Founder Spotlight: Azra Salim W00

WAFFA
7 min readJan 28, 2024

“I have learnt to take the highs with the lows and to accept that no two days are the same in the life of a founder.”

Meet Azra Salim of Shombhob Health, an online pharmacy that enables women in Dhaka, Bangladesh to access medicines and personal care products with ease and convenience.

Born and raised in Bangladesh, Azra left to study finance at Wharton as an undergrad. After graduating, Azra worked for a boutique consulting company in Philadelphia where she had the opportunity to be a consultant to Fortune 500 Companies. Following that experience, Azra came back to Bangladesh and worked at Jayson Pharmaceuticals, Ltd., a specialty pharmaceutical manufacturer and distributor in Bangladesh, as a Director for 10 years, where she had various roles including marketing, supplier management, distribution and regulatory affairs. This exposure in the pharmaceutical industry solidified Azra’s passion for healthcare and led her to start Shombhob.

Azra had the bug for the online pharmacy venture for many years and during COVID, she felt the need more than ever in Bangladesh. She could see people in Dhaka and other major cities were ready for an online model and COVID accelerated the e-commerce opportunity.

While Azra didn’t have a tech background, her vast experience in the Bangladesh pharmaceutical market and supply chain drives her to serve their customer base who are primarily women. Women often take care of the shopping needs for the whole family and can tend to be more loyal than men according to Azra. Therefore, one tactic they have built is a Facebook community to converse with women about their healthcare needs and to share knowledge about important items like mammograms.

Shombhob Health is laying the groundwork for future healthcare plans and is providing a way for Azra and her team to understand the needs of the population they serve.

Tell us a bit about your company.

Shombhob Health Ltd. is an online pharmacy which improves access to medicines, feminine hygiene products, and all healthcare products for the urban people of Bangladesh by delivering to their doorstep. We aim to make it especially easy and convenient for the women of Bangladesh to order authentic feminine hygiene, reproductive health and personal care products for themselves. Shombhob.com is a pharmacy built by a woman, for women.

What is your funding stage?

Seed funding

What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?

During COVID, I recognized that there was no clear leader in the online pharmacy space. While there were many e-commerce solutions for fashion, electronics and food, many women, including myself, still found it inconvenient and uncomfortable to shop for feminine hygiene, personal care and reproductive health products from the existing pharmacy retail outlets as there was no good online solution with a wide range of these products. The retail pharmacies in Bangladesh are typically small, crowded spaces where you have to ask the all-male staff to get you the products from behind the counter. Culturally that is uncomfortable and many women depend on the men in their families to shop for reproductive health products like contraceptives, pregnancy test kits etc.

Since urban women mainly do all the household shopping for the entire family, I saw an opportunity to build a one stop solution for them to shop for all healthcare products for the entire family. We do same day delivery inside Dhaka city and round the clock deliveries for emergency medicines in Dhaka city, serving a deeper purpose in the industry. All our customer service staff are women, so it is a safe and comfortable space for our women shoppers to order and ask questions about products and discuss their needs. We have pharmacists to support the customer service team. We are the first online pharmacy in Dhaka to be a true solution provider and trusted partner in healthcare to our customers. It’s a way to get expert help so you can outsource your sartorial needs to an unbiased style advisor.

What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?

The seed of entrepreneurship was sown in me early by my family, and my time at Wharton. When I returned to Bangladesh after my studies and some work experience in the US, I wanted to make a difference in the healthcare space in Bangladesh. While working in my family’s pharmaceutical manufacturing business, I grew to love the healthcare industry in Bangladesh, and wanted to get closer to the consumers to contribute more to the health and wellbeing of the people of this country.

During COVID people developed the habit of shopping online for all their needs, but there was no good solution and clear leader in the e-commerce space for medicines and health products. So I wanted to take my experience in the healthcare industry and build a solution for the urban people of Bangladesh who were struggling daily with heavy traffic and getting things done in their busy lives. No online pharmacy focuses on women, and as a woman, I personally felt this pain to shop for essentials and I grew passionate about making a difference by improving the lives of urban people, especially women.

What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?

From the very beginning, I have had so many positive and encouraging experiences! To start with, I secured pre-seed funding from angel investors very quickly, which allowed me to jump in and start working on building the business.

Now, every time we serve a customer in urgent need, I feel we are serving our purpose. More than once, we have had new mothers who have just given birth at a hospital, calling us to order sanitary napkins from us because the ones provided at the hospital are not comfortable and they don’t have a family member to go looking for heavy flow pads suitable for maternity period.

On several occasions we have also supplied hard to find lifesaving medicines to patients in ICUs in hospitals, because with our pharmaceutical industry background, our supply chain is pretty strong.

Another encouraging experience is that increasingly, children of elderly customers are setting their parents up with our monthly prescription refill service. This is a real value add in their lives, and we feel happy to serve them.

What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?

Being a startup founder is not an easy job! I have learnt to take the highs with the lows and to accept that no two days are the same in the life of a founder. I have learnt that one must have grit and keep going, no matter how uncertain the path ahead is. I also learn from every conversation I have about my business. I listen to people to identify what they need.

However, I think the biggest learning for me is that it’s never too late to start a project that you are passionate about.

What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?

We are raising seed funding to enable us to scale up to the next level. It is taking much longer than the pre-seed round because of the global economic environment at present. However, I hope to demonstrate the value we are creating in the healthcare space, especially for urban women. We have just begun to be recognized as a serious player in the market, and we need to keep the momentum up.

What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur? Something out of left field?

I have been surprised to see how much of my waking hours are happily consumed by Shombhob. Shombhob is always the predominant thought in my head. While I knew it would take up a lot of my time to establish this business, I did not expect it to become my youngest child! I’m loving it.

How can the WAFFA community help you?

Firstly, as a Wharton alum, I would like my startup story to be heard by others in the community as I am implementing my learnings from Wharton and would like to inspire others who may be thinking of starting their own venture.

I am also hoping the WAFFA community can help me connect with funders for my current seed round. My pre-seed round was funded by angel investors from the US whom I connected with using my professional network in Philadelphia. I am hoping the Wharton alumnae network can provide me with connections to complete this round of funding.

What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?

It is very rewarding to see my vision for the startup become a reality. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and even while working in the family business, I always wanted an opportunity to start this venture and establish a new brand in the health space. When I hear my team verbalize the values I am trying to instill in the company, I feel my job is being done!

Learn more about Shombhob Health here, and connect with Azra here.

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