7 entrepreneurs on a mission to improve Black maternal health care

These new platforms connect Black women to experts, resources, and supportive communities for safer pregnancies and births.

By Arnesa A. Howell — February 10, 2022

Before having her first child, Kimberly Seals Allers did her research. She consulted parenting blogs, scoured mom-focused listservs, and read reviews and ratings of the hospitals near her in New York where her doctor was also affiliated. She settled on one where she felt she’d get excellent care, but her experience not only didn’t match her expectations — it left her feeling dismissed, disrespected, and disillusioned. She recalls being pressured into a C-section without explanation, nurses giving her newborn formula against her wishes, and having to fight to have her baby with her in the room. These experiences aren’t uncommon for any mother, but Allers was surprised at the disconnect between the reviews she read and the reality she lived.   

“It hadn’t dawned on me that people were going to the same place and not being treated the same way,” she says. “But many of the people on the sites with the ratings were middle-class White women. Black women were not there.”

Black women in America are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women, a disparity the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes to factors including underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias. Celebrities like Beyoncé and Serena Williams have brought attention to the risks of childbirth for Black mothers by sharing their own personal stories, and healthcare professionals have recognized the state of Black maternal mortality as a full-blown crisis.

Allers’ ordeal inspired her to create Irth, a mobile app that provides Yelp-like ratings and reviews from Black mothers for physicians, birthing hospitals, pediatricians, and postpartum care. She is part of a wave of Black women entrepreneurs on a mission to improve the birthing experience for their community. “In technology, too many products have been built for us but without us,” says Allers. “I built a team of people of color, for people of color.”

Left: Nicole Mayhorn, Right: Yumi Matsuo

Left to right: Maya Hardigan from Mae, Layo George from Wolomi, and Kimberly Seals Allers from Irth.

Founders like Allers face challenges of their own: Despite being among the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, Black women-led startups have secured just .27% of venture capital investments in recent years.

Brittany Davis, general partner with investment fund Backstage Capital, which invests in companies led by underrepresented founders, says the lack of investment represents a huge oversight — and opportunity. “If we can solve the challenges facing the most vulnerable in the system, the people being overlooked, it will impact everyone,” she says. 

Meet seven Black female tech founders leading the charge to improve maternal health for Black women, connecting them to providers, resources, and communities of support.

Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of Irth

“The community has been incredibly responsive to this idea that we can save ourselves by sharing our experiences.”

Before building Irth’s first line of code, Allers spent months asking Black and brown mothers — in person and in virtual focus groups — about their birthing experiences.

“These stories have always existed, traveling in small circles,” she says. “Irth takes that to a digital platform and a national forum.”

The name Irth comes from the word “birth,” but without the “b” for “bias.” Launched in 2021, the mobile app provides a place for Black women to search for and leave their own reviews, and also detects patterns of racism and bias based on women’s experiences.

“The same microaggressions that happen in the world are happening during the pregnancy and childbirth journey,” says Allers. “The price we pay? Increases in our stress levels, which is going to impact the birth outcomes.” 

Erica Chidi, co-founder and CEO of LOOM

Jay Carroll

Erica Chidi, co-founder and CEO of LOOM

The Irth team uses data from the app to develop hospital and practice strategies to improve outcomes and care experiences for mothers and their babies. “Amplifying these stories can be instructive to the hospitals and providers who need to do better,” Allers says.

Since 2019, Allers has raised nearly $1 million in foundation grants, and in 2021, Irth received $88,000 in prize funding as a winner in the Anti-Racist Technology in the US category of the MIT Solve Global Challenge, sponsored by HP and designed to elevate solutions to global challenges from tech-based social entrepreneurs. 

“My vision is that Irth becomes our ‘Good Housekeeping seal of approval’ and a beacon of light for hospitals and providers we can trust,” says Allers.


Erica Chidi, co-founder and CEO of LOOM

“We can’t make decisions about caring for Black women without having Black women at the table.”

When Erica Chidi, a trained doula, was first developing the idea for LOOM, a well-being educational platform focused on women’s reproductive health, she recognized the need to focus on Black women and the disproportionate challenges they face in getting the care they need.

“There’s a quote often said, ‘We’re not free until we’re all free,’ ” she says. “Care disparity creates a negative impact for everyone.”

Launched as a physical space in Los Angeles, LOOM transitioned to a digital platform in 2020 amid the pandemic. The platform offers educational resources and support related to pregnancy and postpartum care, including on-demand videos, audio conversations, guides, and live community support sessions, or Gather Groups, facilitated by LOOM experts.

LOOM also features content designed specifically for Black women, including guides like “Protecting Your Birth: A Guide for Black Mothers” and “Anti-Racist Prenatal and Postnatal Care Preferences,” a list that expecting mothers can proactively share with their care providers.

With tools like these, Chidi says, “Mothers feel a sense of reduced anxiety, more confident and prepared, and better capable of speaking with their care providers.”

Melissa Hanna, co-founder and CEO of Mahmee.

Jenna Schoenefeld

Melissa Hanna, co-founder and CEO of Mahmee.

Melissa Hanna, co-founder and CEO of Mahmee

“People told me it’s charity work to help Black mothers. I knew they were wrong.”

Melissa Hanna remembers dinner conversations with her mother, Linda, a registered nurse and lactation specialist, about her frustration at not having the technology support to effectively collaborate with other providers who understand the needs of Black mothers. The mother-daughter team created Mahmee to bridge the gap.

