entirely on their shoulders.

Femtech should not just be a sandbox for the privileged. While such companies in Europe and North America admittedly face their own challenges — from investors who get squeamish talking about periods to media platforms that don’t allow them to advertise — there must be a consciousness of health needs that is global in scope.

At the end of her interview, Oladapo adds that healthcare for new parents also needs to extend to the family unit. “Long term, how do we ensure that everyone, every family, has access to healthcare?” she asks. It’s a big question — one that the femtech industry alone is unlikely to find answers to — but, with a more global mindset, it will be well poised to begin looking.
 
 
Featured image credit: Nima Thomas. Featured image is of the Agnes team. From left to right: Michelle Ijomah, co-Founder & Director of Product; Noel Abotti, co-Founder & Director of Operations; Abisola Oladapo, co-Founder & Director of Growth
 
 
Page last updated October 2021

Maggie Wang

Maggie is an undergraduate at the University of Oxford. Her journalism lies at the intersection of policy, culture, and social justice and has appeared in The Isis, Human Rights Pulse, and elsewhere. She also writes poetry and music.

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References

  1. WHO, Newborns: improving survival and wellbeing, World Health Organisation, 19 September 2020 [online] [accessed 29th October 2021]
  2. Lawn, J. et al., Africa’s newborns — counting them and making them count, in WHO’s ‘Opportunities for Africa’s Newborns’, World Health Organisation, 2006, p 11 [online] [accessed 29th October 2021]
  3. Ibid
  4. Adedokun, S.T., and Uthman, O.A., Women who have not utilized health service for delivery in Nigeria: who are they and where do they live? BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2019, vol 19, no 93
  5. Chiou, B., Why Africa remains an untapped market for femtech, Raconteur, 28th March 2019 [online] [accessed 29th October 2021]