Anjali Raj, a PhD student in our Division of Health Sciences, has been announced the winner of the ‘Young Entrepreneur’ accolade at the prestigious Kairali Awards in India in recognition of her work helping women before, during and after pregnancy. We caught up with Anjali to find out more about her project, ‘ilove9months’, and how it ties into her research at Warwick Medical School.
Tell us a bit about ilove9months
Ilove9months is the ultimate pregnancy wellness mobile app. It's a one stop app for women right from before they become pregnant until after they’ve had their baby. We aim to support them both through this app and home care services, empowering them to make the journey of motherhood safe, healthy, joyful and memorable.
Our objectives are:
• To make women wellness a norm across every socio-economic group.
• To build birth companion communities through a ‘train the trainer’ model so that every pregnant woman in India has a birth companion to support them physically and emotionally.
• To reduce rates of lifestyle-based pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, anaemia, hypertension, depression etc.
The app features expertise, extensive evidence-based wellness information, curated content and services, which are affordable and accessible. There are 4,000+ plus minutes of pre-pregnancy, pregnancy and post-pregnancy exercise videos, antenatal class videos, blogs, tips, articles and a host of free trackers (to record immunisation, infant development, foetal growth etc.) aimed at improving maternal and infant outcomes. Our trained birth companions provide women with the support and knowledge they require during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
Why did you decide to set it up?
My mum started the first fitness centre in Vishakhapatnam, India. While I was studying for my undergraduate degree in management I would come back during the vacations and see clients come up to my mum with various queries regarding fitness and nutrition prior to, during and after pregnancy. It was quite clear that there were a lot of worries and fears around pregnancy. Similarly, I would see the housekeeping staff and domestic workers coming to my mum for similar help.
Over time, I realised that the problems, questions and dilemmas faced by women during this crucial phase of motherhood are pretty much the same no matter what your background. Every mother wants to give her child the best start in life but very few know the range of things that can be done to help. Identification of this problem and my ongoing business education led me to develop the business idea of maternal wellness.
I received a scholarship to pursue a Masters in Entrepreneurship from WMG, University of Warwick, from 2013-2014. Here I learnt the basics of creating a business model and starting a business and gained exposure to maternal wellness services and systems in the UK. After a year of industry work experience, I was offered the Chancellor's Scholarship for a PhD in Health Sciences (2016-20) from Warwick Medical School. My company was incorporated in October 2016. Our beta version launched in April 2017 and a revised version in November 2017 and so far we have had over 3,400 downloads. I have a team of three other very senior and experienced professionals and also work with some outsourced partners.
Congratulations on your award! Can you tell us more about it?
Every year Kairali TV, a television channel based in South India, celebrates the work of women entrepreneurs native to the state of Kerala. The previous winners of these prestigious awards have gone on to be recognised on national and global platforms for their work. There are four categories - Young Entrepreneur, Social Entrepreneur, Established Entrepreneur and the Chairman’s Special Award. I was chosen for the Young Entrepreneur category.
How do you feel to have won?
When I first got the call saying I’d been selected, I just couldn’t believe it. My app has been in the market for less than a year so it was a big surprise that I’d been chosen by the jury for such a prestigious award! It’s been one of the most special periods of my life to be recognised and awarded for the work my team has put in to improve maternal wellness in India. A few days have passed since the award ceremony and the excitement is still sinking in. However, such recognition brings with it the responsibility to deliver more and our team is now even more motivated to take the company to the next level!
How do you hope ilove9months will expand in the future?
We’re currently looking for early stage equity investments of £20,000 to £100,000 to push our start-up into growth stage. With the funding, we’re hoping to immediately start our home care services (birth companions) and affordable utility e-commerce for mother and baby. We’re working on the launch of traditional Ayurvedic wellness products for women from pre-pregnancy to postnatal therapy, both in India and globally.
What are you working on here at WMS and how does your research link into ilove9months?
At the moment I’m studying for my PhD in Health Sciences at WMS. My project is a feasibility study on the impact of yoga on stress levels of pregnant women who have conceived with the help of fertility treatments. Infertility is on the rise across the world and more and more couples are suffering from the physical and emotional trauma of this condition. Yoga is a safe complementary therapy that can be used to combat stress levels and improve mental wellbeing. My research ties in with ilove9months because my objective in both is to improve maternal wellness irrespective of a woman's demographic or socio-economic background. At ilove9months we're also working on developing specific features related to infertility, which clearly links into my PhD as well.