Marissa Fayer is a New York City-based entrepreneur, philanthropist and all-around powerhouse. She is the Founder and President of Fayer Consulting LLC, COO at a direct investment advisory firm, and CEO of non-profit HERHealthEQ. In 2016 she launched the non-profit HERHealthEQ, with the mission to drive health equity for women by providing medical devices and equipment to developing nations for women’s health issues. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Marissa sat down with Innovation Forum NY to discuss HERHealthEQ, her career, and her thoughts on the current state of the women’s equality movement.
Innovation Forum NY (IFNY): What inspired you to start HERHealthEQ?
Marissa Fayer (MF): In all honesty it started with a conversation at a bar, as all great ideas do. In reality, I saw the need, I worked in the industry that can solve that need and then I created a solution in which women around the world would benefit from medical device manufacturer’s excess. Living in these countries where healthcare isn’t really accessible around the corner, that was just a really big eye-opener for me so I wanted to do something to really help women around the world have access to care, I just didn´t think it was fair. For example, sitting at the bar with my friend she mentioned that women on the coast of Costa Rica were dying because their mammography unit was broken and they were 5-6 hours away from the capital. Since that was what my company did, I figured “let’s get them one.” That is how it all started, and it inspired me to say I can make a difference in these women’s lives through a piece of equipment that might have been thrown away and here they are living wonderful, happy, healthy lives. That’s the story of how HERHealthEQ was born.
IFNY: What do you see in the future for HERHealthEQ, what are your next steps?
MF: We are going to expand our program, we are going to continue programs that we have going in Tanzania and Jamaica. We are expanding to new geographies, back to Latin America, we are going to go to West Africa, and we are going to Asia. That, along with new health modalities and new partnerships with corporations and other non-profits are our future. We see a future where women have health equity, they live healthier lives, and they even are more productive in society that helps their families’ future. We see ourselves expanding, continuing to target non-communicable diseases affecting women like multiple types of cancer, maternal health, diabetes and heart disease, those are the top 4 we are working to tackle.
IFNY: What do you think is the single innovation that will most impact healthcare over the next 20 years?
MF: It’s definitely the digital health revolution which includes the miniaturization of diagnostic equipment, use of cellphones as a tool and the availability of remote doctors. Digital health, especially in the developing world, is going to be one of the most impactful changes and innovations that are happening. The fact that technology is getting easier to cross borders, is smaller, and is easier to understand is creating and providing access to people, regions, and countries that otherwise couldn’t afford it. For me and given what I do, that is definitely the biggest innovation that is going to shape the future.
IFNY: Looking back at your career, which has been truly extraordinary, which of your positions, previous or current, do you feel was the most pivotal in your journey?
MF: My move to Costa Rica to oversee Project Management was the most pivotal. Honestly, its where the idea for HERHealthEQ started, it allowed me to live outside the US and to immerse myself in another society. Living in other countries, being able to adapt, being able to see how other people live is really eye opening especially for people from the US. I have the great skills that I learned throughout my career to be able to continue my career and was able to find my passion and my big idea when I was down there. It created my future and set me up for the rest of my career to where I am now and will be going forward.
IFNY: What drew you to work in the non-profit space and how do you feel it has influenced the way you look at business?
MF: In all honesty, I never had any intention of working in non-profit, it’s something I very much fell into. We run the non-profit like a for-profit because businesses are far more efficient and non-profits, especially very large ones, are highly inefficient and that kind of goes against everything I believe in, especially as an engineer. Right now, I have the ability to join them together tangentially and will be continuing to combine them much more in the future. Stay tuned.
I also think that working in non-profit had really allowed me to see the for-profit space in a different light. I’ve been able to understand how corporations have the power to do good, how they can change the world with their capital, their force, and their size. It’s also allowed me to be able to choose what I wanted to work on, invest in, and support companies that are focused on the work that I want to. Knowing that I have that special focus, I am able to say that I only want to work with companies that are doing x, y, and z and most of the time I’m able to do that.
IFNY: What has been the greatest professional challenge you have faced? How did it change you?