The web-based app launched in 2016 (with funding from Backstage Capital, among other investors) and now includes 1,800 participating providers in 45 states — OB-GYNs, pediatricians, lactation consultants, nutritionists, and more — who use the app to collaborate on care for Black mothers.

The HIPAA-compliant platform breaks down silos between providers, showing them a unique view of mother’s and baby’s medical records together. “A unified healthcare record showing your maternity journey in one place eliminates someone making assumptions or providing less than appropriate care,” Melissa says.

Mahmee also connects mothers to breastfeeding and mental health support, doula and midwifery care, and nutritional and wellness support.

In 2019, investors including Serena Williams infused $3 million in funding into the startup, and in 2020, the company — leveraging the expertise of co-founder Sunny Walia — started partnering with healthcare systems and insurance companies such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, and Blue Shield of California.

Now, the Mahmee team is expanding, building a mobile app, and adding more maternity services.

“Taking care of all families, and specifically working with Black families that have faced some of the worst odds and experiences of healthcare in the United States, is meaningful work,” Melissa says.

Maya Hardigan, founder and CEO of Mae

“When we talk about cultural competency in care, it’s really about a commitment to whole person care and the entirety of their culture.” 

Maya Hardigan, a mother of three with 15 years of experience working in healthcare product innovation, says that the lack of cultural competency in maternal care — the ability to effectively treat and respond to patients across cultural differences — shows up acutely in how doctors address Black women’s pain and other symptoms.

“When we express concerns, we’re not responded to in the same way as others,” she says.

She launched Mae in September 2021 with a $1.3 million round of pre-seed funding to help Black mothers take control of their birth experience. The digital platform features pregnancy tracking tools, real-time physical and emotional risk escalation support, culturally resonant resources, and connections to a network of community-based birthing experts.


RELATED: Learn how one woman’s personal health crisis inspired her to create a new resource for connecting patients and doctors of color. 


Mae’s birth plan tool lets mothers tailor their goals and create a written roadmap that can guide them and their providers through the experience they want to have. The platform also has personalized, culturally specific care tips, encouraging women to book a gestational diabetes screening, for example, recognizing that Black women are more likely to experience complications from the disease.

“Disparities not only put us at risk, but can also lead to longstanding health consequences for our children,” says Hardigan. “So many of these complications are avoidable. They also drive significant costs into the healthcare system.”

David S. Coy II

Ashlee Wisdom and Eddwina Bright, co-founders of Health In Her Hue.

Ashlee Wisdom, CEO, and Eddwina Bright, CPO, co-founders of Health In Her Hue

“We’re not advocating for a segregated healthcare system. We’re advocating for quality, culturally sensitive care for Black women.”

During Eddwina Bright’s first childbirth, she remembers feeling ignored and traumatized by her doctor, a White woman, who dismissed her questions and didn’t respond to her concerns.

“When I got pregnant the second time, I was very intentional about finding a provider that looked like me — a Black woman — so that I could feel seen, heard, taken seriously, and ultimately feel safe,” says Bright.

In 2018, Bright joined her friend, Ashlee Wisdom, as a co-founder of Health In Her HUE, a a company Wisdom created in 2018. Together, they’ve built a digital platform that connects Black women to culturally sensitive doctors, nurses, doulas, midwives, and therapists. The platform houses a health content library with articles and videos, a community forum for sharing personal stories, and a free, 1,000-member provider directory with user reviews. 

“The racism Black women experience over the course of their lives takes a toll on their physical health over time, making pregnancy more risky,” Wisdom says. “Hearing from our members helps us be really thoughtful about how we develop products or programs to support them.”

After the mobile app launched in June 2020 — with 34,000 log-ins in two weeks — the company went on to secure $1 million in pre-seed funding in 2021. Wisdom and Bright are using what they learn from members to add to — and improve — the platform, with plans to launch a new website featuring curriculum for providers, and memberships enabling subscribers to track health symptoms or join the Virtual Care Squad, a peer support group.

Layo George, founder and CEO of Wolomi

“The healthcare system isn’t really built to understand our nuances, listen to us, or validate us.”

After experiencing prenatal depression during her own pregnancy, Layo George, a registered nurse, designed Wolomi to connect women of color to experts and each other, with a focus not only on the challenges of pregnancy, but also the joy.  

“Wolomi is a sisterhood of navigating through pregnancy and motherhood with the support of midwives, pediatricians, and therapists,” she says. “I wanted to reclaim the joy of a new life.”

As a nurse, George saw very different approaches to maternal care. For example, in one hospital, staff coached new mothers on breastfeeding techniques, while in another, formula was the norm. “It felt like pregnancy was just something happening to you instead of you owning the journey,” she says. “I knew there was a better way.”

Wolomi members have access to virtual group coaching, online courses, nurse-led community discussions, expert advice, weekly “pregnancy moments” with guidance and expertise from a midwife, and an online gallery to share personal experiences. George is also launching a new program, the Wolomi Academy, bringing together a virtual group of pregnant mothers of color for conversation and digital classes about childbirth, breastfeeding, and creating a care team.

"When navigating systems of care that are not made for us, the stress makes an imprint on our maternal health outcomes,” George says. “I want women to know they have options.”