Under the Microscope: Mae

Why Avestria Invested in This Black Maternal Health-Focused Startup

Avestria Ventures
5 min readSep 16, 2021

In this series, we explain why we invested in our current portfolio companies. In the process, we hope to highlight the white spaces in women’s health and the life sciences — as well as the people, products, and companies working to fill those gaps. The name “Under the Microscope” refers both to our extensive due diligence process and our investment focus on healthcare and the life sciences.

If you Google “Black women’s maternal health”, the results share similar language, including “disparities”, “racial differences”, and even “failing”. Even through a simple search, the overall message is clear: through pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care, Black women in the United States face a system that is “failing” to address the “racial differences” and “disparities” that put them at risk.

These disparities are due both to physical and social circumstances. Black individuals — not just expectant women — experience “weathering”: their bodies age, or are worn down, faster than usual because of the social inequities, judgement, and racial and/or gender discrimination that they constantly face. As a result, Black individuals can have chronic-elevated stress hormones — which, for expectant women, can contribute to premature births — as well as higher rates of chronic conditions or preventable diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension than white individuals do. These conditions can all influence the outcomes of both mother and child. Black individuals also don’t often have the same access to insurance, time with their doctor, or general quality of care as white ones do.

However, according to Dr. Ana Langer, Director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, the underlying reason behind this gap in maternal health outcomes specifically is that “black women are undervalued”. For one example, expectant Black women are not monitored as carefully as white women are — or even have access to that level of care in the first place: about 33% of pregnant Black women don’t receive any prenatal care in their first trimester, about 7% receive “late” (third trimester) care, and 3% receive no prenatal care at all. Black women’s symptoms are also taken less seriously than white women’s. Looking through five years of data, a 2016 analysis found that Black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth — and were 1.6x more likely to die from those complications — than white women who never graduated from high school. (For all women with a college education, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 5.2x higher than that of white women. For all women, regardless of education, the non-Hispanic Black mortality rate is 2–3x higher than that of white women.)

This lack of medical respect does not go unnoticed: one survey found that 33% of Black women said they personally had been racially discriminated when going to a doctor or health clinic, and 21% said they have avoided going to a doctor or seeking healthcare out of concern they would face racial discrimination. Even Serena Williams, an extraordinary, record-breaking athlete, was ignored at first when she realized she was having a pulmonary embolism while in labor. Thankfully, Ms. Williams did get the treatment she needed, but her experience with childbirth showed that even public figures are not immune to dismissal or discrimination.

Mae aims to mitigate these barriers to care, offering tools and services to help improve maternal outcomes for expectant women, starting with Black women.

Mae is building a “care marketplace” that allows expectant women to find expert advice from trusted sources, including maternal health experts and doulas: trained caregivers who provide physical and emotional support throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. As studies have shown, mothers who were assisted by doulas had lower odds of C-sections and preterm births and were four times less likely to have a low-birth weight and two times less likely to experience a birth complication than mothers without doulas.

In addition to connecting its users with maternal service providers, Mae is developing corresponding digital tools that are personalized to each mother on its platform. Through these tools, Mae can remind these women about any needed screenings or appointments, help them understand any symptoms they might be experiencing, and collectively educate and protect pregnant Black women, allowing them to avoid or mitigate potentially fatal pregnancy-related complications.

Since this level of care normally comes at a cost, Mae’s goal is to work with both regional and national medical insurance companies — like Medicaid which covers 65.9% of births for Black mothers — to cover its services. Currently, C-sections, which about 36% of Black mothers have, result in a 50% increase in cost to insurance companies while preterm births, which account for 14% of births for Black women, cost an average of $70,000 more than full-term births. Through providing the care, support, and education to help reduce these percentages, Mae can simultaneously lower the amounts insurance companies are paying and improve their Star Ratings, which represent these companies’ performance and determine their own reimbursement levels. This approach sets Mae apart from other maternal health-focused startups by allowing its services to be not only accessible for expectant women but also valuable for both users and the payors covering the costs.

Mae’s Co-Founder and CEO, Maya Hardigan. Source: Maya Hardigan.

More than 60% of maternal deaths are preventable, but a simple Google search reveals the lack of potentially life-saving maternal care given to expectant Black women. We invested in Mae because we believe that it addresses this pressing need. By bringing necessary services, education, and trustworthy resources for Black mothers — and to benefit the insurers underwriting its offerings — we believe that Mae can help address the current “failing” and start improving outcomes for Black mothers everywhere.

At Avestria Ventures, we look for early-stage women’s health and female-led life science companies with products or technologies that improve healthcare quality and/or access, lower costs, induce clinical or behavioral change, are evidence based, have scalable commercialization plans, and have a sustainable competitive advantage. Know one? Contact us via our website, LinkedIn, or Twitter.



Avestria Ventures

Investing in early-stage women’s health and female-led life sciences companies.