Amidst the regionwide push of startup innovations and solutions in the health field, one particular segment remains quite novel, at least in the regional sphere: wellness.
In recent years, we’ve seen the GCC slowly catch up to the wellness craze that has swept the Western world, as more people are taking the time to improve their wellbeing, be it via self-education or a change in lifestyle.
Targetting this segment of the health industry is Valeo, an up-and-coming UAE startup that within less than a year since launch, has already secured $3 million in seed funding from notable investors like GFC, Nuwa Capital and Global Ventures.
How it works
The intensity of modern-day life has significantly impacted health and wellbeing with an increased number of people reporting feeling tired, fatigued, or burnt out. Wellness, as Valeo defines it, is about improving a person’s overall living experience through an understanding of the body and its needs.
“The right advice at the right time, based on your own personalized data, can change your life,” Nadine Karadag, co-founder and COO of Valeo, told the Abu Dhabi SME Hub. “With Valeo, we facilitate this process for the customer by making testing and receiving credible advice convenient.”
In essence, the startup offers users packages that they can order through its app, combining ‘at-home’ wellness tests and personalized advice from certified coaches covering a variety of areas such as lifestyle, nutrition, and movement guidance.
A user orders a package, and a nurse is dispatched to their home at a time of their choosing to conduct a blood test. This blood sample is then taken to partner labs and the results are analyzed and shared back with the user, who receives corresponding feedback and advice from Valeo’s certified coaches, which are also available for consulting by the client. Results include biodata such as a client’s vitamin levels, iron levels, zinc levels, and more, allowing the coach to help and prepare catered advice that is tailored to the user’s body needs.
“Testing is one of the most powerful ways to understand what is going on inside of your body. It’s really about taking control of your data and your body and understanding it,” Nadine noted.
From ailment to awareness
When both co-founders Nadine Karadag and Sundeep Sahni found themselves suffering from difficult health symptoms and medical conditions, they were at a loss when it came to getting the right medical and lifestyle intervention advice.
Things changed when Nadine met Jamie Richards, a UK-based nutritionist and clinical psycho-neuro-immunologist (now Valeo’s Chief Wellbeing Officer), who helped Nadine identify the cause of her conditions: stress. Working with Jamie on her diet, her breathing, an exercise regime, and a supplement course, Nadine was able to regain control of her health.
“I worked for a couple of years with Jamie,” Nadine recalled. “I went from being highly medicated to climbing mountains in Kyrgyzstan.”
After an introduction by Nadine, Sundeep found similar results with the UK-based specialist. Eventually, both Nadine and Sundeep came to the realization that there was a “gap in the market” when it came to wellness.
“When you’re sick, you go to a doctor, he diagnoses you and gives you some medication, but there are no convenient or credible options out there when it comes to wellness,” Nadine stated.
The two reinvigorated co-founders went to work on creating what would become Valeo, eventually launching the company during the pandemic. The duo succeeded in building an MVP and raised a $3 million Seed round.
“We really wanted to launch something that not only were we confident in as a business idea, but also something we were truly passionate about,” Nadine said.
Sundeep Sahni (left) and Nadine Karadag (right)
Wellness as a non-luxury
Traditionally, wellness has been restricted primarily to the elite, offered at luxurious resorts and retreats for a hefty price tag.
“This is the conversation that we as Valeo want to change,” Nadine explained. “Wellness shouldn’t be a luxury. Wellness is something that should be accessible to anyone looking to take care of their health.”
In addition to Valeo’s efforts, we have seen some change in this industry as of late, with influencers taking the stage to try and raise awareness about the topic. This often comes with a caveat, however, as it can be difficult to confirm the medical credentials of an internet personality or their truthfulness when it comes to a certain product given the subtleties of influencer marketing. On the other hand, we have seen hospitals try and enter this space, but given the distress that often accompanies a hospital or clinic visit, clients might not always be inclined to refer to them for wellness support.
Overall, this puts Valeo in an interesting position. Neither a hospital nor an expensive luxurious retreat, Valeo is able to offer a service that for most of the UAE and the Middle East remains novel and out-of-reach.
"Wellness tech is much more than just wearables that track your steps and sleep. A big part of our journey is about bringing awareness to wellness in the region and how you can use testing to improve your overall lifestyle," Nadine noted. "We don’t diagnose, we don’t prescribe any medication - we are complementary to healthcare.
“We are excited to bring this to the Middle East."
Rampant Vitamin D deficiency and other trends
One common trend Valeo noted among its users’ results was a Vitamin D deficiency, which could come as a shock considering the UAE is a sun-drenched desert nation. However, a recent study from 2019 verifies these findings, noting that “the Middle East and North African regions have a very high rate of vitamin D deficiency, which reaches 81 per cent among various age groups.”
Issues like this might seem minor at first, but in fact, could seriously affect a person’s energy levels and mental state. Solving them is at the core of Valeo’s mission, which is done by bringing a holistic solution and approach to improving mental and physical wellbeing.
Supplement misuse was another issue Valeo identified.
“One of the things that we realized is that people are either deficient in a certain mineral or nutrient, or are over-consuming supplements, or using low-quality supplements. A lot of the supplements people are taking are not catered to their bodily needs or are not even required in the first place.
“The only way you can know if you need a supplement is if you test regularly”
Moving forward, Valeo will continue to raise awareness on issues such as this and others. Additionally, and given its recent cash infusion, the startup is eyeing expansion: first to Saudia Arabia, followed by the rest of the GCC and eventually the Middle East.