Building the Starbucks of healthcare in Egypt

A Dawi Clinics branch in Cairo.

A Dawi Clinics branch in Cairo.

Magda Habib has always been drawn to building new businesses. For the first 15 years of her career, she was part of the executive team that built Egyptian technology brand Raya Holdings. Then she co-founded Fawry, a leading e-payment platform in the country. Habib left Fawry in 2015 when a major stake of the business was sold to a consortium of international investors and has since moved her focus to outpatient care (any medical services offered where the patient does not have to be admitted to a hospital) with the founding of Dawi Clinics.

Healthcare is not my background, but … the idea of a Starbucks chain of clinics was what inspired me to get into this business,” Habib told participants in a webinar hosted by the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund.

Habib and her two co-founders, Nader Eskandar and Mairose Doss, spotted a gap in Egypt to target the market segment wedged between the very wealthy niche group who can afford private local healthcare or who travel abroad to meet this need, and the majority of the population that relies on the public healthcare system.

She explained that Egypt is a populous nation with 100 million people where there is a large public healthcare service, providing “sub-optimal services to many” and then a fragmented private sector offering.

This fragmentation leaves a large part of the patient client base at a loss to which doctors to go to. The concept of a family clinic, for example, where the entire family’s medical history would be on file and up to date – and where a variety of outpatient care options is readily available at affordable prices – was simply not available in the country.

“That causes a lot of inconveniences as well as a lot of compromises on the health outcomes of the families,” says Habib.

The founders’ set a goal to establish a retail chain of clinics that was “standardised and scalable, where quality of services is driven by guidelines and the doctors are part of an organisation and a structured delivery mechanism”.

Thus, the comparison with Starbucks, where the global coffee brand has built its success on a standardised, consistent approach to products and services.

Raising funds

The three co-founders approached the market for funding right before the Egyptian pound devaluation in 2016.

“It was a very difficult time to raise funds,” recalls Habib. “Fortunately, we tapped into some local liquidity trapped in that period in Egypt.” The company’s first funders were a group of high-net-worth individuals and, by 2018, it had opened four branches in Cairo.

“The traction was clear. People were appreciating the modern, clean and basic clinics that we had opened.”

Dawi Clinics currently has 12 outlets in Egypt.

Dawi Clinics provides holistic healthcare for the whole family. It offers comprehensive medical services and has doctors in all major medical specialities, including internal medicine, paediatrics and dentistry. Pathology labs also form part of the offering.

“We have everything an Egyptian family would need in terms of outpatient medical care on a day-to-day basis.”

Telemedicine and expansion

Dawi is currently integrating a telemedicine offering into its services. “Telemedicine has been a buzzword since the Covid crisis started,” notes Habib. She says it is too simplistic to understand this only as a doctor-patient interaction over a live chat application or interface; it should be integrated into a comprehensive network for healthcare delivery as an additional component and not as a replacement for face-to-face contact and consultation.

“Physician-patient interaction cannot be entirely consummated over remote chat.” Telehealth tools are also valuable, she adds, for physicians to use when they want to consult with their peers on a specific case.

Dawi is constantly being approached by health-tech startups. “Like any startup scene, some of them will succeed, some will not succeed. The market will clear itself out within the next couple of years.”

She does see potential in the different layers of technology that can assist physicians to provide better healthcare. Firstly, the applications required to capture medical data should be in place to get the data digitised. Secondly, is the layer where physicians can access decision-support tools when analysing the data. “The intelligent tools built into your day-to-day workflow will help the physicians tremendously,” says Habib. Thirdly, there is the aspect of patient empowerment, where the data is accessible to patients and they feel part of the decision-making process where it concerns their health.

“It is a layered approach. You have to have the data, then the physician access tools that are intelligent enough and then the patient engagement tools. And on top of all that, you can have a telemedicine layer,” explains Habib.

Currently, the company has grown its reach to 12 clinics. These are spread across Cairo, as well as the cities of Tanta and Mansoura.

Going back to the Starbucks comparison, she explained that Dawi prefers to expand its network in terms of a cluster approach. “We like to have a few clinics that are geographically close to each other so that we can manage them from an administrative and supervisory level as a cluster. Our target is definitely to reach all urban centres around Egypt. We have started with the East Delta, then West Delta, and yes, definitely Upper Egypt and Canal Zone as well.”

In the next two to three years, says Habib, Dawi Clinics is aiming to bump up its number of clinics to 50.