2021 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Equa Health, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

Equa Health

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Industry: Health & Wellness

Founding Student Name(s): Mathew Polowitz

Brief Description of Solution: Equa is a personalized mindfulness training technology that builds resilience, team cohesion, and peak performance in the workplace.

Funding Dollars: $175K

What led you to launch this venture? We’re seeing a five- to seven-year doubling in the rate of depression among our younger generations. Over 13% of adults are using antidepressants – and this was before the pandemic. I think a lot of people are experiencing loneliness right now, if not low-grade PTSD. And if you haven’t navigated these challenges yourself, it’s probable that someone close to you has. The argument for mental health has been made, and now it’s time to iterate on solutions that will move the needle.

Equa came out of the Health and Human Performance Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, which is a leader in developing evidence-based interventions to build resilience and positive mental health outcomes. We’re launching this venture because we’ve got a solution we’re confident will work. People need real tools to help them feel better about how they’re engaging with their lives, and we want to share the tools that we’ve found to work.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our first client. We are working with a group of emergency care workers at a large healthcare provider – and you can imagine the burdens this population has been asked to carry over the past 18 months. They’re a relentless group and having an opportunity to support them with their own well-being has been incredibly rewarding. When you’re building a startup, all of these day-to-day tactical things start to absorb all your attention. Getting this type of affirmation helps you take a step back. It’s always great to see that your solution works, but it’s really special to have those moments where you’re reminded of why you’re doing it in the first place.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? It gave me the space to fail safely. I tried out a number of paths before finding this venture. Design consulting, big tech, running for an office seat I didn’t win… The MBA experience was this pressure cooker of me repeatedly telling myself to “just go for it.”  Sure, it was painful at times, but I was in this unique environment where I could pick myself up and the next thing would be right there for me to try. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see exactly how each of those failures created the opportunity for me to work a venture that’s even more aligned to my passions and my personality than anything I had failed at before.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Stay with me here – Trey Anastasio, founding guitarist of the band Phish. He’s not a businessperson, but at the end of the day, is anyone? We’re all artists honing our craft. He is probably one of the hardest working musicians out there, and his work isn’t just wildly creative — it’s prolific. At any given moment he probably has three or four different musical projects going on. Entrepreneurship isn’t just about a good idea. We all have those. It’s having a vision and committing to doing everything possible to make it a reality. Whenever I’m in need of that extra push, I think of all the music Trey had composed by the time he was my age, and what a positive impact that’s made on music lovers and musicians around the world. It really gets me motivated.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? There’s a string of courses at Tepper that allows you to progressively flesh out your entrepreneurial ideas. It starts with Lean Entrepreneurship, grows through Innovation & Commercialization, and culminates with a semester-long capstone project. These classes were critical because they gave me the opportunity to test things out, collect data, and get the feedback I needed to take the next step with my startup. Entrepreneurship can’t be taught, but it can be learned. You learn by doing it, and the experiential nature of these classes was exactly the environment I needed to get my startup to a place where I was comfortable going all in once my program was complete.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Where do I start? So many professors in the CMU ecosystem have been instrumental to Equa’s journey, from mentorship to sourcing funding opportunities to entertaining all of my crazy ideas. If I had to pick one, Dave Mawhinney has been there with me every step of the way. He runs the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. Not only is he an inspiring leader, but he’s incredibly hands-on when you need him to be. He helped me weigh the risks of diving into Equa post-graduation; he has introduced me to anyone and everyone in his network (which is mind-bogglingly huge), and he gives me all of the random advice I need when I hit him up out of the blue. If you’re out there reading this – you rock Dave!

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Equa plans to be the most ubiquitous mindfulness training platform in the world within the next three years. We believe there are better ways to practice mindfulness – ones that don’t leave people feeling confused or feeling like they’re doing it wrong. If we can make a meaningful dent in the exploding mental health epidemic by helping people feel better, I’ll be happy calling it a job well done.


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