Bolstering Growth in a Global Healthcare Startup
Hacking a Challenge
In April 2018, the Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship co-hosted World Health Day 2018 with Olin and Wellesley Colleges. One of the sessions during that day was Beyond the Hack: Brainstorming Solutions with Global Healthcare Entrepreneurs. We convened four ventures who were over one year into their startup phase, had the endorsement of incredible organizations and advisors, and had recently won hackathon prizes or awards.
Having attended several hackathons and worked with numerous early startups, I recognized that these events often mark arduous points of growth, where greater demands and pressure are placed on the organization and its founders. Right after the excitement of winning moderate to larger prize amounts, organizations can find themselves at a frenetic stage. These can be among the shakiest times for entrepreneurs, when some not-so-glamorous capacity boosting can help their ventures stay afloat as they scramble to catch up to their growth. That was the stage of a startup’s lifecycle that we wanted to “hack” during our session. We leveraged the “Ideas in Action” method of The Lewis Institute, where each venture shares a specific challenge they’re trying to tackle, and the audience generously brainstorms possible solutions to address them. Every venture walks away with at least one actionable next step toward resolving its challenge, whether an idea, a connection, or a resource.
Addressing a Need
Meg Wirth, co-founder of Maternova, pitched a logistics challenge she was experiencing. Meg found the ideas brainstormed during useful.
In wondering how we might help further advance organizations like Maternova, I realized that talent was a common need. These ventures were looking for highly skilled, capable, and committed people to join hands in their important work. People with “get-the-job-done” and can-do mindsets who were not afraid to jump in with their sleeves rolled-up. How could we capitalize on the talent of Babson graduate students and allow them to apply their MBA insights towards furthering these ventures?
Looking at existing programs within the College, we partnered with Babson Graduate Center for Career Development (CCD) to sponsor our second GHE Fellowship program through their Post-Graduate Fellowship opportunity—an employment program for recent Babson graduates who are international students. We matched Prakash Veenam MBA’18 with Maternova this past summer. Prior to enrolling at Babson, Prakash had a 14-year decorated career in the Indian Navy. Among his posts was a naval commander of an 80-person ship. At the end of Prakash’s three-month fellowship at Maternova, I received word from Meg that they decided to promote Prakash to the position of CEO!
I interviewed Prakash and Meg to give us their perspective first-hand:
Praskah, why did you choose Babson?
PRAKASH: On stepping out from my long career in the Navy, I was propelled to reequip myself with current corporate and business acumen. I heard of Babson through a few of my friends and colleagues, and on further investigation I was thrilled to find how much it matched my goals. The focus on entrepreneurial spirit, the multicultural and multinational student cohorts, and location in Boston were some of the qualities I immediately wanted to imbibe.
What about your Babson experience helped propel your venture forward?
PRAKASH: It would be unwise not to credit Babson for me being involved with small business ventures, which require a focused approach on several fronts with minimal resources. Babson always ensured through its wonderful and rigorous novel projects and teamwork assignments that we learned to achieve much more with limited resources.
What attracted you to Maternova?
PRAKASH: I initially joined as a Post-Graduate Fellow upon graduation, and went on doing things I usually do: sweat it out. During the initial phases of my time with Maternova, I understood the vast opportunity that its credo carried and how I could contribute immensely. My association with the management and the founder, Meg, who always saw me as an equal and gave tremendous freedom and responsibility further instilled my interest to work for Maternova.
Meg, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to start Maternova.
MEG: My background is in global public health, maternal health, and health equity. I started Maternova because I was looking for a single source to track innovation in maternal and child health. When I could not find one, I decided to start Maternova. It evolved to become an ecommerce marketplace offering trusted, proven global health innovations.
What made you decide to entrust leadership of Maternova to Prakash?
MEG: It was not my decision alone. The investors the Advisory Board had a say as well. Prakash’s leadership role at Maternova evolved swiftly and based upon his combination of strategic leadership and ability to execute tasks and decisions at all levels. We have worked with many, many students, recent graduates, consultants, and colleagues, but Prakash’s immediate understanding of the mission and vision of the company and his business acumen stood out.
What excites you most about the future of the venture that you founded?
MEG: The letters, emails, and testimonials we receive from around the world are the most gratifying aspect of Maternova. Our mission is to speed the time it takes for frontline health providers to learn about, access, and implement life-saving innovations in maternal and newborn health. When it is clear that this has occurred, we feel we have done our job. We look forward to expanding this impact exponentially.
What have been your greatest lessons in your journey thus far?
MEG: We have learned that businesses, perhaps especially in global health, are incredibly competitive. There is no “unwritten“ rule that because we are dealing with maternal health, or the health of newborns, we are more collaborative. We have found that because customers’ budgets are tight and pressure is intense, the field is extremely cutthroat. At the same time, the providers on the frontlines of healthcare around the world are compassionate and self-sacrificing, often “holding up“ entire villages, districts, and provinces with their own practices. This has certainly been an inspiration for all on the team.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
MEG: This seems so grandiose. We want to continue to build a company where the impact is front and center. Eventually, as a profitable company Maternova will be both accelerating access to obstetric and neonatal health innovation and, at the same time, be reinvesting in societies by funding schools of midwifery and quality midwifery education in countries around the world.
Prakash, what excites you most in your role as CEO of Maternova?
PRAKASH: I have just started a few months back, and find every moment of the role exciting and a new challenge. I have been in a similar role before as the Captain of a warship in the Indian Navy. But the challenges associated with being a CEO of a small business with a social impact message has a challenge of its own. The major difference is achieving the tasks with limited resources, both in terms of available manpower and capital. The decisions taken have to take these factors into consideration.
How are you settling into this role and what are you learning?
PRAKASH: The pace of activities is quick and there is limited time to “settle in.” I take a hands-on approach to every aspect of the business. As long as one has the right inclination and a passion for contributing to the mission of the company, the outcomes will be synonymous to the company’s goals.
What have been your greatest lessons in your journey thus far?
PRAKASH: Not to underestimate my potential and what I can achieve! The right word is YES for every challenge. And with the kind of topical business acumen Babson has instilled, I look forward to learn and imbibe every aspect of this wonderful opportunity.