2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Aya, University of Oxford (Saïd)


Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

Website Link: ayatherapy.ai

Industry: HealthTech, Big Data

Founding Student Name(s): Sanoma Jean, Abhishek Bhaduri

Brief Description of Solution: Intelligent patient management for mental health providers.

Funding Dollars: $115K USD

What led you to launch this venture? My personal experiences with mental health over the last decade have led me to be a champion of mental health and its de-stigmatization amongst my communities. When thinking about where I could make an impact, given my expertise in the data field, I knew the mental health landscape was ripe for disruption and on the precipice of an innovation inflection. The more-and-more I thought about my idea and where I wanted to take it, the more sense it made and the more pieces fell into place, and I knew I had to give it my best shot.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? It has been a huge highlight for us to make it into a prestigious cohort of seven startups that were chosen for the inaugural pre-seed program orchestrated by Character VC. Character VC is a design-thinking-led VC launched by NYT Best Seller ‘Sprint’ authors Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, with their partner Eli Blee-Goldman. This program came with a 4-week program of rapid prototyping, testing, and iterating with customers to develop confidence on your product-market-fit, as well as our first VC investment check.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? I truly believe if I hadn’t done my MBA at Oxford this year, that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to make the leap into full time entrepreneurship. It’s something I’ve always thought about and wanted, but was never equipped with the right tools and support structures. Throughout the MBA, I met numerous folks who played an integral part in my current journey, some from seemingly simple words of support to materials review and advice, to introductions (and much more). Additionally, multiple aspects of the curriculum were catalyzing for our venture including various elective classes centered around entrepreneurship and an entire entrepreneurship project spanning multiple terms to help us get our idea off the ground.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? There are multiple figures here who have played a huge part in motivating me, a few off the top of my head are my Oxford classmate Shubham Saraff and founder of Bumble Whitney Wolfe Herd. Shubham was a critical supporter of my venture multiple times throughout the MBA when I needed support, advice, or words of encouragement. He is also a role model to me in the way he has created success for himself, including the exit from his startup during our MBA.

For Whitney Wolfe Herd, you don’t often see successful female entrepreneurs celebrated as widely as she was, as she rang the bell on the NYSE with her baby on her hip. To me, that is the true image of a superhero, as she defied stigmas, overcame incredible challenges, and took the adversity that she faced as Tinder and turned it into fuel for her own self-founded success. She is truly an icon.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The ‘class’ that was the most valuable was our Entrepreneurship Project (EP), which was a program that spanned a few terms, but was monumentally influential. Though I started ideating and working on my company the summer before the MBA, I had an entirely different business model. It wasn’t until brainstorming with my EP team that we realized we were looking at the wrong subspace within mental health. We ended up pivoting from B2C to B2B, targeting providers rather than patients. This was a huge lesson, as I felt ownership and responsibility to my original idea as I had been ruminating with it for so long. But when we began to map the landscape and really plan our strategy, the pivot made complete sense. This was my first dose of not letting my pride or ego stand in the way of what was a smart business decision. Just because I had the original idea doesn’t mean that this whole venture is owned solely by me, or that I deserve any more say than my co-founder, who has been there since the beginning. The best strategy is one that can be executed, so they say.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? We were super fortunate to meet Professor Michael Gill during our time at Saïd Business School. He taught Organizational Behavior, which was amazing, but what was even cooler to us was his research. He was focused on mental health in the workplace and was very cognizant of all the factors that play into the mental health space today. He was incredibly supportive of our idea and helped us consider various liability and security aspects that weren’t top of mind for us, as well as potential use cases that we hadn’t evaluated. We’re very grateful to Professor Michael Gill for his support during the MBA. 

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? I was fortunate to be one of the co-chairs of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Oxford Business Network during my time at Saïd Business School. This opened many doors within my community at various organizations such as the Oxford Foundry, OXVC, Entrepreneurship Centre, and more. It also allowed us to bring in very notable speakers from the local entrepreneurship ecosystem, such as Anthony Rose, serial entrepreneur, and current CEO/Founder of SeedLegals. Anthony has been very kind to stay in touch with us regarding our startup and has heard me pitch at multiple events across London. These kinds of connections and the serendipitous meetings that stem from various London-based startup events are invaluable.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our big, long-term goal is to leverage big data to predict mental health outcomes. Over time, we will have a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data about the relationships between therapists and their patients. With this, we think we can inform models that consider factors such as cultural context, intersectionality, childhood events, and individual characteristics to create data-drive mental health matches between therapist and patient. It’s a lofty goal, we know, and we are very excited by it as well.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.