The following is an interview with one of the Co-Founders of Mojo – Mohamed Taha – about the inspiration behind Mojo, how sociocultural norms impact the conversation around Infertility, how male fertility fits into the FemTech landscape and more!
Hi! Lovely to have you here, could you start off briefly by introducing yourself:
I am Mo. I grew up in Egypt and moved to the EU to pursue a scientific career in quantum physics, and in 2018 I founded Mojo along with Daniel, Tobias and Fanny to help 100M people preserve their fertility.
Before co-founding Mojo, I worked on creating new nanomaterials to develop precise bio-and-chemical sensors, and I managed the healthcare branch of my family fund, focusing on helping about a million patients with chronic diseases access world-class, affordable care.
What was the inspiration behind Mojo?
Our ambition to disrupt the fertility industry began after my first sperm test.
I had just been diagnosed with a kidney disease (which later turned out to be a misdiagnosis), and my doctor advised me to monitor and freeze my sperm as a precaution. According to the World Health Organisation, an average sperm count is around 15 million sperm per milliliter (m/ml) of semen, and my sperm count was 15 times lower. Concerned, I chose to do a second analysis at a different clinic, and, to my surprise, the result was far more optimistic: 20 m/ml. However, a third analysis gave me a sperm count of 3 m/ml.
It was frustrating…every time I did a sperm test, I would get a different result. I wanted to understand the reasons for the discrepancy and found out that: most fertility clinics don’t employ a specialist in measuring sperm or treating the male reproductive systems (known as andrologists); sperm analyses often don’t follow the gold standard WHO protocol; these tests are also usually done manually, using antiquated equipment.
After consulting multiple fertility doctors, they told me that, as a man, I shouldn’t worry about my fertility – in the worst-case scenario, all they needed from me was one sperm and that my partner could get in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment if necessary.
I found this advice absurdly alienating, sexist, and discriminating — how come in the 21st-century, fertility care is only offered to women?
I find this unacceptable for three main reasons:
1) fertility is 50:50;
2) According to Shanna Swan, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine and author of the book Count Down, the average men’s sperm concentration – that is, the number of sperm per milliliter of semen – has decreased by more than 50 percent in the past four decades, with the blame placed on factors such as environmental pollution and unhealthy lifestyles;
3) We’ve all heard horror stories about IVF, and it is a treatment focused on women, invasive and emotionally draining, and financially expensive. Noting that most people he speaks to didn’t diligently investigate male infertility before proceeding with IVF.
That’s how we decided to build Mojo. Our mission begins with helping millions of men to understand, improve and secure their fertility from the comfort of their homes.
How have sociocultural norms impacted Mojo? If you had to pick one barrier as being the largest one to impede innovation/conversations surrounding fertility, what would you say it was?
Men. Men for so long have been wrongly told that their masculinity is defined by being sexually invincible, resulting in taking their fertility for granted. We are changing this at Mojo, and we need to create a new “masculinity” dialogue assuring men that having an issue is not a problem, but ignoring it is a problem as it places the entire fertility burden on your partner.
What have some of Mojo’s biggest challenges been?
Access to funding
Unlike female investors, most male investors are surprisingly unfamiliar with the fundamentals of reproductive health such as fertility is 50:50, sperm quality declines with time (bio-clock), sperm could be responsible for miscarriages, sperm quality is a proxy for the overall men’s health… We need to do a massive educational part to excite investors with the opportunity and over-prove that there is a big need for our product.
The need for a reliable, affordable, and scalable fertility Infrastructure
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from some form of infertility. Many are opting for parenthood at a later stage in life – in their 30s and 40s – when the quality of their gametes (the egg and sperm) is no longer at their biological prime. Increasingly, couples have been forced to resort to assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine million babies have been born using IVF since the first such case in 1978. It estimates that the number will reach about >500 million in 2100. These data points illustrate the need for a new fertility infrastructure as the current analog one only meets 1% of the global demand. The existing infrastructure delivers 500K babies a year, and we need about 20X a year as a bare minimum to put the math differently (cf. source)
At Mojo, we had to start from the ground up, automating the fertility lab. We spent the first three years at Mojo engineering the world’s most cost-effective, reliable, and scalable robotic infrastructure – starting with Mojo AISA for sperm diagnostics and selection. With our infrastructure, we are becoming the leading d2c fertility care company, starting with helping men understand, improve and secure their fertility.
Clinics’ always omit fixing the male infertility factor, and chase the easy route — IVF.
The problem with the fertility space is that clinics are built to perform IVF – whether the infertility problem is men or women related, creating animbalance that affects men and women. We exist to become the partner for these clinics to identify and treat an underlying male fertility factor, perhaps we could reduce the need for a large portion of IVF if the underlying issue is a treatable men’s condition.
How do you see Mojo as fitting into the FemTech landscape?
Addressing Men by speaking to women -> flawed or non-existent sperm tests mean that the burden of fertility treatments too often falls on women,Mojo is looking to change that by addressing women and men through various communications and distribution channels.
Bettering science -> Mojo is essentially a data company. We are incredibly concerned with collecting standardized and proper data sets that help us create couple medical profiles to help personalize fertility treatments for the couple to achieve a healthy baby faster, cheaper and reliably.
What is one aspect of dialogue you wish was more present in the fertility conversation?
Men -> it is ok to have an issue, but it is not ok to ignore it.
Women -> we hope we could address men directly to pursue fertility check. To push our mission further, we need the power of women to reach men in the early beginning of our offering.
Do you envision collaborating with any other FemTech companies in the future?
As stated above, yes! We believe teaming up with fem-tech is inevitable for the growth and success of our vision of stopping infertility for 100M people by 2050. We team up with fem-tech to assist men and women have a comprehensive view of their fertility factors and how to improve the malefactor if needed.
Are you looking for any specific partnerships?
Yes! All the fem-tech and patient platforms are an excellent opportunity for us to begin the conversation about men’s health and fertility.
For more about FemTech, The Future of Fertility, How Sociocultural norms shape the conversation — don’t forget to register for the free + Virtual FemTechnology Summit: www.tinyurl.com/femtech22