Abu Dhabi-Based Femtech Startup Ovasave Is On A Mission To Help Women Achieve Their Reproductive Freedom Ovasave is a tech platform that offers a variety of solutions for women to access seamless, integrated, and digitally-enabled fertility and egg freezing consultation services.
You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
Established in Abu Dhabi in July 2022, Ovasave is a femtech startup that is on a mission to empower women to understand and take control of their fertility. "We are driven by a strong vision to support women throughout their entire egg freezing journey, starting from testing their ovarian reserve, to the egg freezing treatment itself," says Torkia Mahloul, the French-Arab co-founder of Ovasave.
In line with its tagline, "freeze your eggs, not your ambitions," Ovasave is a tech platform that offers a variety of solutions for women to access seamless, integrated, and digitally-enabled fertility and egg freezing consultation services. These services range from a home anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) test that assesses how a woman's levels of AMH correspond to her egg count, to fertility services and egg freezing packages offered at Ovasave's vetted network of more than 50 partner clinics in 10 countries and 20 cities. In addition to making informed decisions about their reproductive health, women also get a choice to spread the costs with Ovasave's instalment plans.
Before starting up Ovasave, the Insead-educated Mahloul worked in investment banking as well as in the tech startup world, which included a role at Dubai-headquartered Careem. But Mahloul admits to having always had an entrepreneurial bent of mind. "From an early stage, I knew I wanted to make a positive impact on women's lives and solve real problems," Mahloul says. "However, I didn't have a clear vision of the specific problem I wanted to tackle." It was thus through her own egg freezing journey that Mahloul understood how tedious the process can be, and thus decided to work on a better way for women like herself to gain access to fertility preservation. "My decision to establish Ovasave was heavily influenced by my own fertility experience," she says. "I had just started a new role and moved to Dubai when a friend mentioned something that really hit me- our fertility declines quite rapidly in our mid-thirties. I was just about to turn 34, and, honestly, it [the process I had to undergo] was not only stressful, but also quite shocking. I realized that nothing in my education or personal life had ever prepared me for this reality."
While educating herself on this process by testing her ovarian reserve and exploring fertility options, Mahloul met Majd Abu Zan, who eventually became the co-founder of Ovasave. Abu Zan -who had 20 years of experience and knowledge of clinic operations relating to the fertility sector- joined hands with Mahloul to encourage more knowledge and a better understanding of this space across the UAE and the wider GCC region. Globally, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of women opting to freeze their eggs. In the UK, for instance, more than 4,000 patients froze their eggs in 2021, compared to 2,500 in 2019, according to the UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. In the US, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology states that the number of healthy women freezing eggs rose to 12,438 in 2020, from 7,193 in 2016.
Given that this process -and the in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure that follows- can be quite costly, women looking to start a family often opt to travel to other countries for more affordable options to do the same. This would indicate why, as per a study by Grand View Research, the global fertility tourism market is expected to grow at a rate of 30% over the next seven years. At the same time, the high costs associated with this process also explain why several companies globally -including Facebook, Apple, Uber, Google- are starting to offer sponsored fertility benefits for their employees.
Here in the UAE, the country adopted a new IVF Law in 2020 that allows freezing human embryos for a period of five years for married couples, while unmarried individuals can freeze their eggs or sperm for the same period of time. Although sperm and egg donations and surrogacy are still illegal in the UAE, the more favorable fertility preservation rules have nevertheless resulted in an upward trend towards fertility preservation, including a very sharp increase in women freezing their eggs, as noted in an Al Arabiya report in June.
Torkia Mahloul, co-founder, Ovasave. Image courtesy Ovasave.
"As a French-Arab woman who has personally experienced egg freezing in both the UAE and France, I find the fertility sector in the MENA region, particularly in the UAE, to be more advanced," Mahloul says. "While social egg freezing [i.e. the storage of the eggs of a healthy, fertile woman in order that she has the option to have a pregnancy later in her life] has only been permitted in France since last year, it has been successfully performed for several years in the UAE. It's also worth noting that fertility clinics in the UAE offer additional experimental treatments to enhance the egg freezing process. For instance, the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, known as ovarian rejuvenation, helps improve the levels of the AMH hormone, which is the indicator of ovarian reserve. This procedure aims to yield more and higher-quality eggs during the egg freezing process."
Given the availability of procedures like the aforementioned PRP treatment, Mahloul believes that the UAE (and the wider region, to a certain extent) are in tune with global trends when it comes to fertility- however, there is another pressing issue that requires attention. "In my opinion, the main concern is not the egg freezing procedure itself, as it is well-established and recognized by medical authorities as an effective way to preserve fertility, especially when performed at a younger age," Mahloul says. "Rather, what worries me is the lack of awareness among many women about their declining fertility during their reproductive years, leading them to neglect screening their ovarian reserve in their early thirties. It's time for this to change, and for women to take charge of their reproductive health."
And that's something that Ovasave can support women with, Mahloul adds. Ovasave's offerings start with an AMH self-test, and it can be then continued with general teleconsultations, or specific ones related to egg freezing. Then, if a woman chooses to freeze her eggs, she can opt between a package with or without medications, and the costs range from AED20,000 to AED 23,000, with the procedures done at its partner clinics in the UAE. "With our at-home fertility test, women can conveniently assess their ovarian reserve, and even have a teleconsultation with a fertility doctor, from the comfort of their own homes, all at a fraction of the usual clinic cost," Mahloul notes. "For those who have decided to preserve their fertility, we offer egg freezing packages through our pre-vetted network of clinic partners, and women have the option to spread the cost with our flexible installment plans. By simplifying fertility testing and egg freezing, making it convenient and affordable, we are also making these essential fertility services more accessible to a broader range of women. Our goal is to ensure that every woman has the opportunity to make informed decisions about her reproductive health, and achieve her reproductive freedom."
In less than a year since its founding, Ovasave has invested US$400,000 to cover establishment and tech development costs. "We are also fortunate to have been accepted into a number of incubators and benefited from various incentive programs," Mahloul adds. "Most recently, we were onboarded to Abu Dhabi-based Hub71 as part of its latest cohort. By joining this vibrant ecosystem, we will be able to tap into extensive network of partners and investors. The business-friendly environment and access to a strong talent pool will play a crucial role in supporting us, as we advance our mission to empower women in their fertility journey." Mahloul also reveals that the startup is now hoping to raise an early-stage funding amount of up to $2 million to invest in its technology and regional expansion, and it is also actively seeking developers to join its four-member team.
As for the road ahead, Mahloul is determined for her and her team to keep innovation at the center of all that Ovasave offers its customers. "Innovation is paramount in addressing the challenges of the fertility journey," Mahloul declares. "As the fertility sector is characterized by manual, fragmented, and complex processes, women may face difficulties due to a lack of education, time constraints, and financial resources. By embracing digitization, we aim to bridge this gap and enhance access to fertility services, making the process simpler, more convenient, and affordable for all women."
And as she reflects on her entrepreneurial journey with Ovasave to date, Mahloul reiterates the importance of entrepreneurs truly understanding the pain points of their future customers. "To my fellow Arab female entrepreneurs, I would say there are immense opportunities in the healthcare sector; so, focus on a real problem that you know exists, or have experienced yourself," she says. "Stay bold and stand strong behind your idea, despite any naysayers. Networking is crucial, so seek support and advice from different people, which can help shape your idea and business. Who knows, you might even find an incredible co-founder who can help turn your idea into a successful venture."