Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health care but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mio Akasako, Founder of Ash Wellness, located in New York, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ash Wellness is an at-home diagnostic testing company enabling white-label self-collection testing in all 50 states. We are on a mission to make healthcare more inclusive and accessible by decreasing all of the roadblocks and friction people experience within the current legacy lab model. We are a B2B tech platform for existing healthcare providers and businesses that want to enhance their offerings with at-home testing. Think of any community health organization, university, or doctor's office that doesn't yet have remote diagnostics set up – we make it easy for these partners to best serve their patients in the comfort of their own homes.
Tell us about yourself
I am a co-founder and VP of Brand & Design at Ash Wellness. Growing up, I didn't think starting my own business was an option for me, neither personality-wise nor interest-wise. I was a soft-spoken blend of weird art kid and science nerd who preferred going with the flow and letting people find my world rather than put myself out there. It was only recently that I felt an interest take hold. Throughout college and beyond, I was constantly searching for the cutting edge in science, design, and technology and how to use these discoveries to inspire delight and ultimately help people in a tangible way. After some time in academic research and the biotech sector, I eventually landed in a graduate school program at Parsons School of Design, where I got the opportunity to collaborate with students at Cornell Tech to pursue a business idea of our own. We developed the idea and, at the end of the school year, received funding to pursue it further–this was the conception of Ash.
What motivates me is making a positive impact on the world by designing for the "most marginalized" of people. Ash Wellness was initially conceived to tackle the accessibility of sexual health for LGBTQ+ folks whose specific needs are often overlooked or judged in the context of routine healthcare. Largely a queer founding team, each of us encountered issues when trying to access sexual healthcare ourselves. Be it the stigma around STI testing, judgment around non-heteronormative relationships, or other social determinants of health, the infrastructure around inclusive and accessible sexual healthcare did not exist. We set out to create an at-home testing platform that would empower users to test for STIs at home. Now, as a B2B company, we go beyond sexual healthcare and help our partners provide accessible healthcare for their own communities.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
As we built our product, we realized that we could apply our platform to make healthcare more inclusive and accessible to all folks seeking care, not just limited to those seeking sexual healthcare. There are healthcare providers, organizations, and businesses who already know their specific communities' needs–our expertise in at-home diagnostic testing would enable them to turn on at-home testing for their respective communities. We decided to expand our offering from D2C sexual health testing to a B2B at-home diagnostic testing platform. With our tech platform, we help healthcare organizations launch and manage home health testing as an extended functionality of their care operations. Partners can launch in a few short weeks and gain access to 150+ diagnostics sent directly to their patients' doors. Ash Wellness manages all the moving pieces once a provider places a test order, and results will feed back to the existing care cycle for care management. It is so fulfilling to tangibly see in numbers that we are making a difference in healthcare and are providing access to routine healthcare to previously underserved populations.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
As a female founder and as more of an introvert by personality, I have always found it difficult to find space to speak in external settings, especially when in a large group. I am naturally happy to take a supporting role when it comes to "selling the dream," so I have had to consciously make an effort to push myself to make my opinions and visions heard. But as a business owner, you are your own champion and that of the people who have chosen to join the team–you almost have an obligation to be vocal about your opinions, company, and the needs of your team. Having co-founders who validate my thoughts and encourage me to speak my mind has been very helpful in developing my voice. Whenever opportunities arise to speak in public settings, I have made it a point to take them, even if I am quite terrified inside. Each time it gets a little bit easier!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- I have learned to, first and foremost, surround myself with talented and empathetic people. Empathy goes a long way both in fostering a nurturing environment within the company and being able to create a product that truly makes lives better for your clients and end users.
- Create a stable foundation for yourself. This applies to finances, mental health, stress coping mechanisms, support system, etc. Starting your own company is a series of unpredictable ups and downs, and the more you're equipped to handle that, the better your chances of success in building up the company.
- I have found it incredibly helpful to have a safe space for constructive feedback between teammates, as well as opportunities among co-founders to support each other without "putting on a good face."
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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