Black women are notoriously underserved by the US healthcare system. The New York City-based founders of the digital platform Health in Her Hue aim to bridge that gap. Since its launch in 2018, the platform has empowered Black women with the community and resources to find supportive, culturally sensitive care.
Last summer, co-founders Ashlee Wisdom (chief executive) and Eddwina Bright (chief operating officer) secured $1m in pre-seed funding, marking a turning point in their startup's success story.
"Fundraising is never a walk in the park, especially as Black women," says Wisdom. "No matter how credentialed you are, it's hard for everyone. But then you add on the layer of the fact that there aren't many Black women who are building venture-backed companies or get funding. We've experienced some challenges throughout that journey."
Now, the co-founders are in "build mode". With their funding, the pair are working to develop a new web platform and membership experience, which will offer care support and resources tailored to each woman's specific healthcare needs.
"Ultimately, our vision for Health in Her Hue is to be the first touchpoint for women of color managing their healthcare," Wisdom says.
Take us back to the beginning. What led you to launch Health in Her Hue, back in 2018?
Ashlee Wisdom: At that time, two things were happening: I was working in a toxic work environment, and I was breaking out in chronic hives. So I was going to see an allergist, who happened to be a white woman. She was a great doctor, but because we didn't have that shared identity, it never occurred to me to tell her that I was dealing with racism and discrimination at work. So long story short, she was running all these tests on me and I wasn't allergic to anything. We couldn't figure out what was triggering the hives. After I left the job, I realized that they were related to that stressful, toxic work environment.
That got my wheels turning, and made me realize that I shared much more with my Black gynecologist. If I was more transparent and felt more comfortable sharing the full picture of what was going on in my life, that allergist would've been able to get to the root cause of what was triggering my hives. At the same time, I was getting my master's in public health, and got really tired of reading research papers about the disparate healthcare outcomes for Black women. And so I decided I wanted to do something to support Black women and women of color to better manage their health and also better navigate the US healthcare system.
Eddwina Bright: I think our first foray into working with together was when Ashlee was doing a video series on maternal health and asked me to share my birthing story - at that point, we knew each other socially. My experience giving birth to my oldest was not great. I felt very much coaxed into a C-section; doctors were not answering my questions, not telling my husband anything. It was just not a great experience. And so from that, I was able to take a step back and find a provider that was more culturally aligned with me. So when it came time to have my second child, I felt seen, I felt heard, I felt taken seriously, and was able to really advocate for myself and have a much better birthing experience.
So that's the passion that I bring to the work that we do. I'd like us to help the women that we serve to advocate for themselves without having to go through really traumatic healthcare experiences. And the company happens to align with my professional experience in finance and nonprofit entrepreneurship. So we definitely have a great balance of health and business expertise.
At what point did you realize that this business was making a real impact, and achieving what you hoped it would?
Wisdom: From 2018 up until 2020, like right before the pandemic hit, we were building the community and seeing great feedback from women. But the resounding thing we kept hearing was that it's difficult to find a Black doctor, or a doctor of color, on existing platforms. So that was the impetus to build out a curated directory of Black physicians across the country. When we launched that directory in June 2020 - given the pandemic and the racial reckoning - people were ready. 34,000 people logged in within the first week or two.
Bright: Separately, we also had articles and videos that people could engage with on our website, as well as a community forum where women could talk to each other. So we brought all of those components together to continue the momentum, and realized we had tens of thousands of women in our community. We only had six doctors at first, and now we have more than 1,000.
What do you envision for the future of Health in Her Hue?
Wisdom: We really want to continue to grow and expand the community so that Health in Her Hue is the go-to, safe space for women of color for all things health care-related. That's my overarching big vision for what we're building.
Bright: I completely 100% agree. I'd love for us to also become a resource for Bipoc women to better navigate not only their individual health, but the health of their families: their kids, their spouse, their parents. Because we know that community health is very important for the collective. I would also like us to help support the talent pipeline of culturally sensitive health care providers. Maybe that means helping with scholarships and internships, putting students into doctor's offices and teaching them the business of medicine. That's a major gap in the market, which I'd love to see us fill.