A conversation with Thato Schemer, co-founder of South African women-focused healthtech startup Zoie Health.

Zoie Health is a South African healthtech startup which recently raised an undisclosed pre-seed round to build out its product offering, “a holistic digital wellness platform for women by women”. The platform offers virtual and at-home consults, subscriptions for medications, resources and a community of women to support one another through healthcare issues.

TechCabal talked to co-founder Thato Schemer about the startup’s approach to healthtech, the challenges healthtech startups currently  face in the VC funding crunch, how Zoie Health intends to deploy its raised capital, and more.

TC: Please tell us about Zoie Health and the problem you are trying to solve through your product offering.

Thato Schemer: Our key insight was that healthcare is a space where women make majority of the decisions. 80% to 90% of all households have a woman making healthcare decisions even if it’s not for themselves. And what that really showed us was that women were the decision-makers within healthcare. They are the buyers of healthcare. As a result of that, we said, what if we bought a product that’s really focused on this particular target market of women and their families, especially because women have unique healthcare needs, given their biological makeup.

Off the back of those two key insights, we said to ourselves, there are currently no services or products that can offer the same benefits in the market using technology. And so through a process of research, we connected with hundreds of different women who gave us many different insights that confirmed our hypothesis, giving birth to Zoie health which provides affordable and accessible health care for women.

TC: What challenges would you say you have faced in trying to provide this solution to your target market?

TS:

Firstly, it’s a new solution right? So this idea of a women-focused healtech product is a very new type of solution. So just helping people understand what it is that we actually do, and how it’s differentiated, I think, has been a massive challenge for us. I would say we have made significant traction in addressing this information gap and now that we have built what I would say is a solid product, the education goes on so we can grow and scale this. 

TC:What was your experience in raising capital during a VC downturn?

The downturn did not make things easy. We contacted many, many different investors and from those calls, I would say what investors are looking for right now is models that are sustainable and scalable. For us, what was quite helpful is that we did target investors that understand how to invest in healthcare and healthtech, and really wanted to see the solution come to fruition. The second thing is that we really were fortunate enough to partner with investors who believe in the mission and vision of bringing equitable healthcare to the continent.

TC: How will Zoie Health deploy the capital you have raised?

TS: We are currently in a growth phase so it’s really important that a lot of that funding is spent on our current projects. They include expanding our B2B offering to target businesses and provide them with our service. That’s a massive one for us as we  look at product expansion and growing our product range.

We really want to make sure that we deploy the capital in a responsible and thoughtful way and ensure that we are getting the financial position of the company to a strong place as well.

TC: What would you say is the current state of healthtech in South Africa at the moment and how does Zoie Health intend to play a part in accelerating its growth?

TS: I think it has really been interesting post-COVID. Pre-COVID, healthtech was an industry that was still very small and did not stoke that much interest. I think what the COVID pandemic showed was that people were able and willing to access healthcare services online given that they weren’t able to do anything else. That definitely increased the adoption of healthtech services not just in South Africa, but across the continent. In 2020 and 2021, we saw healthtech companies really do exceptionally well on the continent.

I think what’s interesting about healthtech in the post COVID era is answering the question of  how it can evolve past people needing the services because of the pandemic to being robust enough to still be a necessity after the pandemic. So how are we keeping healthtech relevant? How are we driving people to adopt online services even if they don’t actually really need to? How do we make sure that we are communicating the value proposition in a way that’s not overly reliant on the needs imposed by the pandemic?

I also think that healthtech offerings in the continent are still extremely general. Zoie Health offers a differentiated and vertical solution and I think that’s what we are going to see more of in the future. In short, I reckon we will see startups building healthcare solutions for specific use cases or groups. So for example, in the US and Europe, which are a little bit further ahead of us in healthtech, they have startups  fundamentally focused on diabetes care, or others focused on obesity and overweightness. Others are fundamentally focused on providing hearing solutions. And so with us, we’re fundamentally focused on women’s health care because we believe it’s such an underserved area, and we want to contribute meaningfully to it.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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