Notable & Quotable: Maya Hardigan, founder and CEO of maternal health startup Mae

Maya Hardigan’s experience in the field of healthcare as well as her personal experiences as an Black mother and woman made her the perfect candidate to launch and run her own company,

. It was founded in 2020 in the aftermath of that summer’s worldwide uprising in support of Black lives–Mae is a web-based health platform with a goal to decrease the health disparities of mothers among Black women.

In particular, Black women and pregnant individuals tend to be three times more likely be killed due to a pregnancy-related issue as white women are

According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

— and two out of three deaths related to pregnancy in the US can be prevented. A variety of factors, including the accessibility to quality health care and implicit bias in healthcare, contribute to gender disparities in pregnancy as well as birth outcomes.

Based in New York City, Mae was founded to address these disparities–connecting Black expectant moms with critical resources to drive positive pregnancy outcomes. For starters, the platform provides free tools for planning birth and 15-minute consultations with doulas. With Mae pregnant women are able to access a market of maternal health experts who are culturally proficient experts, as well as a variety of digital tools to educate and guard against the most prevalent causes of maternal mortality and morbidity such as preeclampsia, cardiomyopathy depression, and postpartum complications.

After raising $1.3 million in seed funding through a deal spearheaded by

In September 2021, Hardigan answers the questions we have about her company, her role as a founder and what’s to come for Mae.

What was your life experience prior to the time you founded Mae?

I was born outside of Washington, D.C. and went to college for psychology and biology at Duke before going to college for business at Columbia. I began the first years of my career in the field of healthcare management consulting prior to beginning my career in

The place where I lived for over 10 years in the city, where I spent more than. The majority of my work in those years was focused on the patient’s perspective digital technologies, specifically, innovation in care access that focuses on platforms for virtual engagement that support better condition management.

Over the course of many years I was also as a board member of a health organization for mothers, Kangu, which focused on providing safe birth services to mothers who are not being served. This was a great experience that sparked my curiosity about maternal health, and widened my appreciation of massive disparities in race and income which exist. I was able to comprehend even more I began to grow my family.

It was during the process of navigating through the things that transpired in the summer of 2020 when I began to work on Mae and it truly originated from intensely wanting my career focus to be a blend of my love for equity, business, and science.

“Mae really started from a position of desire for my professional goal to be one that combines my love for business, science as well as equity.”

What exactly is Mae and what gap in requirement or solution did you try to find through the process of founding it?

Mae is an online health platform with the mission of reducing the disparities in maternal health among Black women. Mae strives to transform the experience of expecting mothers of color through using weekly health trackers and real-time support for issue escalation as well as culturally relevant resources and education. We know how beneficial the digital tools for health can improve accessibility to resources and information, we recognize that a solely digital approach does not suffice. It’s been proven that many of the discriminations Black women are impacted by bias in the care system which is why Mae’s approach also focuses on local support from birth workers like doulas, who have been well-known for improving the experiences of pregnant women and outcomes.

“It is now known that the differences Black women experience are caused by a bias in the care system.”

Black women have a higher chance to experience premature births and C-sections, and complications during pregnancy that result in an increase in maternal morbidity and mortality. These adverse outcomes do not just expose us to risk but also can result in long-term health problems that affect our infants. Many of these issues are preventable. They also impose significant costs to our healthcare system. We can see a desire all over the place to tackle this issue, by working in partnership with payers of healthcare, by greater investments in interventions that are based on scientific evidence and ensuring the availability of these interventions at large.

What were your first steps to bring your concept for Mae to the next level?

We began by concluding that we needed a product similar to Mae. We spent a significant amount times in our first days speaking with our users, including my most trusted friends to discover what they thought had led to their negative experiences , and what could and could have been done differently. This was a critical first step to think about what we could do to develop an answer that specifically address these issues. Additionally, we spent a substantial amount of time talking with insurance companies in order to identify their issues. I think that positioning our product to be able towards reimbursement is essential in achieving scale and equitable access. Therefore, it was essential to know how to integrate these requirements and goals.

What has been the most unexpected thing as a founder?

I’ve found myself most shocked by the scope of responsibility founders carry. Before I actually jumped into creating a business I was unsure how far the pendulum could shift in relation to my daily tasks and objectives. My time is devoted to an unpredictably diverse mix of strategy, product marketing, hiring financial, legal and administrative tasks. There is a lot of responsibility upon the backs of entrepreneurs, and at times, the weight is felt exactly where you would.

“There there is great deal to the founder’s shoulders. And often the weight is felt in places you don’t think you would.”

What advice would you offer someone who is just beginning the entrepreneurial path?

Create an amazing team from the beginning that is equally enthusiastic about the project you’ve decided to take on. Make sure that they’re people you are comfortable around, and who share your enthusiasm and determination. Be sure to stop to celebrate and recognize your accomplishments during the course of your journey. It’s a rollercoaster, and you’re going at such a rapid speed that it’s simple to leave an “win” to the next problem. It’s crucial to celebrate the achievements that you’ve put so much effort into reach. Don’t be apathetic about those wins regardless of how big or smaller.

“It’s vital to recognize the milestones you’ve worked to attain. Don’t lose sight of these achievements, regardless of whether they’re small or large.”

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

In the past couple of years, I’ve embarked on a few new interests I’d never had time for prior to: vegetable garden and baking bread. It’s not far from me to claim that I’m skilled at either of these! However, it’s been so enjoyable spending time with each with my 3 daughters. They’re also an opportunity to remind myself of how much effort focus, time, attention, and love goes into everything we take in. I’d say that each of these activities is great for managing stress and I’d suggest giving them a go as a founding parent or any other person who has to manage multiple seemingly insurmountable tasks!

What’s the next step for Mae? What are the major milestones or areas of focus that you’re focusing on as we progress towards the end of this year?

I am convinced that there is a need being made to support a more equitable funding for maternal health. For us at Mae 2022, it’s all about building a solid foundation of evidence-based clinical research from our early partners that can be used to justify additional investment in our supplementary healthcare method. When you’re talking to people who are mission-oriented or talking to one who is motivated by money the immediate issue and opportunity is making a compelling case to both parties, to get more funding for the health of our children and mothers. The benefits for families, communities and our nation’s healthcare system are unimaginable.

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