Building and running a successful startup was not part of Momwell founder and CEO Erica Djossa’s life plan. Djossa was working as a trained psychotherapist and said she planned to retire as a practicing therapist. 

After the birth of her third child, Djossa suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. Her experience looking for and receiving help started the shift in her life plan.

Experiencing care from the patient’s perspective

“It was really frustrating to me because I literally taught these skills for a living, and I was blindsided by the fact that I was struggling. I also didn't realize that maternal mental health was a specialty. In all my years of schooling and clinical experience, it was never taught,” Djossa said. “I stumbled into this gap in care through my own experience and started to connect with a lot of other moms to understand the prevalence of the issue.”

Djossa said that while one in five women will experience postpartum depression, the majority of family physicians and therapists are not equipped to provide the support they need. She added that many women experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety also often worry or are embarrassed about asking for help.

“If they go to a general therapist or general physician, they are often dismissed and told, ‘Welcome to motherhood. You just need to get some rest.’,” she said. “In our medical system, research, textbooks and procedures are anchored in men's bodies because those are the people who have been represented and researched.”

From a community to a thriving business

Djossa started sharing her experiences on social media to help support women adjusting to motherhood. She launched the Momwell online community in early 2020, and it has grown into a community of more than 500,000. The Momwell community organically reaches over four million moms across its channels, including social media, blogs, podcasts, and other content. Djossa said she saw an opportunity to build a business around providing maternal-focused care as the community grew.

“People felt seen, heard and recognized by the content that we were putting out. Many started reaching out, saying they wanted to work with me as a therapist. I started to think about how I could turn this into a business and expand my team, and that’s where Momwell the startup was born,” she said. “That’s the time I contacted Communitech about its Fierce Founders program and shifted into startup mode.”

Momwell provides education, courses and therapy for expecting and new mothers. What sets Momwell apart is they connect women with therapists who specialize in maternal mental health. 

“They understand the identity shifts, they know about the division of labor that happens and all the caregiving and invisible work,” Djossa said. “They know about the different risks that come with hormone fluctuation to help moms understand and validate what's going on during this time.”

Momwell is also working to improve care beyond its community. They are building a maternal mental health certification program for physicians and therapists to improve care and patient outcomes. Djossa added that Momwell is also expanding into the U.S. in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida this spring.

How Fierce Founders helped Momwell grow

Djossa joined the Fierce Founders Bootcamp program in the fall of 2022. The six-week boot camp program supports early-stage companies by helping founders like Djossa understand business models and market opportunities. 

“I’m a clinician. I don't have an MBA, so all of the business language was new to me. The Fierce Founders Bootcamp was a high-speed intro into everything that I needed to have in place to be a business. It was everything I needed to build out a roadmap and structure for the company,” she said. 

One of the core lessons in the Fierce Founders Bootcamp is understanding funding options, including bootstrapping and venture capital opportunities. Djossa chose the bootstrap path, and today, Momwell is approaching CDN$1 million in revenue this year.

“When you look at startups who are paces ahead in their journey from us, you look at them with a bit of, ‘How did they do that?’,” Djossa said. “Going through the Fierce Founders Bootcamp—and now the Fierce Founders Intensive Track—demystifies the process for you. It’s given me a concrete roadmap forward.”