Founding Student Name(s): Johar Singh (Questrom ’24), Josh Bruehwiler (Questrom ’24), Taha Moukara, (Questrom ’24)
Brief Description of Problem & Solution: The American Healthcare system is in an alarming position as it battles record-high attrition rates. This has resulted in a negative strain on healthcare workers’ wellbeing. This has caused employee productivity to be at all-time lows, with patients unable to receive adequate care and hospitals losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Specifically, the lack of recognition and reinforcement that employees receive is among the top two causes of healthcare worker burnout.
Despite this, the majority of current wellness initiatives and recognition programs wrongly focus on transactional interventions after an employee is burned out, instead of proactive approaches to mitigate the problem before it happens. After several months of hearing tragic stories regarding our frontline’s wellbeing, we decided it was time to take care of those who spend their whole lives taking care of us – and Astra Wellbeing was born. It is an SMS-based Wellness platform dedicated to improving the burnout of frontline healthcare employees through messages of positive reinforcement. Through our platform, hospital employees will receive daily, tailored text messages of recognition and appreciation directly to their cell phones, submitted from various members of their local community. Through our platform, each hospital employee can also send their own pre-crafted or custom message of positive support to a colleague at their hospital, at anytime or anywhere on any device. On the hospital end, our platform also has a user-friendly, data-driven hospital admin dashboard. That way, hospital admins can visually see AI-powered insights and analytics on exactly how our platform is being used, and its overall effectiveness and impact on their employees’ wellbeing.
Funding Dollars: $50,000
What led you to launch this venture? Johar, Josh, and Taha – three Boston natives and current honors students at Boston University – who grew up with their dream childhood of enjoying sports, traveling with their friends and family, and enjoying the best aspects life has to offer. However, as they entered high school, their lives all took an unexpected turn: Josh found himself waking up in hospitals with no memory of what had happened due to severe medical conditions; Taha suffered a severe a career-ending sports injury, leading him to a long recovery just to walk again; and Johar said goodbye to his mother for six months as she left his family to battle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on as a frontline critical care physician.
These life-altering experiences gave the three a personal, behind the scene, glimpse into the daily heroic efforts of frontline healthcare employees – leading to a deep gratitude for their efforts. So they spent their hours before and after their freshman year of college conducting comprehensive independent research into the frontline healthcare employee experience. Their experiences ranged from taking the MBTA to Boston hospitals directly after class, to spending their weekends traveling to healthcare employee experience conferences around the nation. Several months and hundreds of employee interviews later, the three of them were exposed to the National Healthcare Employee Turnover Crisis: the very same clinicians who had done so much to help them in their lives are now struggling form unprecedented amounts of burnout and turnover themselves. After all the life-changing efforts that frontline healthcare workers did for them, Johar, Josh, and Taha decided it was “time to start taking care of those who dedicated their careers to taking care of us” – and Astra Wellbeing was born.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Over the last 12 months of working on our venture, we have conducted 150+ employee interviews and secondary market research; developed our platform; launched prototypes at Boston-based hospitals; won Boston University’s two biggest innovation competitions; completed our 2023 Accelerators (Mass Challenge, Microsoft For Founders); attended and spoke at national burnout conferences/summits across the nation; and formed partnerships with industry giants. So far, our biggest accomplishment has been the reaction of our end user.
Take this quote from one of our users – a critical care nurse at a major Boston Hospital: “I have been a nurse for 30+ years. COVID brought on so much negativity in our hospital. But using this platform reminded me that I’m not alone. It put me in the mood I used to feel when I first became a nurse.”
This is the impact we hope to achieve on a national scale, and this is what motivates us to do what we do every single day.
How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? Being a business and entrepreneur major, (Innovate@BU) and BU Questrom has been an instrumental resource for us in terms of resources, mentorship, funding, and guidance that they have provided to us and the countless other students who walk through their doors every day.
So many different people have had a positive impact on our growth This included the Build Lab and Questrom flying us out to national conferences to learn more about the problem. We also had 6:00 a.m. Zoom calls on a Saturday morning to prepare for a big sales call with Tom Samph and Jen Migliore from the Build Lab. None of this would have been possible if we did not have such an esteemed business education.
Specifically, I want to highlight my favorite business course – Platform Strategy by Professor Marshall Van Alstyne. His credentials speak for themselves, but the course’s theories, frameworks, tools, and real-world experiences on running, launching, growing, and analyzing a platform have proven instrumental for myself and my team, both as students and as entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did this prove motivational to you? Our team met during our first year at Boston University while taking a healthcare class that exposed us to the healthcare burnout crisis. We all shared our own stories, which had such personal ties to the industry, that we sat at our school’s dining hall for hours sharing them. On a day we would never forget, Josh found himself waking up in hospitals with no memory of what had happened due to severe medical conditions; Taha suffered a severe a career-ending sports injury, leading him to a long recovery just to walk again; and Johar said goodbye to his mother for six months as she left his family to battle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on as a frontline critical care physician. We talked about how these life-altering experiences gave the three of us a personal, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily heroic efforts of frontline healthcare employees. This led to a deep gratitude for their efforts and inspired us to create Astra Wellbeing, to help those who have helped us our entire lives.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? The US has declared healthcare worker burnout as “The Next Crisis’. And employee turnover is only getting worse. At Astra Wellbeing, we are committed to revolutionizing the way wellness initiatives are embraced in hospitals. Our goal is to launch our platform across the nation to make a positive impact to the hundreds of thousands of frontline healthcare employees who do so much for us. Together, we are on a mission to create a future where recognition is effortless, wellbeing thrives, and healthcare professionals feel valued and inspired every day.
How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success?
The entire Astra Wellbeing team acknowledges that we would not be where we are today without the mentorship that we have received throughout our own lives and the lifespan of our business. We have especially found that, as young entrepreneurs, it is imperative to find mentors from all different backgrounds who can provide invaluable support and advice. And our local startup ecosystem has been instrumental in achieving this goal.
We have been part of an incredible network of people, helping us turn our dreams into a reality. This included being a part of the esteemed MassChallenge Startup Accelerator and Microsoft for Founders Hub; to being a part of the JP Morgan startup banking team; to the partnerships we have with several mentors and advisors, both external as well as at BU.
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