Heba Shaheed gave birth to her first child on International Women’s Day, just two weeks ago. But having the newborn at home has only heightened her determination to build her online business focused on women’s pelvic health.
She left her physio practice in December last year to start The Pelvic Expert, a one-stop shop offering online courses, resources and other tools to help women take control of their pelvic health, and is currently further expanding it through an HCF/Slingshot business accelerator program. She’s a passionate advocate for women’s health, particularly those issues that are often viewed as ‘normal’ consequences of having a baby, such as pelvic discomfort, prolapse and incontinence.
Having specialised in pelvic physio, she also knows the market for women looking for more information on pelvic-related issues is huge. “I met a lot of women with pregnancy and pelvic related issues who just didn’t know what next to do,” she says.
“I love helping women and giving them answers to issues that they haven’t been able to find answers to, some who’d seen 10 to 20 different people for help … It’s rewarding and I love it and that’s why my vision is to make it a conversation that’s not taboo – like breast cancer was, we can now really easily talk about it.”
Shaheed says women would often come to her confused about the pain, discomfort or prolapse they were suffering, and thinking their only option was surgery. “They often ask, why didn’t anyone tell me this could happen? And why is it that the first word people are saying to me is ‘surgery’? Prolapse affects one in three women, but even just ten minutes of exercise a day can be help.
“If women can’t talk about these issues, they think they’re alone.”
Shaheed is also one of the one in ten Australian women who suffer from endometriosis, a disease that has seen her suffer debilitating pelvic pain — which first got her interested in pelvic health.
“I have a long history of endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain that took over my life for a number of years,” she says. “I wanted to find out the best possible way to help heal myself, and so started learning more about physio.@
Baby and an accelerator program? No problem
Shaheed is further building The Pelvic Expert through HCF Catalyst, an accelerator program run between HCF and Slingshot that aims to help founders developer their health-focused online startups.
With her two week old baby at home, she says she’s been able to skype into sessions with the HCF/Slingshot program and is working on further developing her pitching skills. Her mother-in-law is helping her at home, while her husband, a co-founder in the business, has taken four months off from his corporate role to also help with the baby and the business.
“It’s a juggle but it can definitely be done,” Shaheed says. “And as we know a lot of new businesses are started by women when they become mothers, at that time when you might stop a corporate role or something else.”
She applied for the program online, after meeting the head of Slingshot Karen Lawson at a CBA Women In Focus event. “They loved the idea of trying to improve women’s health at a larger level,” she says,. “That’s the beauty of networking and getting out there and meeting people, forming as many connections as you can.”
Upon pitching the idea to the judges, she admits she was immediately put off about the number of people in the room – having initially thought she’d be presenting to just the six judges. “I wasn’t used to presenting to corporates, and particularly to men!” she says. “When I stood up, I knew my pitch but I had a mind freeze, and for about 10 seconds I couldn’t remember what I was going to say. I thought I’d messed it up. They were so kind to me, Karen told me it would be Ok. They emailed me later saying the value proposition is still really important.
“It showed that while your first pitch can be terrible, you’re still learning, and you can still get through.”