55% founders rate ‘raising investment’ as the prime stress


EMPWR is an exclusive mental health partner for WAMDA and Microsoft for startups, to create and publish a research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to Covid-19 in the MENA region.

EMPWR has helped to formulate the questions for the survey, monitored the progress of the report, and led the project, along with Lara Fakih from WAMDA. EMPWR has also been instrumental in enabling the partnerships needed to generate the report – which included Labayh from the KSA; O7 Therapy from Egypt; Nafas from Oman; and My Wellbeing Lab, Takalam, Mindtales, and H.A.D. Consultants from the UAE.

The report is the first to record data regarding the mental health and wellbeing of entrepreneurs in the region, with a specific focus on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic. The results of the research indicate that startup founders undergo higher levels of stress, than the rest of the region, with twice the likelihood of developing depression issues.

55% of Startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress; the pandemic was the second most-cited reason, by 33.7% of respondents. 35.9% of founders rate the state of their mental health as ‘bad’, and 44.2% spend at least 2 hours a week trying to de-stress. The report also includes a mapping of the mental health startups in Mena, a third of which were launched over this past year.

“It has been fascinating to witness the impact of relationships between start-up co-founders and their companies, in the aftermath of the global pandemic,” comments Ally Salama, CEO at EMPWR. “Many described their relationships with such partners and cohorts as being more like family. We found that entrepreneurs operating as a team were more likely to have a stronger sense of wellbeing, and suffer less loneliness. We have only begun to scratch the surface of this issue. Nuanced and detailed research is needed, to develop a more sophisticated understanding of this phenomenon”, added Ally.

Other insights, uncovered by the report, include:

  • A good relationship between co-founders can help startups navigate the pandemic-hit market. More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends
  • More research is required around the pressure created by the need to achieve growth, fund-raising; as well as by the risk of failure
  • Many entrepreneurs live well below their means to fund their ventures, leading to stress that is detrimental to their health
  • Entrepreneurs are increasingly valuing their mental health more than ever, yet results show only 9.9% rate their mental health as good
  • There is a critical need for accessible, and affordable mental health services, that cater especially to entrepreneurs.

In the past, EMPWR has worked with government entities – including the government of Canada, the Dubai Police, and the UAE government entity, Sharjah Capability Development as well as several leading corporates; to offer research related to mental health. EMPWR is also in the process of launching a culture-oriented, centralised, and comprehensive network, aimed at providing youth in the region with a peer-support and mental health resource. This initiative will lead to the EMPWR app, and the upcoming EMPWR Hub, in an attempt to increase conversations around mental wellbeing, among young people in the region. EMPWR’s extensive experience and strengths prompted market heavyweights like Microsoft and WAMDA, to partner with EMPWR, to create this report on mental health and wellbeing report.

With only 2% of healthcare budgets in the MENA region currently spent on addressing mental health, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young entrepreneurs and achievers could lead to an economic burden of $1 trillion, by 2030.

“28% of the population of the Middle East is between 15 and 29 years old. Mental health issues are widespread among them but less than half are willing to seek help, due to cultural stigmas and stereotypes. Our attempt, at EMPWR, is to mainstream the conversation around the issue, so this silent epidemic, which is particularly rampant among the region’s youth and entrepreneurs, can be addressed”, Ally reiterates.

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