MF: For sure starting HERHealthEQ was and continues to be my biggest challenge. Even as a 20-year veteran in industry, it continues to be a big challenge. Starting a business is never easy and starting a non-profit is certainly not easy. The idea is amazing and necessary, but the complication of starting and running a non-profit definitely challenges me more often than anything else. I have to rely on other people financially support the organization, rely on partners who work with us on project administration and then rely on partners for donors, equipment, also even bootstrapping for the past few years to prove out the concept just like a regular start up. That has been a challenge. A lot of people think non-profit work is amazing, mostly unicorns and rainbows, but at the end of the day HERHealthEQ has been a startup like any for-profit and we’ve just now started to move out of the startup phase, which is wonderful; but it’s always a challenge as well. It has definitely opened my eyes to being humble, I have gotten very good at asking for help and I work a lot more collaboratively.
The other thing that really has changed me is to understand the value of storytelling. With a non-profit, storytelling is what compels people to contribute, to help, and to partner and I needed to be able to tell that story instead of it being in my head. I knew it was a great idea but other people need to understand it since they are not as close to it as I am, being able to story tell has helped me in all aspects of my professional life: it’s helped my personal brand, it’s helped people understand what I do a little bit more, it’s helped expose me to a lot of really interesting innovation in the for-profit side that also is tangential to helping women in developing countries, which is incredibly important. Being in a non-profit startup has definitely changed my thinking process.
IFNY: What do you know now, that you wish you had known at the beginning of career?
MF: I really wish that I knew to line up the influential people who would help steer my career and my direction much earlier on, that would’ve helped bring a little bit of clarity and focus. I also wish I knew about making sure that genuine professional relationships are mutually beneficial. Everyone needs to be surrounded by people who support their vision, that is incredibly critical. I’ve always had support, especially in a corporate situation, but when you become an entrepreneur the most important thing to know and most beneficial to business growth is having that support system, having influential people who help guide you and mentor you throughout your career. I wish I understood that early on and didn’t think I could do that all on my own.
IFNY: Have you had any mentors? Who were they and what was the most valuable thing you learned from them?
MF: I had some really great bosses who have helped me grow but unfortunately, I never had any formal mentors. I know that my life, work and career suffer because of it and I am honestly constantly looking for them and hope to find them soon. Right now, I work with several coaches, I ask advice from a lot of people and read a lot of books to guide me but it’s so important for people to have mentors… it’s absolutely invaluable. I would love to mentor people myself, especially women.
IFNY: Do you feel that working/training conditions for women STEM have improved over recent years? How so?
MF: Conditions for women have started to improve but there is a really long way to go. Opportunities do exist a little more frequently. There is still an old guard that is very traditional in the industry, especially in healthcare, and it’s very difficult for a woman to crack that old boys club. I noticed recently Times Up Healthcare just launched and there are a lot of other movements in the healthcare space that are working to achieve equity and equality and I feel things have gotten better but they are not great.
It’s weird because 70 % of healthcare decisions are made by women yet there are only 5% of CEOS that are women in the healthcare space, so it doesn’t really equate for me. I don’t think we are making progress fast enough. The other juxtaposition is for the conditions in the developing world, sometimes they progress further than the US and sometimes not at all. There are more women engineers graduating in Costa Rica than men. There is a cognizant push towards healthcare for women in many countries where years ago they weren’t even allowed to go to the doctor without a chaperone. Then there are other places where women are still not equal citizens, opportunities are still not presenting themselves, and only for the top 1 percent have access. Generally, it’s improving but as an entrepreneur, as a woman who’s been in STEM my entire career, it is way, way too slow and we need to start making these changes a lot faster.
IFNY: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge remaining in the efforts for women’s equality in science, healthcare and business?
MF: It’s one simple word: access. Access to healthcare, access to education, access to business opportunities, access to equal pay and all have to be in parity and equal to opportunities that men have had for years. The biggest challenge: it is absolutely access. Without equity there cannot be equality, and equity must come first. Without access, equity is not achievable. That is the biggest challenge.
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