The route to having a child, if you’re unable to conceive naturally, is one of those things people rarely think about until they come up against it directly. The sparsity of information, postcode lottery and not to mention the emotional and financial strain it can put on families, can be overwhelming. That’s why, when we met Nader, it was a no-brainer for us to back him and his vision to support families and their fertility with Gaia.
Nader AlSalim went through four failed IVF attempts at three clinics in two countries with a price tag of £50,000 before he and his wife got pregnant. Just like millions of people each year, his path was expensive, emotionally taxing, and lonely. Nader saw a problem and sought to find a solution —he exited a 14-year career in investment banking and started Gaia, a London-based startup combining reproductive health data and financial technology to make fertility care accessible to everyone.
“This is not a woman’s issue. This is a family issue.”
— Nader AlSalim, Founder & CEO, Gaia
Nader has very clear ambitions. He’s not building another femtech business. “This is not a woman’s issue, it is insane that people think that.” he points out. “This is a wider family issue underpinned by many socio-economic factors and delayed parenthood. And what Gaia is doing is making sure that more people have awareness and financial access to building families.” We are thrilled to back Nader and the entire Gaia team in their $3million seed round alongside Kindred Capital and US-based Clocktower Ventures. To learn more about Nader’s background and thoughts on why fertility care has been overlooked, we recently sat down to ask him a few questions.
What is Gaia all about?
Gaia is about solving access to fertility care. We divide access into two core pillars: information and financial. Our starting position is that Gaia will better prepare people for their fertility journeys. We created a program that uses curated information to make the learning process manageable and digestibleWe call this “breadcrumbs learning”; it mimics how people learn today. Then we start understanding the person behind the patient. By that I mean analyzing patient information and comparing it with data from previous IVF patients to provide a personalised prediction of IVF success. As opposed to shooting in the dark, which is what happens today. At this point, many people realize that they cannot access fertility treatments because they either cannot afford it or they are unsure of the costs involved.
This is when our main value proposition kicks in. We use data to predict IVF outcomes. And in turn, Gaia can help clinics develop tailored financial packages using accurate, data-driven predictions about a patient’s likelihood of success. Think of a new kind of insurance where you know how much you are covered for upfront and what is the maximum you will ever pay. We are basically enabling people to access their most optimal IVF treatments and not drop out due to cost or some financial unknowns.
What is the founding story behind Gaia?
Gaia never really started out as a company. It was a much more organic process. It started as a list of questions my wife and I had as patients. We have gone through many failed IVF cycles, four to be precise. We got pregnant on the fifth. That cost us about four years of our lives. Three clinics in two countries and £50,000 later, a baby showed up. This is not unique to us. There are millions of people that go through this struggle yearly across the globe. And it’s a silent struggle — there’s this stigma of shame and guilt that surrounds fertility which no one really talks about it.
Gaia started with a very, very simple hypothesis: can we as a couple take the guesswork out of getting pregnant through IVF? And by doing so, can we improve financial planning around it. The reality is, when it comes to fertility, everything is opaque. diagnosis, medication, success rates, embryo selection, etc… But on one hand, we have groundbreaking scientific breakthroughs in the shape of deep learning models predicting the shape of proteins with many complex twists and tangles but when it comes to a much simpler IVF process, it is a black box. We barely understand it’s physiology but nothing else really. So there is clearly a disconnect between what’s happening in biology and data in general and what is happening in reproductive medicine. Which is not much. And that latter remains a very expensive component of healthcare.
From a patient experience perspective, ours was sadly really typical of a broken health care system that often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Hence, Gaia was more of an idea to take on that system, understand data, and redesign access to fertility care on a more equitable basis.
Before this, you were in investment banking for 14 years. Was it difficult to leave behind a lucrative career to start Gaia?
Yes it was. On a rational level, the risk-reward of starting a start-up never really adds up. It may sound cheesy but it’s the underlying motivation that makes this worthwhile. I mean if you combine building a super charged for-profit company while being mission driven and doing a component of social good, I think that’s a very unique place to be. And I think I just, by complete chance, found that spot. And I am very grateful for that. It wasn’t really a decision. It was more of a natural conclusion of events.
I frankly had no aspirations to be an entrepreneur. I’ve always thought entrepreneurs are crazy to think that they can beat the odds. But an opportunity presented itself. I was a user. I had a crystal clear understanding of the pain points. I also had a clear idea of how to redesign the process. Starting with something I have a lot of experience in, analyzing risk.
Why is fertility care such a cloudy and slimy-understood space?
“It’s a silent struggle — the stigma, the shame, the guilt. This needs to change.
I’ll give you this stat. According to the World Health Organization, Fertility is the third-most serious disease globally, after cancer and cardiovascular disease. It affects one in five couples in some form or shape. There are a couple of things that come into play here. For one, people treat it with less seriousness than any other disease because they think, if you can have a baby, that’s great. But if she can’t, then there’s no life lost. But, mathematically, it’s the same thing: the lack of ability to create a life is exactly the same as taking away life. The second thing, which I think is a deeper issue, is that it’s still stigmatized. You don’t just walk into a dinner party and discuss your bad sperm or your horrible IVF journey. We don’t do that. It’s a silent struggle — the stigma, the shame, the guilt. This needs to change.
What excites you most about the fertility care space?
How terrible it is.
If you really think about it, there isn’t a brand or service today for when men and women want to go and build a family. And there is a brand or a service for almost everything else. Our thesis is that in the last 5-10 years the family – as a social construct – has fundamentally changed and will continue to do so. But the path to parenthood hasn’t really. It has just become far less linear. We believe that the non-linearity of that path will pose more challenges to family formation across the whole spectrum. From awareness and information to access, affordability, and better patient journeys.
I also like that we are at the intersection of healthcare and fintech. Access to and affordability of healthcare is increasingly becoming a critical component of everyone’s life. So the exciting opportunity is to build a trusted brand in a category rich in consumer emotion, engagement, and spend, but currently devoid of reliable access or information.
What surprised you most about the fertility space since you started working on Gaia?
I have found that what’s even more difficult to talk about than the emotional pain is the financial cost. No one wants to put a price on the ability to conceive, or think about how relative wealth or NHS eligibility can be the difference between having a child or not. When I went through IVF, I was in a privileged position in my life where money was less of an issue. And I was very grateful for that but I never really appreciated to which extent people suffer with the financial component of treatment.
Many people go through the whole IVF process and they end up worsening their family’s financial conditions for years to come because they’ve taken on expensive credit card debt, remortgaged their house, dipped into savings, etc.. To listen to these stories first hand is always eye opening.
You’ve just announced your recent fundraising round. What are your immediate next goals?
Hire a team that can build a company that launches products people love. We’re trying to be thoughtful in terms of how we execute. The immediate goal is to launch our first product in the first half of this year. During that time, we’re investing in our brand, developing our product and building a network of top tier clinics to work with. Long term, we have this north star of turning fertility care on its head and changing its future. How? We don’t know yet but to start we need to create a magical experience for our immediate users and that relies on getting the best and the brightest minds early doors.